Axe of Iron series

stacks_image_507 stacks_image_443 Assimilation

Mysterious sunstones in medieval Viking texts could really have worked

It keeps coming up, the men we call Vikings knew a lot more about their natural world than we contemporary folk give them credit for.

And, they sailed to and lived in places we still don't know about. I doubt we ever will... (Ed.)

A new study says Vikings could have used these stones to navigate to Greenland

4/6/2018, 11:10 AMKIONA N. SMITH 

When the Vikings first sailed to Greenland in the late 10th century, they didn’t have compasses to guide them; that technology wouldn’t reach Europe until the late 16th century. So how did they do it? A new computer simulation says an unusual method mentioned in an eight- or nine-hundred-year-old Icelandic saga would have been precise enough to get Viking ships safely to Greenland.

“The Viking legends (so-called sagas) refer to mysterious tools, sunstones, with which they could determine the position of the invisible Sun in cloudy or foggy weather,” archaeologist Gabor Horvath told Ars Technica.

In The Saga of King Olaf, the titular king—who ruled Norway from 955-1030, around the time the Vikings settled Greenland—visits a chieftain in a remote part of the country to investigate some cattle thefts. There, he spends the night in a strange rotating house and has a strange dream, which the chieftain’s sons interpret as a vision of the kings who would succeed Olaf as rulers of Norway. One part of the text describes a stone that allows the king to peer through dense clouds and snow to determine the position of the Sun:

“The weather was thick and snowy as Sigurður had predicted. Then the king summoned Sigurður and Dagur (Rauðúlfur's sons) to him. The king made people look out and they could nowhere see a clear sky. Then he asked Sigurður to tell where the Sun was at that time. He gave a clear assertion. Then the king made them fetch the solar stone and held it up and saw where light radiated from the stone and thus directly verified Sigurður's prediction.”

That sounds a bit like a magic trick, but objects called solar stones or sunstones also show up in church inventories from Iceland. An archaeologist named Thorvild Ramskou suggested that the seemingly mystical stones might actually have been mundane navigational instruments for determining the position of the Sun, though at the time he wasn’t exactly sure how they worked. 

Archaeologists and historians now think the Viking solar stones might actually have been a mineral called calcite, or Icelandic spar, which has a crystal structure that polarizes light.

Normally, if you look through a calcite crystal, you see double. But when you line the crystal up at a right angle to the light, the double image resolves into a single point. A set of 2011 experiments showed that looking through a calcite crystal could work out the direction of the Sun and, thus, which direction is west, to within a few degrees even under twilight conditions. And a new study says that Vikings could have reliably found their way across 1,600 miles of ocean from Norway to Greenland using only sunstones to navigate.

Simulating a Viking voyage
Horvath used a computer program to simulate 1,000 voyages from the port city of Bergen, Norway to the settlement of Hvarf on the southern coast of Greenland. Each trip started on either the spring equinox or summer solstice, with a randomly selected amount of cloud cover. To make the 1,600-mile, three-week voyage, the simulated Vikings would need to sail west at a latitude of roughly 60⁰21’N.

At sunrise on the first day of the voyage, the program simulated the first sighting using a calcite, cordierite, or tourmaline sunstone. Thanks to the 2011 experiments, the program knew each crystal’s margin of error, which depends on the cloud cover and the Sun’s angle in the sky. So it picked a random heading from that from within the range of error and set sail at 11MPH. The simulated ship would follow that heading until the next sighting, when the program would generate a new one.

That process repeated until the virtual ship travelled far enough to reach Greenland. If the voyage ended with the ship close enough to see the mountains of Greenland’s coast, it counted as a success. And overall, it worked pretty well. As long as the simulated navigator took a sighting at least once every three hours, the Vikings arrived safely more than 92 percent of the time.

“Nobody knows whether the Vikings really used this method,” wrote Horvath and his colleagues. “However, if they did, they could navigate with it precisely.”

But if the navigator took a sighting every four hours, the ship made it to Greenland only 32.1 to 58.7 percent of the time. With sightings every six hours, the success rate dropped below 10 percent. Clearly, Viking navigators couldn’t afford to slack off. Veering too far north might put a ship on some unsettled part of the northern Greenland coast, where they ran the risk of running out of food or water before reaching port. The alternative could be even worse.

“In cases when the sailing routes tended considerably southwards, Viking voyages never reached Greenland, but terminated with the death of the whole crew in the Atlantic Ocean or reached North America,” wrote Horvath and his colleagues. That kind of navigational error might be what brought Viking settlers to the coast of Newfoundland around the year 1000.

Of course, like all simulations, this one tests a very simple version of reality. Ships sailing across the North Atlantic encounter storms, strong winds, and ocean currents, and a ship with its sails furled for the night could still drift off course by morning.

“All these will be studied by us in the future,” Horvath told Ars. He wants to find the environmental conditions that cause successful sunstone navigation to break down. “If it could be consistently shown that the breakdown of successful navigation only occurs for simulated conditions [which are] far from, or rare in, reality, then this would well demonstrate the robustness of our findings presented here,” he said.

Nothing new under the Sun
Archaeologists and historians now have good reason to think that calcite or other minerals could have been the sunstones from medieval texts; what they still don’t have is archaeological evidence that Vikings actually did use these minerals as navigational instruments. No calcite, cordierite, or tourmaline crystal has turned up at a Viking archaeological site so far. But archaeologists found a piece of calcite on the wreck of a British warship, Alderney, which went down off the Channel Islands in 1592—and the crystal was near some navigational instruments.

If the sunstones described in Icelandic sagas and Church inventories really are navigational tools made of crystal, it may not actually be surprising that they work so well. When Ramskou suggested the idea in 1967, he wasn’t sure at first exactly how sunstones enabled Vikings to find the Sun at twilight or amid cloud cover.

But a ten-year-old in Copenhagen read the journal in which Ramskou published his article, and the excited young archaeology enthusiast told his father about the Viking sunstones. The kid’s father happened to be a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) navigator at Copenhagen, and he thought the idea of looking through a filter to locate the Sun’s heading on a cloudy day sounded familiar. Aviators at the time used sheets of polarizing plastic, mounted on something resembling a sextant, to do exactly the same thing when they were flying at high latitudes where a magnetic compass wouldn’t work reliably.

The SAS navigator apparently got in touch with Ramskou, who immediately identified a few polarizing crystals, including cordierite, which turns from yellow to dark blue when it's at a right angle to the Sun's rays. He tested it on an SAS flight from Greenland to Denmark, with encouraging results. So if Horvath and his colleagues are correct, 20th century pilots may have been using the same method as the medieval Vikings.

Royal Society Open Science, 2017. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.172187  (About DOIs).


Brian Boru didn’t save Ireland from the Vikings

Gee, I just told my wife a couple days ago that Brian Boru saved Ireland from the Vikings, and now this comes up.

This article from the Irish Times was no doubt written to promote a book recently published by Prof. Howard Clarke, whose comments are prominently featured herein. Prof. Clarke makes many contentions, which I doubt the archaeology folks will buy into, but hey, we know they are a close-knit group that doesn't care what the unwashed masses think about the findings from their chosen field.

I certainly agree with Clarke's contention that the TV program Vikings is mental bubblegum -women warriors in the line of battle - yeah right. The producers of that fantasy got almost nothing right about the Vikings, but the general public neither knows nor cares what is and what is not, historically correct. 

And, the toy boat mentioned in the last paragraph: the authors statement that the hole on the left side was for the steering board is incorrect. The steer board - the origin of the word starboard - was always on the right side, stern of the ship. It's okay, the TV program Vikings, got that wrong, too.

But, given all that, the article is interesting, providing you are into interesting articles. (Ed.)

History exaggerated the Battle of Clontarf – one of many misconceptions about Vikings
Sat, Mar 24, 2018, 05:00

A long boat at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway
We know it all about the Vikings. We’ve seen the TV series; we’ve had the craic on the Viking Splash tour. We’ve seen the scrap of Viking wall in Dublin; we’re outraged that those barbarians almost destroyed our Viking heritage in Wood Quay in the 1970s.

Think again. The TV series is “mental bubblegum”. The idea of carting people wearing horned helmets around the city in an amphibious vehicle is a distorted version of reality. Not that any of this bothers Howard Clarke, who gently twinkles at the accepted perceptions of Vikings, and is on board with lots of them.

A gorgeous new book, Dublin and the Viking World, introduces readers to the period when Dublin became Ireland’s first fully functioning town. Written by Prof Clarke, a director of the Medieval Trust (the parent body of Dublinia, the Viking and medieval museum near Christchurch, Dublin) and formerly a historian at UCD, Sheila Dooley who was curator and educational officer in Dublinia, and Dr Ruth Johnson, city archaeologist for Dublin City Council, it will be published just after Easter weekend’s first Viking festival, hosted by Dublinia.

“Vikings,” says Clarke, “have an air of romance about them, rightly or wrongly. I mean, they were brutes, but nevertheless, like cowboys and Indians they attract romantic ideas. It’s hard to see why; a psychologist might know. I think it’s an interesting mix of violence combined with opportunism, leading to trading and settling.

“The three key themes to Viking world are raiding, which is how we think of them, trading – they exchanged goods, including slaves – and, thirdly settling down in certain parts of western Europe, most spectacularly in Iceland, Greenland and very briefly in north America.”

Two sagas
North America? Yes, says Clarke, there’s a well excavated site with authentic Viking finds called L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, which most experts accept represents a stopover on Viking exploration of North America, and two sagas also refer to it, calling it Vinland because wild grapes – or something that looked like them – grew there.

It’s an example of the romanticism Clarke is talking about, and also one of the surprising things many of us don’t know, or get wrong about, the Vikings.

We know one of the popular representations of Viking – that they wore horned helmets – isn’t true. Well, not strictly untrue, actually. There was horned headgear in Scandinavia, Clarke says, though this is likely to have been related to ritual, the headgear of some sort of priest or shaman, “rather than for men in fighting mode, where the horns would have been an inconvenience” he says, wryly.

The big surprise for us is that Brian Boru didn’t actually save Ireland from the Vikings, and the prevailing wisdom about the Battle of Clontarf is based on propaganda.

“The significance of the Battle of Clontarf has been misunderstood in Ireland. People have relied too heavily on a 1867 translation into English from an early 12th century propaganda text in Middle Irish, produced in Munster (Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib, or The War of the Irish with the Foreigners).”

Originally written a century after Clontarf at the behest of Brian Boru’s great-grandson, Muirchertach, who was king at that time, to bolster his grandfather’s reputation, “it distorted the situation,” says Clarke, and “uses inflated language to exaggerate the reputation of Brian Boru for political gain at the time”.

After it was translated into modern English (by scholar James Todd in the 19th century) the popular conception of the Battle of Clontarf took hold.

Munster army
Clontarf was fought by a Munster army under Brian Boru against a Leinster-based army with Dublin allies; the Leinster men were rebelling against the Munster men. Besides, “the Leinster lot had some Dublin Vikings on their side. And Brian Boru had Vikings from Limerick and Waterford.”

The idea that Brian Boru saved Ireland from a Viking conquest is “completely false”, says Clarke. “There was never any possibility Vikings would have been able to conquer or even thought about conquering Ireland. There were never enough Vikings in Ireland to do this, and there were far too many Irish kingdoms – maybe 150 political units, all with armies – to defeat.”

The TV series has renewed interest in Vikings, but Clarke says he gave up watching it after an early scene where a chieftain’s wife is sword fighting a man on a beach. The dramatic licence offends his historian sensibility.

“It is inconceivable that women fought alongside men in Viking times. No text mentions or even implies it. Women did all sorts of things, but they didn’t fight with swords in battlelines.”

He mentions, in a mildly amused way, a recent episode which featured “Vikings in North Africa riding camels across the desert”.

He doesn’t seem to have anything against The Vikings, per se, but he calls it “mental bubblegum”.
“It’s a clever series, a mix of reasonably authentic information derived from historical records and archaeology, and pure invention.”

Native Irish women
Far from Viking women sword fighting on beaches, the Vikings brought few women to Ireland, says Clarke. (We know this from grave goods evidence, and records in the sagas). But they formed relationships over time with Irish women, as wives, concubines, and slaves. “They depended on native Irish women for all the reasons men want women.”

Women had a very productive role. And although the word “craftswoman” is rare in English according to the OED, women and girls had an enormous range of practical skills. This is illustrated, says Clarke, in an early Irish text dealing with the entitlements of a divorcee, all related to her role as a maker of linen garments.

“And women were valued as slaves precisely because they were presumed to have a useful range of practical skills around the farm and household, not to mention anything to do with sex.”

Few Norse women travelled as far as Ireland, but some finds in Scandinavia of Celtic artefacts from the time were religious objects – presumably looted from monasteries – remodelled into jewellery, suggesting that one of the motives for Viking raids was gold and silver to bring back home to be recycled as trinkets.

Another myth is that the Vikings “founded” Dublin. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to the book.

“The word ‘founded’ suggests a sudden act of enlightenment, for which there’s no evidence,” says Clarke. “Dublin developed as a town only gradually, reaching that stage in the mid-10th century, about a century after the initial settlement recorded in the annals under the year 841.

“This was based on two pre-existing Gaelic settlements, Ath Cliath and Dubhlinn. The Vikings adapted the name Dyflinn for their settlement near the black pool,” on the site of the Dubh Linn Garden (now behind Dublin Castle), where Vikings moored and repaired their boats.

Dublin and the Viking World is handsomely illustrated and accessible, drawing on a tremendous amount of research. Clarke makes the point that it represents “the best possible attempt anyone can make to demonstrate the nature of a major Viking settlement anywhere in Europe”.

An artist’s impression of Fishamble Street in Dublin in Viking times
“This is because of the evidence for Viking settlement in writing [in the Irish Annals and elsewhere] and in the archaeology is far superior in Dublin to any comparable Viking sites.”

In Scandinavia the three main Viking trading settlements of Kaupang (Norway), Hedeby (then in Denmark, now northern Germany and called Haithabu), and Birka in Sweden are known for their marvellous archaeology, but Viking age written records in Scandinavia are fragmented and scarce. Ireland was Christian and literate, so we know much more about Viking Dublin from the Irish Annals, compared to other Viking sites.

So while Clarke modestly says perhaps a better book could be written, “it would never be possible to write a book like this about other sites – in Dublin we have the best possible vision of what a Viking settlement looked like”.

In the heart of Viking Dublin, at the Wood Quay amphitheatre over Easter, a European Viking spectacle promises to enliven the 21st century city. Joining the international show will be Irish drumming students from BIMM. But, but... do we know, were there really Viking drummers?

“Not that I know of,” smiles Clarke. There is evidence of Viking whistles made of bones, “but a drum is a fragile thing and wouldn’t have survived. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have drums. Most cultures have produced an instrument with a drum-like sound. It sounds like a fun show, though I can’t attest to its authenticity. But I’m just a boring academic!”

Dublin and the Viking World by Howard B Clarke, Sheila Dooley and Ruth Johnston (published by O’Brien Press on April 16th, €12.99 /£11.99)

Easter weekend will see a new – and benign – Viking invasion of Dublin, with the first VikingFest, centred around Dublinia and Wood Quay, celebrating the cultural and historic impact of the Vikings.

Part of a “borderless tourism” project, Creative Europe Follow the Vikings, and “working with our international partners we have created the Follow the Vikings roadshow which travels to 12 important Viking heritage sites across Europe”, including Dublin and Waterford, says Dublinia director Denise Brophy.

Dublinia’s Viking and Medieval Experience, the not-for-profit education and research organisation in Dublin city, has built the festival around the live audio/visual/theatrical outdoor spectacle centrepiece Follow the Vikings.

Follow the Vikings: 10th century Icelandic warrior-poet Egill Skalla-Grímsson inspires a contemporary representation, drawing on Norse mythology. Includes BIMM drumming students under the guidance of top session musician Dave Hingerty. (Wood Quay amphitheatre, Saturday, March 31st, two 45 minute shows, 8.30pm and 9.45pm. Free ticketed event, book at

Vikings ships: Dublinia and Lakes Vikings (who supply Viking longboats for the TV series) will have long ships and Viking warriors at Wood Quay over the weekend, with a full Viking long ship grounded and on display. “Vikings” talk about life 1,000 years ago, “warriors” demonstrate fighting techniques with axes, swords, shields and spears. March 31st , April 1st, 11am to 4pm.

Living history: Viking weaponry, coin-minting and crafts from Viking life in Ireland c. 795 - 1171. Swords, shields, spears, bows, and axes and tactics to use them; domestic Viking goods; coin-minting, tablet-weaving and braid-making. Plus Living history re-enactments. Dublinia, March 30st-April 1st.
Discounted admission to Dublinia over the weekend. Details at:
The Viking Festival and Roadshow Veðrafjorðr (aka Waterford) is also on over Easter weekend, with two performances of the Viking roadshow on Easter Monday.

What did the Vikings look like?
We can guess at their appearances from statues and other representations of, mostly male, Vikings. They would have had beards and moustaches because shaving on long boat journeys would have been impractical. “They would have been rather hairy, and the statuary is consistent with that.”
Clarke mentions strange haircuts in the TV series, with short sides – “a bit like Kim Jong-un”, which he considers unlikely.

Living in fear: We don’t know how many Vikings were in Ireland, but we know they were fearsome warriors and the prospect of raids terrified people, as seen in the fear and dread of a monastic community, written in the margins of a Co. Down manuscript:
The wind is rough tonight/ Tossing the white-combed ocean/ I need not dread fierce Vikings / Crossing the Irish sea

English has lots of words of Viking origin: “kn” words such as knife; “ransack” (Old Norse rannsaka); “leg” (leggr); “skin” (skinn).

Old English was Freond but modern spelling of friend is nearer to Old Norse frændi (Old Norse was a Germanic language, as is English).

Not many Viking words crop up in modern Irish, but the Irish for market – margadh – is from old Norse Markardr, indicating how strong trading was.

Place names: Waterford and Wexford were settlement sites. Howth doesn’t seem to have been; Dalkey may have been a slave-holding centre (annals for the year 939 have a story that an abbot drowned attempting to escape the island where he was captive). Leixlip is the only purely Norse name, apart from the River Steine that gave rise to the Long Stone (steinn is the Old Norse word for “stone”). Hybrid place-names such as Ballally would have been invented by the Irish.

The Viking legacy is seen in logos such as AIB’s and curiously, the SS symbol. Bluetooth is a Viking name (probably of a person with a blackened tooth).

A toy boat from Christchurch Place, Dublin. The hole towards the left is where the steering board was attached, while the hole in the prow may reflect the common practice of towing a smaller vessel containing provisions behind the main ship on long voyages.


Digging into the past reveals Cork settled much earlier than thought

Ireland continues to be a treasure trove for archaeologists. Every time new construction begins in a city, it seems that Viking artifacts are uncovered. 

In this instance the city is Cork, and the city's history is uncovered just beneath its current streets. 

In addition to Viking artifacts, other items were unearthed dating all the way to the 17th century.(Ed.)


Monday, January 29, 2018 - 12:00 AM

Wooden floors uncovered by excavation work on South Main Street suggests urban planning arrived in Cork earlier than we thought, writes Niall Murray.

One of a sequence of house floors dating from 1070 to 1120. Picture: Maurice F. Hurley
 While political rows rumbled last year about the lack of building work on a site crucial to Cork’s future development, experts were busy taking advantage of the chance to shine a light on 1,000 years of the city’s past.

What the archaeologists found on the old Beamish & Crawford brewery site will help add detail to the city’s history and its people. From the lives of early Viking settlers on the marshy islands in the late 11th century, to the glass, brewing and other uses of the last two centuries, archaeologists have found evidence of many little-known aspects. Probably the most notable of these from a historic point of view was the unearthing of what is now Cork’s earliest known formal urban layout.

The dog-leg angle found by archaeologists is visible just below and left of centre of this 1690 map of Cork City. Picture:
A few metres behind the railings and palm trees that line the more northerly end of the 3.5-acre site’s South Main Street, they revealed the floors of a row of houses that once lined the earliest town of Cork’s main thoroughfare.

This part of the site is in line to be developed for student accommodation as part of BAM’s overall plans to develop an events centre and other mixed commercial elements. It got planning permission in 2010 for the wider project, but funding uncertainties and plans for changes to the mix of uses have seen little construction work, although moves on the student accommodation zone has started in recent weeks.

The requirement for deeper excavations for a basement car park in that area of the site meant the archaeologists got a rare opportunity to dig to some of the deepest layers.

There was already an understanding from testing for the site owners in 2010 that this was likely to be the most archaeologically valuable portion of the brewery plot. Because archaeology below most other areas had been damaged by cellars and basements associated with industrial use, the street-fronting area’s occupation by houses until the mid-20th century meant there was a much better chance of evidence of Cork’s earliest citizens surviving there.

This stone door lintel with the words God Save flanking a Tudor rose, is from the second half of the 16th century and was found above the ground where 11th-century Cork homes previously stood. Picture: Maurice F. Hurley
The resulting focus on that stretch of ground did not disappoint, beginning with foundations of stone houses, most of them dated to the 18th century but some from the 1600s.
“Those houses were effectively the type, or similar to them, that still front that side of South Main Street,” said lead archaeologist on the project, Maurice Hurley.
Those existing properties face the modern Bishop Lucey Park and, alongside it, Christchurch which is now part of the Triskel Arts Venue. Mr Hurley speculates that some of the 15th and 16th-century church architecture used in their foundations, such as parts of arches, could come from the rubble of a predecessor Anglo-Norman church at the same location.
“We know there was a Gothic church that was demolished before the existing Christchurch was built in the 1720s,” he said.

It was below the foundations of those stone houses that some of the real highlights emerged during last year’s excavations of the Beamish & Crawford site.
Below at least five levels of houses built over several centuries on the same plots, the team found the floors of 19 wooden houses from the earliest period of Cork being inhabited as a town.

Crucially, the scientifically proven dating evidence from timber in one of them places that first phase of construction to the 1070s.

This is 30 years older than previous evidence-based dating of other homes excavated inside the boundary of the medieval walled city.

During digs between 2003 and 2005, for example, on the old Sir Henry’s and car park sites closer to the River Lee’s south channel, houses were dated from pottery and a door jamb timber to the early decades of the 1100s.

What can be conclusively stated now is that houses fronted the street — with which the wider South Main Street now lines up nearly 950 years later — in a formalised urban layout as early as 1070.

Survey of the Cork city wall in progress. Picture: Maurice F. Hurley

But while this could be as much as a decade earlier than the oldest positively-dated dwelling in a formally laid-out Waterford for 1080, this does not mean Cork’s urban settlement was earlier.

“In Waterford, there are two levels of houses that predated that level, but for which no date was obtainable. It looks like the sequence of occupation was beginning 25 to 30 years earlier in Waterford,” Mr Hurley said.
“It’s a particularly ‘chicken and egg’ situation in terms of our overall understanding. But I believe formalised urban layout in Waterford is slightly earlier,” he said.

With undated but clearly earlier evidence of street-fronting formal layout, he says Waterford can relax about any suggestions of Cork claiming an older urban heritage.

These dates are all still after the Vikings had arrived and plundered the south coast to begin what we now know as the Hiberno-Norse period.

But, Mr Hurley explains, the concept of formalised urban layouts is a later phenomenon.
“We’re told in the old annals that the Vikings arrived and plundered Cork. But those first people were making a fortification, they were not coming and founding a town right away,” he said.

The late 11th-century homes exposed at South Main Street were simple one-room single-storey dwellings, whose thatch roofs were supported on four posts inside the structure, somewhat like the legs of a table.

When this main living space became inadequate, workspaces or extra accommodation for extended family were added in smaller buildings to the rear.

The archaeologists uncovered the small paved yard around which such smaller buildings would have been added to one of the houses.

Mr Hurley and fellow archaeologist Alan Hawkes will outline the findings from the excavations in a free public lecture at the monthly winter lecture for the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in the Crawford Art Gallery next week. As a former city archaeologist whose work on other medieval Cork excavations has been published in the society’s journal, he said it was the appropriate place to present details of the latest insights into medieval Cork.

Just as he did on previous excavations of the old town and city, Mr Hurley and his team uncovered more parts of the walls that were a vital part of the city’s defence from the late 1100s until after the 1690 Siege of Cork.

While nothing really new about their construction was learned, the work confirmed an unusual kink in the line of the western wall, near where the river turns south for a short distance at Clarke’s Bridge.
“The wall is running north-south, and then suddenly changes angle, as shown in many historic maps,” Mr Hurley said.

But rather than being the result of repairs after any breach or other damage, he said this section was very well built with finely-cut stone that suggests the use of a master mason. While the inside of the wall was in remarkable condition, the outer face was removed, either by drainage work in the 1980s, or possibly in damage from some earlier period.
Some aspects of the historic heritage of the site will be reflected in the proposed development of the large city-centre plot.

While the developers BAM have come in for criticism recently over a proposed reduction in the heritage space to feature in the middle section of the site, Mr Hurley said the firm provided every facility required for his excavations without question.

With those supports, whatever eventually gets built on the old Beamish & Crawford brewery grounds has given the first chance to uncover what lies beneath from South Main Street all the way back to the western city wall.

Maurice Hurley and Alan Hawkes will give a lecture on the excavations to the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. The free public event takes place in Crawford Art Gallery at 8pm on Wednesday, February 7.

Cork’s oldest church emerges from beneath brewery

Almost within the shadow of Cork’s St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, archaeologists last summer found what are probably the oldest remains of a church in Cork, writes Niall Murray.

The foundations of St Laurence’s Church being excavated last year, with the 1600s Elizabeth Fort and the 1879 St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in the background. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
The survival of remains of St Laurence’s Church was quite a miracle in the view of lead archaeologist Maurice Hurley, referring to damage below ground on the site by various drainage schemes.

His excavation team faced the further challenge that the church was not in the area suggested by annotation to a 19th-century map of the Beamish & Crawford brewery, which stood on the same location until its demolition recently.

But they still managed to unearth significant parts of the foundation below that of a 19th-century malthouse, as well as other medieval stone walls and a paved laneway in the same area near the River Lee’s south channel.

Questions remain, however, about the possibility of a predecessor church that may have been the private chapel of Cork’s last Viking ruler.

Cork historian Henry Jefferies has suggested the site was originally that of a church dedicated to St Nicholas, used as a private chapel by the last local leader of the late Hiberno-Norse period when the Irish and Viking families had inter-married.
The clear evidence from the archaeology last summer was that the stone church the project found was built in the 13th century. This makes it an Anglo-Norman construction, built some decades after the occupation of the city by forces who killed local leader Gilbert Mac Turgar in an 1173 sea battle near Youghal and captured the city in 1177.
“The Hiberno-Norse were weakened, and I do think what we found may be later than that,” Mr Hurley said.

Dating evidence is difficult when the only archaeology is stonework. But pieces of pottery from south-west France found in the mortar of the church have been dated to the 13th century, ruling out the possibility of it being from the late viking period of Cork’s history.

Although the western wall does not survive, it would have measured around 34ft x 14ft, its size suggesting it too was a private church.

“There were no burials here, it wasn’t a public place that had a parish priest, so maybe a private chapel throughout the entire period of its use,” Mr Hurley said.

This belief is strengthened by the absence of any known records of a parish of either St Laurence or St Nicholas in the medieval city.

Of particular interest, however, is the dedication to St Nicholas of a church constructed not far outside the old city’s southern boundary, just off where Cove Street stands today near lower Barrack Street.
“It’s likely that when the Hiberno-Norse people were expelled that they took this dedication to St Nicholas with them,” he said.

With no proof from the excavation that what was found was the first church on the site, it can not be ruled out that a St Nicholas church once also stood there when Cork was dominated by Vikings and their descendants.

Dig reveals the glass factory that dominated the skyline of 19th-century Cork
The story of how cut-glass was made by one of Cork’s three manufacturers over 200 years ago will be clearer thanks to recent excavations, writes Niall Murray.

The 18th-century foundations of the Cork Glass Company under excavation. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
The team that worked on the northern end of the Beamish brewery site dug down to the stone foundation of a cone-shaped furnace that dominated the south of the city’s skyline for nearly 150 years.

Although it was not demolished until 1915, however, the Cork Glass Company which made and exported its wares from the site had ceased operation by 1830.

The cone of the Cork Glass Company’s furnace on Hanover Street dominated the 19th-century skyline of Cork’s south inner city, as seen in William Roe’s 1844 drawing. Picture: Cork Public Museum

Maurice Hurley explained how the project he oversaw exposed around two metres of stone-built foundations for the cone that once stood around 25 metres above the ground. While it was around 14 metres in diameter at its base, it narrowed to just five metres at the top.

The Cork Glass Company was established in 1782, its brewer owners taking advantage of nearby river quays already in use by the city’s numerous brewing and malting operations to land coal.

The recent excavations found how the central furnace was fed with that coal by a mechanised railway line system, and the cinder residue from the process was removed through vaulted passages.

“There were vast amounts of cinder from firing, and huge samples of half-melted bits of glass. They also made vast quantities of bottles, so a lot of what was found is the waste from the process,” Mr Hurley said.

Mr Hurley said this element of the excavation on the Beamish site was very informative and there is potential for a scholar to study and analyse the material and the site reports.

Two Cork Glass Company decanters with moulded target stoppers with another decanter.

Finer examples of the highly-decorated and distinctive decanters made by the Cork Glass Company — or from the Waterloo glass factory that overlooked nearby Clarke’s Bridge at Wandesford Quay — can make thousands in auctions.

The archaeological work on the site will prove highly valuable to those interested in the processes involved in creating those beautifully hand-crafted works.
Artefacts aid knowledge of Viking Cork

The day-to-day life of Viking and early Norman Cork can be better understood from artefacts found last year in different layers of the city’s archaeology, writes Niall Murray.

The 11th-century wooden Viking weaver’s sword found on the Beamish Crawford site. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
Just like the hundreds of finds from the past decade’s digs on the opposite side of South Main Street, the utilitarian items shine a light on how our ancestors lived, cooked, travelled, and their engagement with spirituality and ceremony.

The most visually stimulating is probably the 30cm wooden Viking weaver’s sword, which has already been in the public spotlight. When it was shown to the Norwegian ambassador to Ireland at Cork Public Museum last year, photos that accompanied news reports attracted marvel around the world at the craftsmanship of the carving over 1,000 years ago.

However, more everyday items help paint a picture of the implements used by ordinary citizens of Cork over many centuries of the town’s earliest existence.
Among them are a collection of items found in the lower levels of wooden houses excavated near the frontage of South Main Street, where the earliest known urban layout near the Lee has been discovered.

“There is a great range of spoons, ladles, buckets, horse trappings and other such items, and many of them are decorated with scratches or etchings,” said consultant archaeologist Maurice Hurley.

Among the horse-related items is a wooden harness bow, used to guide reins, from the late 11th or early 12th century.

A harness bow from the late 11th or early 12th century found during South Main Street excavation. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
The sad fate of some of the houses being burned down led to items being charred, but the organic and aerobic conditions have aided their preservation over the intervening centuries.

One of the rarer artefacts to emerge from the soil near South Main Street was a metal spoon, naively but intricately depicting a woman holding up a dog. Mr Hurley said the spoon, made of pewter or copper, is from the 13th century or possibly the late 12th century when Cork had only recently been conquered by Norman invaders.

A 13th-century pewter spoon decorated with the symbolic image of a dog. Picture: Maurice F Hurley

“The only one like it has been found in a town in Poland, this was either a wedding gift or a christening spoon. These spoons would have been personalised for the recipient, and very significant to the owner,” he explained.

Many items of the period had important symbolic meanings, and in this case the dog was probably used as a symbol of fidelity.

Another 13th-century artefact, but not quite so rare, was the pilgrim badge from the shrine at Canterbury to 12th-century martyr St Thomas Becket. This item was made around 100 years before Geoffrey Chaucer penned his famous The Canterbury Tales about pilgrims making their way from London to the same place.

Pilgrim badge from Canterbury, 13th century. Picture: Maurice F Hurley

“This is something somebody brought back to Cork from pilgrimage to Canterbury. It appears to symbolise Becket coming on a boat from France to England,” Mr Hurley said.

Thomas Becket was archbishop of Canterbury when he was killed by knights in 1170 — soon before control of Cork was to pass from Hiberno-Norse to Norman hands.

The English town became a centre of pilgrimage, and badges like this were worn not just as souvenirs but to spare pilgrims from robbery as it denoted they were on a sacred mission.

Such relics are not uncommon in Ireland, as a similar Canterbury pilgrim badge was excavated in Dublin. There are also records of Waterford people travelling to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, pre-dating the modern Irish walkers and cyclists who flock to the destination by around 600 years


Thawing Ice Reveals Norwegian Mountains Littered with Iron and Bronze Age Artifacts

An article in Ancient Origins notifies us of the many Viking and Bronze Age artifacts unearthed, or un-iced perhaps, in Norway as a result of the melting of the glaciers in the country. Imagine a 1400-year old arrow that looks to be in good enough shape to shoot again. (Ed.)



A group of researchers have reportedly discovered artifacts of wood, textile, hide and other organic material on Jotunheimen and the surrounding mountain areas of Oppland, which include Norway's highest mountains at 8,690 feet.

Rich Collection of Artifacts Uncovered in Norwegian Mountains

A paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science reports that a group of researchers directed by James Barrett of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, has radiocarbon dated 153 new finds, including arrows, tools, skis, rags, horse gear and “scaring sticks” (poles used in the hunting of reindeer).

According to Cosmos magazine , the objects were all unearthed from melting ice patches in the region of Jotunheimen and the surrounding mountain areas of Oppland in Norway. According to the experts, the dates shed new light on the occupation of the region, with the researchers concluding that the population and hunting practices in the area increased and decreased drastically in combination with the climate changes there. During periods of extreme cold for example, signs of human presence decrease, while they appear to return again in the warmer periods.

Mountains of Oppland, Norway. Archaeologist with an arrow aged around 1400 years. (Image: Julian Martinsen, Secrets of the Ice Oppland County Council)
Artifacts Closely Associated with Reindeer Hunting

As the archaeologists report , the majority of the artifacts have something to do with reindeer hunting, a fact that explains the noticeable abnormality in the overall trend of increased human presence during warmer periods. One of the busiest times in Oppland occurs simultaneously with one of the coldest – the Late Antique Little Ice Age that lasted from 536 to 660 AD.

“This was a time of cooling. Harvests may have failed and populations may have dropped. Remarkably, though, the finds from the ice may have continued through this period, perhaps suggesting that the importance of mountain hunting, mainly for reindeer, increased to supplement failing agricultural harvests in times of low temperatures,” Lars Pilø, one of the key authors, writes in the Secrets of the Ice report.

As the number of finds reveal, between the eighth and tenth centuries AD was another busy period, just before the period known as the Viking Age. According to the report, this could be the result of an increase in the number of towns that occurred throughout Europe during this period. In the Norwegian context, this expansion would have created a growing market for reindeer products, and thus more hunting activity as Cosmos magazine reports .

An arrow from 800 AD found on the ground, partly covered by snow. (Image: Espen Finstad, Secrets of the Ice , Oppland County Council)
 The Viking Age

The Viking Age is the period from the late eighth century to the mid-11th century in European history, especially Northern European and Scandinavian history, following the Germanic Iron Age. It is the period of history when Scandinavian Norsemen explored Europe by its seas and rivers for trade, raids, colonization, and conquest. In this period, the Norsemen settled in Norse Greenland, Newfoundland, and present-day Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, and territories of the then Byzantine Empire.

Viking travelers and colonists were seen at many points in history as brutal raiders. Many historical documents suggest that their invasion of other countries was retaliation in response to the encroachment upon tribal lands by Christian missionaries, and perhaps by the Saxon Wars prosecuted by Charlemagne and his kin to the south, or were motivated by overpopulation, trade inequities, and the lack of viable farmland in their homeland. Information about the Viking Age is drawn largely from what was written about the Vikings by their enemies, and primary sources of archaeology, supplied with secondary sources such as the Icelandic Sagas.

Close-up of a walking stick with a runic inscription, radiocarbon-dated to the 11th century AD. Found in a glaciated mountain pass. (Image: Vegard Vike, Museum of Cultural History)
 Artifact Finds Decrease from the Start of the Medieval Period

Back to the recent discovery, and co-author of the study and co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council, Lars Pilø, notices that artifact finds drop off significantly from the eleventh century, thus the start of the Medieval period, suggesting that this reflects a change of strategy in hunting practice. “At this time, bow-and-arrow hunting for reindeer was replaced with mass-harvesting techniques including funnel-shaped and pitfall trapping systems,” he says. And adds, “This type of intensive hunting probably reduced the number of wild reindeer.”

Furthermore, the decrease of hunting activity continued, reaching a low point about three centuries later that had only partly to do with low reindeer numbers. “Once the plague arrived in the mid-fourteenth century, trade and markets in the north also suffered,” another co-author of the study named Brit Solli in the study press release , “With fewer markets and fewer reindeer, the activity in the high mountains decreased substantially. This downturn could also have been influenced by declining climatic conditions during the Little Ice Age,” he concludes.


The Viking Great Army

You will enjoy this excellent article from Archaeology Magazine, on the Viking dig at Torksey, Yorkshire County, UK, what it all means, and some of what has been uncovered. (Ed.)

A tale of conflict and adaptation played out in northern England

Monday, February 12, 2018

(Bymuseum, Oslo, Norway/Index/Bridgeman Images)
Tens of thousands of Vikings flowed into northern England beginning in the late 9th century, first as an invading army and then as a wave of migrants. A 10th-century illustration depicts a Viking force disembarking in England.
At first glance, the historic county of Yorkshire in northern England seems as English as can be. It gives its name to Yorkshire pudding, a staple of English cuisine dating back to the eighteenth century. Earlier still, it was home to the royal House of York, whose line included King Richard III. But a closer look reveals a more complicated history. Take Ormesby: Today a suburb of Middlesbrough, its name derives from the Old Norse for “Ormr’s farm.” Or the many streets in the city of York that end in “gate,” from the Old Norse gata, meaning “road” or “way.” Even the city’s name comes from the Old Norse Jorvik.
The source of these Scandinavian-influenced place names and the many more that can be found to this day in northern England dates back more than a thousand years. Starting in the late ninth century, tens of thousands of Vikings arrived in Anglo-Saxon England, first as part of an invading force known as the Viking Great Army, and later as part of a massive wave of settlers. Examining the landscape, history, and archaeology of the region tells us much about what happens when cultures clash but ultimately come to coexist. And it helps explain Anglo-Saxon and Viking interactions.

The Viking Great Army’s arrival in 865 was recounted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: “A great heathen force came into English land, and they took winter-quarters in East Anglia; there they were horsed, and they made peace.” According to the Chronicle, the Vikings spent years campaigning through the territory of the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms—East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex. They proved to be masters at keeping the Anglo-Saxons off balance, making peace with a kingdom one year, only to strike a mortal blow the next. By 880, all the kingdoms had fallen to the Vikings except Wessex, with which they made peace. “The Vikings were very quick and they got quite far inland on their boats,” says Jane Kershaw of the University of Oxford. “They had an element of surprise that the Anglo-Saxons weren’t quite able to anticipate and respond to.”

Viking raiders had been targeting wealthy enclaves on England’s coasts with summertime hit-and-run raids since at least 793, when they launched the infamous, terrifying attack on a monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the Northumbrian coast of northeast England. Attacks on other monasteries and settlements on England’s east and west coasts followed. Beginning in 850, Viking forces at times spent the winter at coastal sites, allowing them to start their raids earlier in the year. With the arrival of the Viking Great Army, at last, they were able to penetrate deep into England, making their way along rivers and ancient Roman roads, setting up overwintering camps, and wreaking havoc on the Anglo-Saxons. “It seems that the Vikings are after something a little bit different at this stage,” says Kershaw. “They’re still after portable wealth, but they start to have an eye toward acquiring land as well. They start to see England as somewhere they might be able to settle and reestablish themselves as lords with their own families.”

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the Viking Great Army’s exploits in outsized terms. In a single day’s battle against Wessex, for example, it reports a death toll in the thousands. “The implication is that it’s larger than any previous army seen in England,” says Dawn Hadley of the University of Sheffield. But until recently, there had been little archaeological evidence of its presence. Only one overwintering camp mentioned in the Chronicle had ever been discovered, at Repton, the capital of Mercia, in present-day Derbyshire, where the army spent the winter of 873–874. Excavations conducted there between 1974 and 1993 by Martin Biddle and his late wife, Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle, had revealed a small, heavily defended enclosure covering just an acre or two. Although it was unclear whether the camp extended beyond this fortified area, some experts took these findings to suggest that the Great Army was not actually so great after all, numbering at most in the hundreds—and that the Chronicle’s authors had exaggerated its size to make it appear more fearsome.

Now, however, an archaeological project at another location, Torksey, in Lincolnshire, where the army camped from 872 to 873, has established that it was indeed very large—it was in fact far more than a mere army. According to Hadley, codirector of the Torksey research project along with Julian Richards of the University of York, “We are getting the sense that the force that was at Torksey and that is referred to as an army in the Chronicle actually comprised not just warriors, but people engaged in trade and manufacture, and women and children as well.”

(© The Viking Torksey Research Project)
The site near Torksey where the Viking Great Army spent the winter of 872–873 is surveyed by a member of the archaeological team. The camp covered parts of six present-day agricultural fields.
Evidence of the camp at Torksey has been unearthed, for the most part, by avocational metal detectorists. Long active in the United Kingdom, they are strongly encouraged to notify scholars of their finds. When Hadley and Richards learned that a group of detectorists in the Torksey area had discovered ingots, weights, and a concentration of ninth-century coins, including a number of Arabic silver dirhams, all of which appeared to be associated with the Viking Great Army camp, they set out to carefully document the evidence. “We got the detectorists to record their finds more systematically,” says Richards. “We gave them portable global positioning devices to log the coordinates of each discovery so we could plot maps of where everything was coming from.”

The dimensions of the camp that emerged from mapping these finds covered a vast expanse—some 136 acres stretching over six present-day agricultural fields near the east bank of the River Trent north of the modern village of Torksey. “The scale of activity over all those fields suggests a large force, measuring at least in the thousands, with quite a degree of organization,” says Richards. The site is generally dry today as a result of nineteenth-century drainage projects, but the researchers determined that in the ninth century it was a natural island bordered by the River Trent on the west and marshland on the other three sides, which helps explain why the Vikings camped there.

By the time the Viking Great Army overwintered at Torksey, it had been in England for seven years and had already conquered both East Anglia and Northumbria. Archaeologists knew that it could be expected to have accumulated a great deal of treasure, and, in fact, more than 120 Arabic silver dirhams have been unearthed. As is characteristic of the Vikings, the coins had been cut up into pieces to be traded for the value of their metal. These coins are a strong sign of the presence of Vikings, who are known to have traded slaves for them in Eastern Europe. They are only rarely found in typical Anglo-Saxon contexts. “Torksey has the largest concentration of dirhams from any site in Britain or Ireland,” says Hadley. “So that jumps out.” In addition, at least 60 pieces of hacksilver, which was chopped up for use in trade, along with a dozen pieces of rare hackgold, have been found. “If they lost that much material,” asks Richards, “how much silver and gold must there have been in circulation?”

(© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)
Metal gaming pieces such as this one (top, far right) suggest how Viking army members spent leisure time at Torksey.
Evidence of tremendous wealth has also been uncovered at the site, including (clockwise from above right) pieces of
hackgold, hacksilver, a gold Carolingian coin, and a silver Arabic dirham.
The Vikings at the camp, according to Hadley and Richards, may well have engaged in trade of a sort with local Anglo-Saxons. Scandinavians at the time generally used raw metal for trade rather than coins. Several hundred weights of the kind they are known to have used to facilitate exchange have been found. However, although the Vikings had negotiated a peace with the Mercians before setting up camp, it is unclear, according to Kershaw, how cordial relations would have been with those living nearby. “I don’t see what Viking camps would have had to offer locals,” she says. “I see them as being quite parasitic on the local landscape. They would have had to acquire a lot of provisions to sustain a large army, but I don’t think they would have done that peacefully. There might have been forced, coercive trade, but I don’t think these are places where you would walk up and buy a couple of pots. The trade that was going on was probably more among the army members themselves.”

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)Several hundred weights found at the Torksey site would have been used by the Viking army during the course of trade, either among themselves or with those living nearby.
The camp at Torksey would have been self-sustaining in some respects. “It’s almost like a town on the move,” says Hadley. Life within its confines is becoming clearer for researchers. Members of the army appear to have had leisure time on their hands, as shown by the number of lead gaming pieces that have been found at the site. The presence of metalworkers is indicated by collections of scrap copper and iron, apparently gathered to be melted down. Women seem to have been part of the camp as well, as suggested by the discovery of spindle whorls and other tools used to work textiles. It is unclear, though, whether these were Scandinavian women who had come along with the army as part of families, or captives taken as spoils of war. Added to all this are hints of an aspiring kingdom attempting to establish itself. Three iron plowshares discovered together may have been headed for the scrap heap. But, according to Richards, “The more interesting possibility is that they were already thinking about seizing agricultural estates and acquired the plowshares with that aim in mind.”

The peace the Vikings had made with the Mercians in Torksey was soon broken. The next year, 873, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Vikings charged into the kingdom’s capital, Repton, some 60 miles southwest along the Trent. There, they sacked a monastery, sent the king, Burghred, fleeing to Paris, and replaced him with a figurehead named Ceolwulf. This sort of bait and switch was typical of how the Vikings managed to get the better of the Anglo-Saxons. “The Anglo-Saxons did their standard thing of making an oath, exchanging hostages, and paying the Vikings some money, and then they expected the Vikings to go away,” says Kershaw. “But the Vikings don’t play by the same rules. They take the money, but they come back the next year. They swear an oath, but they don’t keep it. The Anglo-Saxons don’t quite know how to negotiate with someone who doesn’t respect their laws of peacemaking.”

The early Biddle excavations at the Repton overwintering camp of 873–874 were able to illustrate how the Vikings behaved in victory. After defeating the Mercians, the Vikings ran roughshod over some of their most sacred territory. They built a heavily fortified D-shaped enclosure with St. Wystan’s church to the south serving as a gatehouse and possibly an eating hall. A large defensive ditch was constructed, cutting through Mercian cemeteries to the east and west before turning north to meet the River Trent. Archaeologists also discovered what are believed to have been at least 10 carved Anglo-Saxon stone crosses smashed into small pieces. Says Biddle, who is now an emeritus professor at the University of Oxford, “They broke the place up.”

(Courtesy Martin Biddle)
A Viking warrior unearthed at the site in Repton where the Great Army camped over the winter of 873–874 was found to have received severe injuries to the head and left thigh.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle offers no insights into the nature of the battle for Repton, but evidence shows it was likely a bloody one. Next to a crypt where members of the Mercian royal family were buried, the excavation unearthed a Viking warrior who had suffered grievous injuries and had been laid to rest alongside an iron sword, with a silver Thor’s hammer around his neck. “He died a very violent death indeed,” says Biddle, reflecting back on the discovery. “He looks as though someone stabbed him more or less in the eyes. But the real great wound, which we found immediately upon excavation, was a huge cut into the inner side of his left femur. It could only have been made by someone standing above him, perhaps with a heavy sword or an ax.” A boar’s tusk had been placed between the warrior’s thighs, possibly to replace genitalia damaged or severed in his final battle.

Many more Vikings appear to have been buried in a charnel mound outside the fortified enclosure, in what was once an Anglo-Saxon mausoleum. There, Biddle discovered the disarticulated remains of at least 264 people. The remains belonged overwhelmingly to adult males. Found among them were an iron ax, two fighting knives, and five silver pennies dating to 872–874. As part of a new archaeological examination of the site, radiocarbon dating and analysis of the bones have demonstrated that they date to the time when the army overwintered at Repton and that they had been subjected to extensive violence and trauma. Cat Jarman of the University of Bristol, codirector of the current project at Repton, suggests that many of those whose bones were found in the deposit were Viking warriors killed in battle elsewhere and then buried during the winter. “We don’t actually know what happened to the thousands of people who died in battles that we read about in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” she says. “But there are a lot of examples from across the Viking world of people moving bones, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Viking Great Army took bones from battle sites and put them in this context.”

(Courtesy Mark Horton)
In this aerial view of Repton, one can see St. Wystan’s church (above right), which the Vikings put to use as a gatehouse at the edge of a fortified enclosure, and part of a recent excavation (center) that established the Viking camp was larger than had been thought.

It also appears that the overwintering camp at Repton extended beyond the heavily fortified enclosure. Excavations near the charnel mound have turned up Viking weapons—an arrowhead, a fragment of an ax—as well as lead gaming pieces and evidence of metalworking. Several clinker nails typically used in ship construction have also been found. “We know that they moved up and down the rivers, and their ships would have needed frequent repairs,” says Jarman. “They were probably getting ready for the next season’s attack.”

(Courtesy Anne Leaver (top), Courtesy Cat Jarman (above))
The recent discovery of an arrowhead (top) and ship nail (above) provides further evidence of the Viking army’s presence in Repton.

(Courtesy Mark Horton)
In this aerial view of Repton, one can see St. Wystan’s church (above right), which the Vikings put to use as a gatehouse at the edge of a fortified enclosure, and part of a recent excavation (center) that established the Viking camp was larger than had been thought.

After overwintering at Repton from 873 to 874, the Viking Great Army split in two. One part, under the leadership of Guthrum, headed south and was ultimately defeated in 878 by Wessex and its king, Alfred the Great. To make peace, Guthrum was baptized along with 30 of his warriors, and ended up reigning as an Anglo-Saxon-style king over a swath of territory allocated to him by Alfred. The other part of the army headed north and went on to “share out the land,” as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it, in Northumbria in 876, Mercia in 877, and East Anglia in 880. This seems to suggest that the Vikings took over vast stretches of England, but how did it work exactly? “We don’t really know,” says Kershaw. “The consensus is that they do take over the Anglo-Saxon estates, but I think you probably have Anglo-Saxon communities left in place alongside the new Scandinavian ones.”

(Courtesy Jane Kershaw) 
Scandinavian-style jewelry discovered in East Anglia, such as a disc brooch (top) and a gilt silver pendant (above), both shown front and back, suggest Viking women migrated to England in the late 9th to early 10th centuries.
The area of northern and eastern England inhabited by the Vikings ultimately came to be known as the Danelaw, after the Anglo-Saxons’ belief that most of the invaders had come from Denmark. New evidence suggests that once the army members settled there, large numbers of Viking women came over to join them. Kershaw has analyzed metal-detected finds from rural parts of the Danelaw and identified 125 women’s brooches of types that have turned up nowhere else in England, but have been found in Scandinavia, particularly in Denmark, and date to the Viking Age. “It’s clear that these items are coming in on the clothing of women arriving from southern Scandinavia to settle in rural England,” she says. “So I think there is a second wave of migration following the settlement of the Danelaw that includes women and children.” The discovery of brooches that mix Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian elements indicates that the two communities intermingled to a great degree. “These styles are seen as somehow fashionable by the locals,” says Kershaw. “There is a desire to emulate these styles, which suggests that Scandinavians are either in political control or they’re seen as exotic.”

The Anglo-Saxons, united under the House of Wessex, regained rule of the Danelaw by the mid-tenth century, but the Scandinavian influence endured. In a 1086 survey of England called the Domesday Book, nearly half the place names in Yorkshire are Scandinavian. “It’s not just towns and villages that have these names,” says Kershaw. “It’s really small features of the rural landscape, such as rivers, hedgerows, and little parks.” More than a thousand years after the Vikings first arrived, and despite their eventual defeat, their influence remains etched into the fabric of England to this day.

Daniel Weiss is senior editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.


Norwegian Glacial Melt Reveals Artifact Trove

Thank God, that halfwit, Al Gore, the opportunist extraordinaire, is causing the ice to melt worldwide, otherwise we wouldn't know about all this great stuff. (Ed.)


A Bronze Age shoe, radiocarbon-dated to about 1200 B.C. (Vegard Vike, Museum of Cultural History/University of Oslo

(CN) – A team of glacial archaeologists has recovered more than 2,000 artifacts exposed by climate change in the mountains of Norway.

Reporting Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describes the haul which includes ancient wood, hide, textile and other organic materials that are rarely preserved.

The finds date as far back as 4,000 B.C. and include arrows, skis and the remains of pack horses and clothing items from the Iron and Bronze ages.

Unfortunately, the climate change-driven melting that reveals the artifacts – so well preserved by the glaciers – also destroys them through exposure.

The team conducted a systematic survey at the edges of contracting ice along Norway’s Jotunheimen and the surrounding mountain areas of Oppland, which include the nation’s tallest peak.

Statistical analysis of the incredibly rare finds’ radiocarbon dates revealed patterns that showed the items do not evenly represent different time periods, which could be attributed to variations in human activity, past climate change or a combination of the two.

“One such pattern which really surprised us was the possible increase in activity in the period known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age (c. 536 to 660 A.D.),” said senior author James Barrett, an environmental archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England.

This era was marked by cooling, which may have caused harvests to fail and population to decline, according to Barrett. However, the team’s finds may have originated throughout this period, possibly signaling that the importance of mountain hunting – primarily of reindeer – grew to supplement failing agricultural harvests in periods of low temperatures.

Any decline in high-elevation activity during the Late Antique Little Ice Age may also have been so short that it cannot be observed from the available evidence, according to Barrett.
Ski from 700 A.D. with a preserved binding – only the second ski with preserved binding globally. (Aud Hole, /Oppland County Council)

“We then see particularly high numbers of finds dating to the 8th to 10th centuries A.D., probably reflecting increased population, mobility (including the use of mountain passes) and trade – just before and during the Viking age when outward expansion was also characteristic of Scandinavia,” Barrett said.

This increase could have resulted in part from the expanding ecological frontier of towns emerging throughout Europe at this time.

“Town dwellers needed mountain products such as antlers for artifact manufacture and probably also furs,” said Barrett. “Other drivers were the changing needs and aspirations of the mountain hunters themselves.”

The team found fewer artifacts from the latter half of the Middle Ages.

“There is a sharp decline in finds dating from the 11th century onwards,” said lead author Lars Pilo, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council in Norway. 

“At this time, bow-and-arrow hunting for reindeer was replaced with mass-harvesting techniques including funnel-shaped and pitfall trapping systems. This type of intensive hunting probably reduced the number of wild reindeer.”

Climate variations and the plague could also have led to reduced activity at the time and the reason why the team found fewer items from this period, according to co-author Brit Solli, who led the examination of the recovered artifacts.

“Once the plague arrived in the mid-14th century, trade and markets in the north also suffered,” said Solli, a professor of medieval archaeology at the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo. “With fewer markets and fewer reindeer, the activity in the high mountains decreased substantially.

“This downturn could also have been influenced by declining climatic conditions during the Little Ice Age.”
A complete tunic, radiocarbon-dated to about 300 A.D. (Mårten Teigen, Museum of Cultural History/University of Oslo)


Vikings research ongoing from Grey-Bruce

This is an interesting article for what might occur in Canadian archaeology insofar as the Vikings are concerned, rather than what has occurred, which is precious little considering the 400-year Norse presence in Canada.
The author and the Sun Times editor apparently do not have access to a spell/grammar check program, but hey, I’ve seen lots of people who write the English language that do not appear to have learned how to write. This author is one of those, but the subject article is still worth a look.

By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Sunday, January 14, 2018 3:18:01 EST PM

Robert Burcher and Alison Leonard at a discussion about vikings at Meaford Hall on Saturday. (Rob Gowan The Sun Times)

The Grey-Bruce area has become a bit of a Canadian hotbed for research into the Viking Age.

Rockford native Alison Leonard, who is currently involved in the Long Viking Age project at the University of York in England was joined by Clarksburg amateur archeologist Robert Burcher on Saturday at Meaford Hall where they talked about the different research they are undertaking into the long-ago society.

Leonard, who is again living in the area, said it is a bit of a “happy coincidence” that as she went down the path of her research, she ended up settling on the study of vikings, which do have a Canadian connection.
“My intention wasn't necessarily to look at them because of that Canadian connection, but now that I am home I do wish there was a lot more going on in terms of what we know about vikings in North America more generally,” said Leonard. “There are lots of really exciting theories and I think there is a huge amount of potential.”

There is at least some definitive evidence that the vikings made it to North America, as proven at the L'Anse aux Meadows.

“I have no doubt they travelled far and wide and along at least the coast (of North America). It would be amazing if we had firm evidence that showed them making inroads further inland,” said Leonard, who added it is going to be much more difficult finding that evidence in North America because the society's footprint here is so small.
“Everything is just very ephemeral and they were travelling very lightly,” said Leonard. “I do hold out hope for the future.”

But there are more theories out there, many of which have been explored by Burcher, who has made trips to Newfoundland studying ancient rock inscriptions and other potential archeological sites and has been attempting to get governments onboard with researching and potentially preserving the sites.

Burcher is a professional photographer who has long had a fascination with rock inscriptions and archeology. He has ruffled some feathers among archaeologists and historians with his theories, including in the late 1990s when he garnered media attention with his ideay that a mound of earth near Thornbury was built by ancient Celts, who visited the Great Lakes 2,500 years ago in search of copper. In late 1999 an excavation of the mound revealed it was just a pile of earth, probably distributed by retreating glaciers.

On Saturday, the approximately 40 people in attendance learned all about the very different paths both Leonard and Burcher have taken in studying a people from the same era.

Through her studies, Leonard is attempting to paint a picture of a people who she says were much more than just bloodthirsty warriors.

“In no way do I want to minimize the fact that they were violent, horrible, rough people, but I think it is important to remember that oftentimes they were acting seasonally, so the rest of the year they might be farmers and they might be merchants,” said Leonard. “A lot of the time they would combine the role of a trader with a raider.
“They might be travelling to England in the first place to actually trade at a local port, and then they see these undefended monasteries and realize they could triple their money if they just got their men together and took them down.”

Leonard said for her, it is about treating the whole pre-Viking and Viking period (AD 700-1100) holistically, so society is not leaving any part out.

“The more we understand their world as a whole, then the better we can understand the emergence of Vikings in the first place,” said Leonard. “We still don't have a very good idea of why people actually started going viking, so these are still big questions we hope to be able to answer eventually.

“I think it is looking at the finer details and the other side that will actually help build a big enough picture that we can do that.”
For a long time now, people have had a particular fascination with the vikings, as they have become hugely popular in today's society, with their depiction in movies, television, video games and books, and events such as viking festivals held around the world.

Leonard thinks it is the adventurous spirit of the vikings that makes people so interested in them.

“We don't glorify vikings because of all their negative attributes. It is not what has the most appeal,” Leonard said. “I think more than that, it is the fact that they travelled so far and risked their lives exploring new places.
“They also encompass ideas of loyalty as well. The sort of band of brothers travelling together on the same boat.”

Leonard grew up just outside Owen Sound in Rockford, attending school in the city, before going to McGill University for her undergraduate degree in history and anthropology, where she was introduced to archaeology.

In her third year at McGill she did an exchange to Glasgow, Scotland, which is when she became hooked on European archaeology in particular. After teaching in South Korea for a couple of years, she returned to the United Kingdom to complete her masters in Medieval Archeology at York, which is where she also completed her Ph D.

After finishing her Ph D she worked at the University of Cambridge for a couple years before moving back to the Owen Sound area to be closer to family and friends, but she is still associated with projects at York and is still working on the Long Viking Age Project.

The project uses crowdsourcing methods by tabulating all the Viking Age finds people who are using metal detectors are reporting to various institutions, whether in Denmark, Flanders, England and Wales, or the Netherlands.

The researchers use the data on an international scale to map out where they see similarities in items like net sinkers and spindle whorls that were produced in one area but found in another. They are also looking at where artistic inspiration in the items, such as brooches, is similar in different regions.

“We want to sort of try to pinpoint directions of movement of these artifacts, but also the ideas and trace the people who were influencing those things,” Leonard said.

Burcher said Saturday that he has enjoyed coming together with Leonard to talk about the vikings, a subject they are both very passionate about. He said he recognizes Leonard's skillset as a university-trained researcher on the matter, while Leonard recognizes his skillset as someone who has taken the time to go and talk to people and gather information that way.

“It is a really good blend and I think we will do some work together in the future,” said Burcher, who is hopeful that all his work will soon pay off, with the Irish government wanting to commit some funds into the work he has done, through connections with a local museum near one of the inscriptions in Newfoundland.
“What I want to do at this point is sort of let the Newfoundlanders take it from here,” said Burcher. “I have done all the beating of the bushes.”


The Viking Treasure that Marked the Foundation of England

From Medievalists comes this article about a Viking treasure hoard purported to be the most important ever found in the UK. It was discovered in Oxfordshire in 2015, and is still being examined by experts to date. The final tally of coinage will not be available for some time; however, the importance of the find is what it reveals of the Anglo-Saxon period. (Ed.)


Watlington Hoard in the Ashmolean Museum – photo by Minjie Su


By Minjie Su

Having you ever visited and been dazzled by Anglo-Saxon collection at the Ashmolean Museum, a priceless treasure hoard that the Museum has fought hard to keep earlier this year? Well, this is none other than the famed ‘Watlington Hoard’, a small yet pivotal collection of Viking silver (and gold) discovered and excavated in Oxfordshire in 2015.

On the 27th of November, Dr John Naylor and Dr Jane Kershaw, two chief researchers on the Watlington Hoard project, gave a seminar on the Hoard’s significance at Oxford University’s Institute of Archaeology; together, they provided the audience with a basic idea of how the Hoard is like, and explained why and how it is so important in shedding lights on Alfred the Great’s England.

The seminar was divided into two halves. In the first part, Dr Naylor, being an expert in early medieval and later coinage, gave a detailed introduction to the coins in the Hoard. Although many of the Watlington coins are fragmented and the final count is not yet ready, Dr Naylor estimates that there are around 210 coins in total, all dated to mid-9th to late-9th century, in the reigns of Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceowulf II of Mercia.

The coins are categorised into two types based on their design. Thirteen coins belong to the rare ‘Two Emperors’ type, with Alfred and Ceowulf siting face to face below a winged figure, possibly an angel of victory. This design has its roots in 4th-century Roman solidus (pl. solidi), a type of golden coin issued in the Late Roman Empire. These coins suggest the alliance between Wessex and Mercia in face of the Viking invasion, and cast doubt over the conventional portrayal of Ceowulf as a puppet king of the Vikings. The second type, the ‘cross-and-lozenge’ type, form the bulk of the collection. About fifty to fifty-five of these are issued by Ceowulf, two by Æthelred, archbishop of Canterbury, and the rest by King Alfred. Generally based on Roman models, these coins can be further divided into four subtypes: Canterbury, Winchester, London, and unassigned ‘other’ style, with Winchester almost entirely Alfred’s and the ‘other’ Mercian. Quite some of these coins are barely used; they have almost never gone into broad circulation, which may help to understand why the Hoard was buried.

In addition, there are a few coins that call for special attention. One such, though fragmented, may be the earliest example of an Anglo-Saxon half penny, which seems to have a cross design on one side. There are also two Carolingian deniers, which are dated to about 860-870. The latest issue from the Hoard is a single example of what is termed the ‘two-line’ type coins, which were not produced until after the Battle of Edington (maybe 878, after which Alfred famously burned the cakes). This coin not only helps to narrow down the burial date of the Hoard to about 879-880, but also gives us a glimpse into under what turbulent circumstance the Hoard was deposed.

Dr Jane Kershaw, having taken over the second half of the seminar, talked about the rest of items in the Hoard, which consists of 15 silver ingots, 6 silver arm rings, 2 neck ring fragments, and 1 tiny yet valuable piece of hack gold, all most likely having a Danish origin. Unlike the coins many of which have never circulated, these silvers are heavily ‘nicked’, meaning that they have been tested for its fineness. Three of the arm rings are also deliberately cut – not broken, but cut up to be weighed. This attests to these metals’ circulation on the bullion exchange market, which was not at all uncommon in major Scandinavian trading towns such as Birke and had been introduced to England by the time the Hoard was buried.

The presence of the hack gold, however tiny, makes the Hoard even more interesting, for gold was rarely used as currency and tended to be traded separately from silver. The inclusion of gold in the Watlington Hoard gives evidence to the rise of a multi-metallic bullion exchange economy. Dr Kershaw thinks these metals and the two Carolingian coins come in one parcel, while the Anglo-Saxon coins belong to another.

How and why, then, was the Watlington Hoard buried? These treasure, as Dr Kershaw suggested, was likely associated with the ‘Great Army’ in the late 9th century. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles mention Alfred’s peace-making with the Vikings but offer no further detail – was he in fact paying them to leave, and the Hoard came as part of that payment? It is not an unprecedented move on a ruler’s part: the Royal Frankish Annals tell of Charles the Bald paying the Vikings and the Vikings weighing the silver.

When the Hoard was buried, the Viking army was on their way to East Anglia, as agreed under the Treaty of Wedmore after the Battle of Edington. They most likely took the old Roman road through Cirencester, where they stayed for about one year, then went onto the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way, thus passing Watlington. Sitting on the border between Wessex and Mercia and as an important Mercian fort, Cirencester is an interesting stop for the Vikings – just what made them choose that route? We know that Ceowulf II disappeared the year the Vikings took over Cirencester. Around the same time, Alfred melted down the ‘Two Emperors’ type of coins and started to mint the ‘Two-line’ type. This is all only speculative, but could it be that Alfred paid the Vikings to get rid of Ceowulf for him? Then, in that case, the Watlington Hoard would be a witness to the agreement between Alfred and the Viking army.


Threading through Cork’s Viking past

Archaeology continues to produce spectacular Viking artifacts from Dublin, Ireland. Digs in the city continue and more Viking period items will surely be unearthed. (Ed.)


November 24, 2017

Twelfth-century wooden instruments in situ during the excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City. (Images: Maurice F. Hurley)
In the course of excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City, Ireland, earlier this year, a perfectly preserved Viking weaver’s sword was discovered.

It was a striking find, as it cements the idea that medieval Cork had a Viking presence. As Dr Maurice Hurley, a consultant archaeology, said, ‘For a long time there was a belief that the strongest Viking influence was on Dublin and Waterford, but the full spectrum of evidence shows that Cork was in the same cultural sphere and that its development was very similar.’

The sword, dating roughly to the 11th century, is made entirely of yew and measures just over 30cm in length. It is so well-preserved that the human head on the pommel of the sword and the Ringerike-style Viking art embellished on the grip are all clearly visible. While similar weaver’s swords have been found in Ireland – most notably in Wood Quay, Dublin (see CA 328) – this find is unique in its quality and preservation.
The immaculately preserved weaver’s sword recovered from the Cork excavations.
‘The sword was used probably by women to hammer threads into place on a loom; the pointed end is for picking up the threads for pattern-making. It is highly decorated – the Vikings decorated every utilitarian object,’ said Maurice.

The excavation also unearthed the foundations of 19 Viking houses, including hearths and bedding material. In addition to the weaver’s sword, a wooden thread-winder carved with two horses’ heads was also discovered on the site. Numerous other artefacts represent evidence for a wide spectrum of trades and cultural activities.

The excavations took place between November 2016 and July 2017, and the finds are currently undergoing post-excavation analysis and conservation. A few of the more spectacular items – including the weaver’s sword – were unveiled during an informal visit to the Cork Public Museum by the Norwegian ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit Eikeland.

This article was published in CA 334.


Historic finds unearthed in Medieval cemetery

This Viking site was recently uncovered in Norway, near Trondheim. It is an interesting article about a minor site in the whole scheme of things.

It is unfortunate that certain of today's archaeologists feel they can justify their existence by changing the way time dates are noted. The entire world uses BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domine), or literally After Christ.

But, not these people. Apparently, they think it fashionable - in a socialist, politically correct sort of way - to change the nomenclature by which time dates have been kept since somebody started recording them about 2000 years ago. They think CE (Current Epoch) and BCE (Before Current Epoch) will catch hold. They won't, you socialist twits.


December 14, 2017
Archaeologists thought they were going to find a layer of beer brewing stones from the Viking age, but instead they found a "Viking import" from Ireland. Credit: NTNU University Museum
What was supposed to be a simple excavation to allow for the expansion of a church cemetery turned into a treasure trove of historic artefacts, including a decorative fitting from a book "imported" by Vikings from Ireland.

Byneset Cemetery, adjacent to the medieval Steine Church in Trondheim in mid-Norway, is expanding, and Norwegian cultural heritage laws require and archaeological review of the affected area beforehand.

The expansion plans brought archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) University Museum to survey the site earlier this year.

Jo Sindre Pålsson Eidshaug and Øyunn Wathne Sæther, research assistants at the NTNU University Museum, came across a surprising find during their excavations.
"This is a decorative fitting," Eidshaug said of his discovery. "It almost looks like it's gilded here. It's a kind of decorative fitting, I would guess."

Tove Eivindsen, head of communications for the museum, just happened to be there and captured the moment when the discovery was unearthed.

The find is probably a gold-plated, silver fitting from a book. It appears to be Celtic in origin, and might have come from a religious book brought here during the Viking Age that disappeared several centuries ago, and that hasn't been seen by anyone since then – but for now everything is speculation.

A fitting, probably from a book. The style is typical of Celtic and Irish areas and dates from the 800s. Traces of gilding can be seen in the recesses. Credit: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum
"Someone very politely called this an Irish import, but that's just a nice way of saying that someone was in Ireland and picked up an interesting item," said museum director Reidar Andersen, who was also at the site.

Raymond Sauvage from NTNU's Department of Archaeology and Cultural History, and the project manager for these excavations, concurs.
"Yes, that's right. We know that the Vikings went out on raids. They went to Ireland and brought things back. But how peacefully it all transpired, I won't venture to say," he said.

The archaeologists call a find like this one an "imported object."

Digging in the cultural layer. Pictured are: Eivind Krag, Karen Oftedal, Raymond Sauvage, Jo Sindre Eidshaug, Øyunn Sætre and Marte Mokkelbost. Credit: Trond Sverre Skevik, NTNU University Museum
"We started the project with slightly lower hopes for what we might find than what's recently emerged," said Andersen, who calls the discovery "fantastic" and thinks this is an exciting area.
Sauvage says you don't make discoveries like this everywhere. There are only a few areas where people had the resources to go out on such voyages.

The church and the excavation site used to be connected to a large, old farm estate that probably existed here from at least the Viking age. Excavation sites like this often date back to the Nordic Iron Age and the Middle Ages and can provide valuable insight into the position and status of the Steine farm during this period, as described on the project's Norwegian website Norark, Norsk arkeologi.
Archaeologists also came across a belt buckle, a key and a knife blade.

Frode Iversen digs in the cultural layer. Pictured in the background are: Karen Oftedal and Øyunn Watne Sætre. Credit: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum
"Steine Church was built in the 1140s," says Sauvage, explaining that the archaeologists also found a link to Nidaros Cathedral.

Archaeologists uncovered a church mason's mark that corresponds to one found on Nidaros Cathedral. These marks were personal to every individual stonemason, which means that the same stonemason worked on both buildings.

The archaeologists were actually planning to do a sampling of layers containing brewing stones, but the area has proved to have considerably more conserved cultural layers than archaeologists were aware of before the work began, said Sauvage.

The dig was therefore expanded, and now objects dating as far back as 700 CE have been found. That means they belong to what is called the late Germanic Iron (or Merovingian) Age.

The archaeological excavations, paid for by Trondheim municipality, ran for five weeks this summer. The cemetery expansion started on 16 October.