Monday, 31 January 2011

Vikings' crystal clear method of navigation

Viking sagas may have been more truthful than we realised. Crystal "sunstones" could have helped Viking sailors to navigate even when cloud or fog hid the sun.

Vikings navigated using sundials calibrated to show the direction of the North Pole. While there is no physical evidence for the navigational techniques adopted on cloudy days, there are references in the Viking sagas to "sunstones" being used.

In 1967, Danish archaeologist Thorkild Ramskou suggested that sunstones may work by creating a pattern of light that revealed the hidden sun's location – although sceptics countered that the method is unwieldy, if not unworkable.

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Did Vikings navigate by polarized light?

A Viking legend tells of a glowing 'sunstone' that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the Sun even on a cloudy day. It sounds like magic, but scientists measuring the properties of light in the sky say that polarizing crystals — which function in the same way as the mythical sunstone — could have helped ancient sailors to cross the northern Atlantic. A review of their evidence is published today in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B1.

The Vikings, seafarers from Scandinavia who travelled widely and settled in swathes of Northern Europe, the British Isles and the northern Atlantic from around 750 to 1050 AD, were skilled navigators, able to cross thousands of kilometres of open sea between Norway, Iceland and Greenland. Perpetual daylight during the summer sailing season in the far north would have prevented them from using the stars as a guide to their positions, and the magnetic compass had yet to be introduced in Europe — in any case, it would have been of limited use so close to the North Pole.

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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Ireland's Viking Fortress

The remains of the legendary Viking fortress Linn Duachaill have been discovered in northeastern Ireland, 45 miles north of Dublin. "Historians and archaeologists have been trying to locate Linn Duachaill for more than 200 years," says Eamonn Kelly, Keeper of Antiquities with the National Museum of Ireland, who led a lengthy research and targeted excavation effort that resulted in the discovery of the infamous Viking base.

Linn Duachaill was founded in A.D. 841, the same year as Viking Dublin. The fortress was used as a center by the Vikings to trade goods, organize attacks against inland Irish monasteries, and send captured Irish slaves abroad. For more than 70 years, Linn Duachaill rivaled Dublin as the preeminent Viking holding on the east coast of Ireland before it was eventually abandoned.

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Friday, 21 January 2011

Vote for the Vikings!

The nominations for the Current Archaeology 'Research Project of the Year 2011' includes a project led by David Griffiths entitled "Raiders and Traders". This projects deals with the Vikings and their archaeological and genetic legacy. The project was featured in Current Archaeology 245, August 2010.

The result is decided by popular vote, and anyone can vote. If you would like to cast a vote for the Vikings, you can do so at:

Friday, 14 January 2011

Your Favourite Archaeological Sites in Europe

Which sites in Europe have you most enjoyed visiting? A new Archaeology in Europe website allows you to post descriptions and photos of archaeological sites that you have visited, and to give ratings and comments for sites that are already in the database.

The site is very much in its infancy at the moment, and I would welcome contributions and feedback. It is envisaged that the site will grow into a useful source of up to date information for those planning to visit sites in Europe.

You can find the site at:

The site runs on Phile – a brilliant application developed by Mike Schiff and Sho Kuwamoto. Phile can be best described as a combination of an online database and a social network site, and it allows people with similar interests to share much more detailed information than the usual social network sites.

I am sure that Phile has tremendous potential for archaeological societies, fieldwork studies and other work groups. Take a look at

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

New book throws light on Middle Saxon Shift in East Sussex

The later Anglo-Saxon settlement at Bishopstone: a downland manor in the making by Gabor Thomas is the latest CBA Research report (no 163) to be published.

Well known for the Early Anglo-Saxon settlement previously excavated on Rookery Hill and its impressive pre-Conquest church, Bishopstone has entered archaeological orthodoxy as a classic example of a ‘Middle Saxon Shift’.

This new volume reports on the excavations from 2002 to 2005 designed to investigate this transition, with the focus on the origins of Bishopstone village. Excavations adjacent to St Andrew’s churchyard revealed a dense swathe of later Anglo-Saxon (8th- to late 10th-/early 11th-century) habitation, including a planned complex of ‘timber halls’, and a unique cellared tower. The occupation encroached upon a pre-Conquest cemetery of 43 inhumations.

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