Monday, 31 March 2014

Researchers suggest Vikings used crystals with sun compass to steer at night

Credit: Soren Thirslund

( —A team of researchers working in Hungary has proposed that a sun compass artifact found in a convent in 1948 might have been used in conjunction with crystals to allow Vikings to guide their boats even at night. In their paper published inProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences, the team describes theories they've developed that might explain how Viking sailors were able to so accurately sail to places such as Greenland.
Since the discovery of the sun compass fragment,  have theorized that Viking sailors used them to plot their course—at least when the sun was shining. They didn't have magnetic compasses, however, which suggest they must have had some other means for steering in the evening or the later hours. In this latest effort, the researchers describe a scenario where the Vikings might have used a type of crystal that they called a sunstone to help them use light from the sun below the horizon as a guide.
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Forget GPS: Medieval Compass Guided Vikings After Sunset

The Uunartoq disc was discovered in an 11th century convent in Greenland in 1948. It is thought to have been used as a compass by the Vikings as they traversed the North Atlantic Ocean from Norway to Greenland.
Credit: Copyright Proceedings of the Royal Society A; Balazs Bernath; Alexandra Farkas; Denes Szaz; Miklos Blaho; Adam Egri; Andras Barta; Susanne Akesson; and Gabor Horvath

Often regarded as ruthless robbers, the Vikings were also impressive mariners capable of traversing the North Atlantic along a nearly straight line. Now, new interpretations of a medieval compass suggest the sea robbers may have skillfully used the sun to operate the compass even when the sun had set below the horizon.

The remains of the supposed compass — known as theUunartoq disc— were found in Greenland in 1948 in an 11th-century convent. Though some researchers originally argued it was simply a decorative object, other researchers have suggested the disc was an important navigational tool that theVikings would have used in their roughly 1,600-mile-long (2,500 kilometers) trek from Norway to Greenland.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

'Awesome' Viking warship 'struck terror into people'

There are ghosts at the British Museum.

Hulking, hairy, bloodthirsty warriors grunting in unison as they row the biggest warship of its kind the world has ever known.

Can the gallery curator see them, or am I the only one? He laughs -- a little nervously: "Yes, you do get a sense of them."

Looming before us is Roskilde 6, the largest Viking ship ever discovered, carefully reconstructed after 1,000 years languishing beneath the waves. At 37 meters long it's double the size of the boat Christopher Columbus sailed to America.

Ghost armies or not, it is a sight to behold. The ship's fearsome metal frame seemingly rises from a watery netherworld on a mission to conquer the globe -- once and for all.

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Sunday, 9 March 2014

ikings: Life and Legend review – a stirring tale of shock and oar

The British Museum showcases the poetry, boats and bling of the marauding 11th-century Norsemen who, above all else, understood curves…

Three of the Lewis Chessmen, c.1150-1200, discovered on Lewis, Shetland, and thought to originate from Norway. Photograph: British Museum
Anyone who has even dipped a toe in the briny sagas of the Viking kings will know that the stag outing the itinerant Norsemen prized above all others always began something like this: "On Saturday the fleet-lord throws off the long tarpaulin, and splendid widows from the town gaze on the planking of the dragon ship. The young ruler steers the brand new warship west out of the Nio, and the oars of the warriors fall into the sea… " Those lines come from the 11th-century court poet Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, and they describe the characteristic actions of the fleet of Harald Hardradra (Harold the Hard Ruler), the last great Viking king, who fought unsuccessfully to extend his Norwegian monarchy to Denmark and then Britain. He died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 along with his poet.
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Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Vikings are here…

Gareth Williams, Exhibition Curator, British Museum
Lo, it is nearly thirty-five years since the Vikings last came to this Museum, and nobody believed that such an influx of fantastic material from overseas (as well as the UK) could be made…*
To be fair, the BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend lacks some of the drama of the original Viking attack on Lindisfarne in 793. We haven’t had fiery dragons in the sky (unless you count the Aurora Borealis coming unusually far south), and there hasn’t been much in the way of destruction or slaughter. Nor is it likely that this exhibition will be remembered 1200 years after the event, although in an age of globalised communication, there is no doubt that the exhibition has attracted considerably more notice in the last few days than the attack on Lindisfarne did at the time. Nevertheless, as the largest Viking exhibition in the UK for over 30 years, it has the potential to shape our definition of the Viking Age.
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