Monday 27 February 2023

10 Burial Excavations That Unveil Incredible Viking Women

What was a Viking? The Vikings emerged from Scandinavia in the late eighth century as marauding raiders and traders with fantastic ships. From approximately 750-1100 CE, the Vikings roamed the world. Popularly, Vikings are often portrayed as overwhelmingly male. Even in the archaeological record, male burials outnumber female graves. Despite this imbalance, evidence shows Viking women lived versatile lives as warriors, witches, queens, traders, and housewives. By exploring the lives of ten Viking women we can reveal an exciting world of intrigue and movement with many mysteries still to be deciphered.

1. Viking Women as Warriors: The Birka Warrior

A warrior was found lying in a wooden chamber in the black earth on the island of Birka. Weapons crowded the grave, pointing to a life of conflict or readiness for battle. A sword, an axe, a knife, two lances, two shields, and 25 arrows rested beside the warrior should the weapons be needed again. Elsewhere in the grave, gaming pieces waited to be used. Made of bone, these game pieces likely formed part of a hnefatafl set, a medieval game of strategy used as preparation for war. Two horses lay at the warrior’s feet. As archaeologists removed the dirt and artifacts from the chamber, they had little doubt that the warrior had been a man of considerable status. They were half right but half wrong.

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Thursday 23 February 2023

Vikings and Scotland: 10 Interesting facts about ancient Vikings and their history in Scotland

Scotland rests just over the North sea from Scandinavia which made it a prime entry point for Vikings entering the British Isles back when they invaded in the 8th century. Their violent raids took place on Scotland’s coastline and islands where they robbed precious metals from local communities before eventually forming their own settlements.

United under Norwegian rule, the Scottish islands were signed over to Magnus III of Norway by King Eagar in 1098 in a region that would be known as the Kingdom of the Isles. The Kingdom comprised the Northern Isles of Shetland and Orkney (where Norse influence is said to be its most potent) and the Southern Isles including the Isle of Man and Hebrides.

Just like with Gaelic or Pictish communities, the Norse legacy of Scotland can still be felt today as place names feature motifs from their languages and Scots can still trace their ancestry back to such groups.

To explore this heritage further, here are 10 interesting facts about Vikings in Scotland and how they influenced the Scotland we know today.

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Sunday 19 February 2023

The Meols Pub Boat: a hypothesis

Satellite view of the Railway Inn Pub. The position of the vessel is marked by an ellipse. 

In 2007 Ground Penetrating Radar confirmed the existence of an old boat buried deep under
a car park/patio area of a pub near the Railway Station in Meols, Wirral (Fig. 1), a find that
had been reported some 70 years earlier. 

1938 Discovery
In 1938 the Railway Inn Pub was being rebuilt further away from the road with the site of the
old building becoming a car-park. Workers unearthed part of an old clinker boat buried in
waterlogged blue clay some 2-3m underneath the surface. One of the workers, Mr John
McRae, made detailed notes about the vessel - its size and clinker design (built with
overlapping planks) - and noted its location before it was covered over. In 1991 his son - also
John - compiled the notes together into a report with a sketch (Fig 2), and presented it to
Liverpool Museum (now National Museums: Liverpool) in 1991, after which the information
was entered by an assitant curator into the Sites and Monuments Record [1]. No further
action was taken. 

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Saturday 18 February 2023

Artist’s impression of the viking camp established in 873 at Repton (Derbyshire, England). Compost Creative, Author provided Hideouts, harbours and homes: how vikings may have owed their success to their encampments

Artist’s impression of the viking camp established in 873 at Repton (Derbyshire, England).
Compost Creative, Author provided

For many years, archaeologists and historians have provided an increasingly informed insight into the dynamic world of the vikings, chipping away at the clichés of a crazed, capricious people preoccupied with beards and bloodshed. One particular approach to understanding viking activity has been to study the encampments they set up along the coasts and rivers of western Europe, allowing them to substitute their ships for a fixed, onshore position whenever cold, fatigue, hunger, or other conditions compelled them to.

Often called “winter camps” or longphuirt, more than 100 of these sites were witnessed across the Atlantic archipelago and European mainland during the ninth century alone, and their tangible remains have been uncovered in places like Repton and Torksey in England, and Woodstown in Ireland. Most recently, potential viking encampments have also been pointed to near Zutphen in the Netherlands, as well as the Coquet Valley in Northumbria.

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Could there be a Viking boat buried underneath a Wirral pub carpark?

80 years ago when the pub was built, workers made a discovery which is thought could be a Viking boat

Dominga Dett, Chair of Wirral Archaeology said: "There has been intense local interest in this buried object for many years.

"It has been thought that the boat dates from the Viking era but no professional investigation has ever been carried out to establish the truth, so everyone is really delighted at the prospect of what we might discover."

Lisa Jones, General Manager at The Railway, said: "Team Railway is very happy to be part of this historic moment and supports the work of the archelogy group.

"There is a buzz and excitement around this and we look forward to finding out more about what is buried beneath the car park.

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Standing Swords

(Arkeologerna Statens historiska museer)Upright swords, Köping, Sweden

While excavating a Viking cemetery near the Swedish town of Köping, archaeologists discovered a pair of sword hilts protruding curiously from the earth. After further investigation, they determined that the handles belonged to Viking swords that had been thrust into the earth above two burials and had remained upright for 1,200 years. “Viking Age graves containing swords are very rare,” says Anton Seiler, an archaeologist working with Sweden’s National Historical Museums. “Graves where swords were set in a vertical position are even rarer.”

Because it would have taken a great amount of force to hammer the weapons through the soil and large stones that covered the burials, researchers do not believe the blades were in this position by chance. “It was clearly a conscious action,” Seiler says, though he is not certain why the swords were arranged in this unusual way. Perhaps, he says, it was a gesture meant to aid the deceased warriors’ journey to Valhalla. It also may have been a way of commemorating the dead. Family members visiting the graves would have been able to touch the sword handles, thereby maintaining a close connection with the departed.

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The boat was first discovered in 1938 by workmen, who partially exposed the vessel at the Railway Inn pub in Meols. The workmen reburied the boat after making several notes and sketches, with no further archaeological studies conducted until now.

A closer study of the sketches suggest that the boat is a clinker design (overlapping planks), technique that developed in the Nordic shipbuilding tradition, and was commonly used by the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians and Scandinavians.

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Thursday 16 February 2023

How medieval monasteries survived Viking raids

Lyminge Archaeology | Twitter | Fair Use

Archaeologists now claim that English monasteries were more resilient to Viking attacks than previously thought.

The monastery of Lyminge is known for being an Anglo-Saxon royal monastery. Archaeological research demonstrates that Lyminge is one of the best preserved monastic sites in Kent – a region where Christianity first gained a foothold in Anglo-Saxon England. Because of its importance, it was repeatedly attacked by Vikings, until Alfred the Great won a decisive victory in the Battle of Edington (878) and made an agreement with the Vikings, dividing England between Anglo-Saxon territories and the Viking-ruled Danelaw. Alfred also oversaw the conversion of the Danish Viking warlord Guthrum to Christianity, and soon became the dominant ruler in England, even taking London back from its Viking occupants.

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Monday 13 February 2023

The world's oldest rune stone was found sticking out of the ground. Here’s how researchers figured out how old it is

 The Svingerud stone is marked in this photo with a red ring. The photograph shows the way it stuck out in the excavation field. (Photo: KHM)

The Museum of Cultural History in Oslo recently announced that they had found the world's oldest rune stone during an excavation in 2021.

The roughly 1,800-2,000-year-old stone is called the Svingerud stone, and was found during an excavation of several grave fields near Tyrifjord, west of Oslo. The stone's name comes from this location.

The archaeologists were not aware of what they had found until the stone was examined later. The Svingerud stone is about the size of a large book, and someone has neatly carved runes into the stone.

“It is surprising that there are so many inscriptions on such an old stone, and there are also traces of shallow inscriptions in the Svingerud stone,” said Kristel Zilmer to Zilmer is Professor of Written Culture and Iconography at the Museum of Cultural History (KHM).

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Saturday 11 February 2023

Viking Games: 9 Nordic Ways to Pass the Time

In the twelfth century CE, a young Norwegian Kali Kolsson ventured to Orkney. Eager to prove his worth, he listed his nine skills: “I am quick at playing chess…I hardly forget runes, I am often at either a book or craftsmanship. I am able to glide on skis, I shoot and row so it makes a difference, I understand both the playing of the harp and poetry.” Kolsson’s skills share similarities with the traditional pastimes of the Viking Age (c. 793-1066 CE). As demonstrated by Kolsson, Viking games served as more than just a good time, they offered training in strategy in a volatile medieval world.

1. Medieval Board Games: Unique Viking Games

The Old Norse word tafl figures prominently in Viking lore. Tafl translates to table and often refers to table-based games or board games. Various game boards and pieces have been found throughout the Viking world. These games seem to have been strategy games, but the rules have yet to be found. Game boards seem to have been typically made of wood, but their sizes varied considerably. Vikings marked many game boards with squares like a checkers or chess board while others had round peg holes.

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Friday 10 February 2023

The Vikings, masters of the seas and terror of medieval Europe, made and amassed thousands of viking beads that reveal surprising insights into their priorities and ambitions.

The Vikings are known for many things — raiding, trading, sailing, stealing, and fighting — but not beads. Yet, viking beads dominate the archaeological record in excavations of the Viking world. Easily overshadowed by the Vikings’ grand ships and (historically inaccurate) horned helmets, beads traveled with the Vikings around the world. Viking beads retain insights about the Norse world and what it meant to be a marauding trader, thief, and explorer in the volatile medieval world.

1. Viking Beads Show a Mastery of Craft

She was a witch! Maybe. Archaeologists discovered a woman buried in a cist grave on the Isle of Man in 1984. They named her the “Pagan Lady of Peel,” after discovering an iron rod wrapped in a goose wing and herbs placed beside her. At first, they called the rod a cooking spit. After further reflection, archaeologists suggested that the cooking spit might be a ritual staff. The Pagan Lady of Peel quickly gained renown as a Viking sorceress, though her true identity remains a mystery.

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Tuesday 7 February 2023

The Wolf Age: The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire

The Wolf Age: The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire

By Tore Skeie

Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1-78227-835-1

This book focuses on the Norse history in England from the mid-10th to mid-11th centuries. Scandinavia, Normandy and other lands also appear in its pages, but the main story details the campaigns and battles of various Viking leaders in Britain, ultimately leading to the reign of Cnut as King of England.

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Is there any evidence that Iceland had human habitation prior to the arrival of Europeans?


The conventional date given for the settlement of Iceland is 874, plus or minus a couple of years. In terms of evidence of human activity before settlement, yes there may be. But don’t let your imagination run away from you: there are several caveats.

To speak first of historical evidence, there are references in medieval Icelandic literature to people called the “Papar,” an Icelandic name likely referring to the pope.  This name refers to a group of Irish monks who supposedly settled parts of Iceland, including the island of “Papey.” There is no archaeological evidence of their dwellings, only some historical and literary references in the medieval material. In Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), these mysterious monks were said to have left behind relics like books and croziers, departing the country upon the arrival of the Norse settlers. While there are many examples of Irish monks from the early medieval period looking for isolation in remote environments, some scholars have more recently interpreted the Papar as a literary trope, by which medieval Christian Icelanders tried to re-write Christianity into their pagan past.

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Friday 3 February 2023


Image Credit : Shutterstock

Commonly depicted as being fearless, brutal warriors, Vikings were also accomplished farmers, and fishermen. They grew all types of grains, including wheat, oats, barley and rye, and tended to orchards to provide fresh apples, plums and cherries.

In the family social structure, the man generally worked the farm and fished during the day, while the woman cared for the household, children and animals, and delt with most other aspects of domestic home life.

Mealtime was usually twice a day, the first being in the morning (dagmal) and when the day’s work was done (nattmal). Existing as an agricultural society, the typical Viking diet was well rounded and included an abundance of meat, vegetables, fruits and grains. Reindeer, goat, elk, mutton, poultry and fowl were readily available, but beef, lamb and pork were the preferred choice in a Viking household.

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Thursday 2 February 2023

Viking warriors sailed the seas with their pets, bone analysis finds

A Viking burial mound at Heath Wood being excavated.
(Image credit: Julian Richards, University of York)

A Viking cemetery in England doesn't just hold the cremated remains of these warriors but also the beloved animals they brought from Scandinavia.

When the Vikings sailed west to England more than a millennium ago, they brought their animal companions with them and even cremated their bodies alongside human ones in a blazing pyre before burying them together, a new study finds. 

These animal and human remains were found in a unique cremation cemetery in central England that has long been assumed to hold the remains of Vikings — in particular, the warriors who sailed west to raid the countryside in the ninth century A.D. However, the new analysis revealed that several of the burial mounds didn't contain just the remains of humans but also those of domesticated animals that the warriors brought with them on their journey.

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In pictures: Shetland's Up Helly Aa Viking fire festival

Shetland's famous Up Helly Aa fire festival - with women and girls in the torchlit procession for the first time - has witnessed the burning of a replica Viking galley light up the Lerwick sky.

Up Helly Aa - the biggest fire festival in Europe - is traditionally held on the last Tuesday in January.

The 142-year-old event sees people celebrate Shetland's Norse heritage.

Females have traditionally been restricted to participating as hostesses - organising the all-night parties that take place in community halls across the Shetland capital.

However, organisers agreed to lift the gender restrictions for the main procession. The decision followed a campaign dating back to the 1980s.

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Viking gods, goddesses & tricksters: 12 figures from Norse mythology

Norse mythology is filled with fascinating figures which hold a mirror up to the societies that created their legends. From Odin, a one-eyed ruler who sought arcane knowledge, to Hel, keeper of the underworld – we take a closer look at the gods and goddesses of Viking lore…

Before the existence of humanity, there was the Ginnungagap, a great chasm which yawned between two realms of legend: the ice of Niflheim and the fiery Muspelheim. When the borders of the two lands of legend clashed in the void, they formed a burning frost, from which were born the first gods of the Vikings.

So held the pagan beliefs of many Norse societies between the eighth and 11th centuries. In the near-millennium that has passed since the end of the Viking age, such myths and stories have evolved and merged to become fixtures of today’s popular culture – from Thor’s mighty hammer to the notion of Valhalla.

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Vikings brought their animals to England, research suggests

Excavations at Heath Wood in Derbyshire, the only known large-scale Viking cremation site in the British Isles. Photograph: Handout

Experts find evidence at Derbyshire cremation site of horses and dogs originating from the Baltic Shield

When the Vikings arrived in England they didn’t just bring their helmets, axes and beards –they also brought their horses and dogs, research suggests.

Experts studying cremated remains associated with the Viking great army that invaded England in AD865, say they have found evidence of animals and humans travelling from the Baltic Shield – a geographical area that encompasses Finland and parts of Norway, Sweden and Russia.

“It’s the first scientific proof that the Vikings did bring their animals with them from Scandinavia,” said Prof Julian Richards, co-author of the study from the University of York.

“It’s so nice to have this scientific evidence for something we see later in the Bayeux tapestry with the Normans disembarking the fleet, but this is 200 years earlier.”

Writing in the journal Plos One, Richards and colleagues describe how they analysed the ratio of different strontium isotopes in cremated remains found at the barrow cemetery at Heath Wood, Derbyshire.

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Vikings brought horses and dogs to England, cremated bones confirm

Excavations at Heath Wood in England
Julian Richards, University of York

The first physical proof that Vikings brought horses and dogs to England has been unearthed

Archaeologists have uncovered the first physical evidence that confirms some Vikings shipped their own horses and dogs from Scandinavia to England.

The animal bone evidence comes from a burial mound at the only known Viking cremation cemetery in the British Isles. The Heath Wood cemetery – located in what is now Derbyshire in central England – is believed to be a burial ground for the first large Viking army to travel to the country.

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First Solid Scientific Evidence That Vikings Brought Animals To Britain

Viking burial mound at Heath Wood, Derbyshire, UK, being excavated.
Credit: Julian Richards, University of York.

Archaeologists have found what they say is the first solid scientific evidence suggesting that Vikings crossed the North Sea to Britain with dogs and horses.

Research led by Durham University, UK, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium, examined human and animal remains from Britain's only known Viking cremation cemetery at Heath Wood, in Derbyshire.

Scientists looked at strontium isotopes contained within the remains. Strontium is a natural element found in different ratios across the world and provides a geographical fingerprint for human and animal movements.

Their analysis showed that within the context of the archaeology, one human adult and several animals almost certainly came from the Baltic Shield area of Scandinavia, covering Norway and central and northern Sweden, and died soon after arrival in Britain.

The researchers say this suggests that Vikings were not only stealing animals when they arrived in Britain, as accounts from the time describe, but were also transporting animals from Scandinavia, too.

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Study: Some Vikings Brought Horses and Dogs To Britain

Cremation leaves behind bone fragments like these, which can still reveal information about their geographic origin, if not much else.Julian Richards, University of York

The bones of one dead warrior and their animals may shed new light on the Viking Great Army’s logistics.

When the army of (mostly) Scandinavian warriors landed in East Anglia in 865 CE, they came to plunder — and they were equally happy to fight or to extort the locals. The king of East Anglia, Edmund the Martyr, apparently gave the Viking Great Army horses in return for not having to fight the Vikings, and unleashing them on neighboring, rival kingdoms like Mercia and Wessex. Elsewhere, the Vikings were said to steal horses and whatever else they wanted.

Based on historical descriptions like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it sounds like the Viking Great Army’s approach to logistical planning was “we’ll just steal it when we get there.” But recent archaeological evidence suggests that at least some Vikings brought animals like horses, dogs, and maybe even pigs with them on their campaign to Britain.

Durham University archaeologist Tessi Löffelmann and her colleagues published their findings in a recent paper in the journal PLOS ONE.

What’s new — Wherever you go in the world, the bedrock beneath your feet has a particular ratio of different isotopes of the element strontium. That isotopic ratio gives the place a chemical fingerprint that’s shared by plants that grow in the soil, animals that eat the plants and drink the water, and other animals that eat those animals. Once it’s in the body, strontium can fill in for calcium in your bones, so that if you’ve in a place long enough, its geology becomes part of your bones.

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Horses and dogs sailed with Vikings to Britain, say scientists

Vikings sailing from Scandinavia to England brought horses, dogs and perhaps even pigs with them, according to analysis of bone remains.

Invading Vikings were previously thought to have largely stolen animals from villages in Britain.

The findings also provide evidence Viking leaders had a close relationship with animals and travelled with them, the lead scientist says.

The 9th Century bones were found in burial mounds in Heath Wood, Derbys.

Cremated animal and human remains had been found buried together, suggesting the creatures had special meaning and been burned on the same funeral pyre as humans, doctoral researcher Tessi Löffelmann, from Durham University and Vrije Universiteit Brussels, told BBC News.

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Wednesday 1 February 2023

Medieval English monasteries found ways to survive Viking attacks, archaeologists find

English monasteries were more resilient to Viking attacks than previously thought, archaeologists have concluded.
Lyminge, a monastery in Kent, was on the front line of long-running Viking hostility which ended in the victories of Alfred the Great. The monastery endured repeated attacks, but resisted collapse for almost a century, through effective defensive strategies put in place by ecclesiastical and secular rulers of Kent, University of Reading archaeologists say.
The new evidence is presented after a detailed examination of archaeological and historical evidence by Gabor Thomas from the University of Reading. “The image of ruthless Viking raiders slaughtering helpless monks and nuns is based on written records, but a re-examination of the evidence show the monasteries had more resilience than we might expect,” Thomas explains.
Despite being located in a region of Kent which bore the full brunt of Viking raids in the later 8th and early 9th centuries, the evidence suggests that the monastic community at Lyminge not only survived these attacks but recovered more completely than historians previously thought, Dr Thomas concludes in research, published this month in the journal Archaeologia.

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