Category Archives: NORSE/VIKINGS

A new Viking site could rewrite the story of the ‘Great Heathen Army’

A new Viking site could rewrite the story of the ‘Great Heathen Army’

 Ongoing excavations at the English parish of Foremark could finally uncover where the thousands of Vikings that made up the Great Army spent the winter of 873-874 CE.
Ongoing excavations at the English parish of Foremark could finally uncover where the thousands of Vikings that made up the Great Army spent the winter of 873-874 CE.

Some 40 years ago, archaeologists excavating the grounds of the English village of Repton stumbled upon a gruesome discovery: a mass grave containing the bodies of more than 250 men, women, and children, many bearing the scars of battle on their bones.

The find lined up with English historical records describing Repton as the location where the “Great Heathen Army” of Vikings hunkered down for the winter of 873-874 CE. It seemed the invaders who had once terrorized the country’s medieval Anglo-Saxon residents had finally been found.

There was just one problem. The only candidate for a fortified winter encampment at Repton was an earthwork enclosure spanning just a handful of acres—far too little to accommodate the thousands of militant Vikings believed to have comprised the Great Army.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Bristol might have uncovered the solution to Repton’s clown car conundrum: a long-lost partner camp in the nearby village of Foremark, which boasts acreage aplenty. Excavations at Foremark are ongoing, but if the findings pan out, they could help resolve a long-standing debate in Viking history.

“Based on what others had dug up at Repton before, some people [suggested] the Great Army wasn’t as big as everyone thought,” says Mary Beaudry, an archaeologist at Boston University who was not involved in the excavation. “But with this work at Foremark…it could have been much bigger than anyone thought. It opens up an entirely new picture.”

Formal excavations at Foremark, a sleepy hamlet just two miles east of Repton, have only recently begun in earnest. But long before the arrival of a team led by Cat Jarman, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol, a group of metal detectorists had unveiled hints of a Viking presence in Foremark.

One of these detectorists, Rob Davis, had already spent more than a decade amassing a trove of trinkets when he reached out to Jarman in November of 2017. Though his collection was by no means comprehensive, Jarman says, it already held what might be the “smoking gun” of a Great Army encampment: a handful of trademark lead gaming pieces—a common relic of Viking encampments strewn throughout Europe.

“In a way, these are the most important artifacts,” Jarman says. “They’re only associated with the Great Army. They’re not pretty or valuable, but they’re specific.”

Joining the gaming pieces were several Islamic dirham coins and trading weights—clear indicators of the Vikings’ global connections. These artifacts, in particular, Jarman says, should serve as reminders that the Vikings were more than the one-dimensional plunderers and pillagers of popular culture. In fact, there’s evidence that Vikings actually started out as merchants, and kept up some of these bartering practices even after taking up arms, trading in local and foreign markets alike.

“There was obviously a violent side to the Vikings,” says team member Mark Horton, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol. “But they were also bringing all sorts of things missing from Anglo-Saxon England at the time. They were the first medieval globalizing forces.”

In the years since Jarman and her colleagues have begun their own research at Foremark. The team hasn’t yet begun excavations at what they believe is the location of Foremark’s main camp, which is privately owned. But the researchers have already hit pay dirt in a neighboring plot of land—in the form of a large, valuable iron plowshare that dates back to the late 9th century. It’s not yet clear who the plowshare belonged to: It could have been hauled in by globe-trotting Scandinavians or abandoned by the unfortunate Anglo-Saxons whose homes they invaded. Either way, this particular find is “pretty amazing,” Horton says.

Many of the artifacts, including those in the metal detectorist’s collection, have yet to be dated more precisely than a ballpark century, however. As such, there’s not yet a guarantee of simultaneous occupation with Repton. But given Foremark’s proximity to Repton, Jarman and others are optimistic that the pieces of the overwintering puzzle could finally be falling into place.

“The findings at Foremark fit into our expectations,” says Doug Bolender, an anthropologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston who was not involved in the work. “In lots of ways, this could allow us to put aside a whole series of caveats and asterisks of the interpretation of the material at Repton…it’s exciting to have a potential site.”

In many ways, Foremark might have been an obvious candidate for a Viking take over. Situated comfortably on the River Trent, the site would have been ideal for everything from docking boats to growing crops. It also carried the appeal of open land: Though the team hasn’t yet determined the exact boundaries of the Foremark camp, the site could have covered as many as 90 acres, vastly outstripping the known enclosures at Repton.

That amount of space could have accommodated the thousands estimated to be in the Great Army—or more. “The whole thing is a massive Viking landscape,” Horton says. “The sheer scale of what we’re finding could indicate that we’re talking about tens of thousands [of people].”

A Viking gaming piece uncovered at Foremark. These tiny trinkets entertained bored Viking warriors at their winter encampments, and have been found all across Europe.

As excavations continue, Jarman is now toying with one last theory: that Foremark was so nice, the Vikings settled it twice.

Not long after leaving their station at Repton, the Great Army began to fragment. After a few final cataclysmic clashes with growing Anglo-Saxon forces, the remaining Vikings scattered. Over time, the two sworn enemies found peace and, eventually, began to integrate, braiding their disparate cultures together. Scandinavian words wove their way into English; Norse gods mingled into local lore.

Along the way, Jarman says, a few Viking veterans might have returned to a familiar haunt at an “old fortification”—perhaps, not by coincidence, the meaning of the root word for “Foremark.”

Even Foremark’s surroundings bear the echoes of encore. The names of nearby villages like Ingleby and Bretby contain similarities to old Norse words. And less than a mile away lies Heath Wood, the region’s only large-scale Viking cremation cemetery—an impractical investment for a single winter’s camp. “You don’t get those names, or a cemetery like that, unless you have a Scandinavian population putting down roots,” Jarman says.

“I think these Viking armies are the people who become the Scandinavian settlers,” she says. “They’ve been invisible in the archaeological record for a long time…but these armies eventually settled into the landscape. This might be how we find that missing link.”

American Indian Sailed to Europe With Vikings?

Did Native American travel with the Vikings and arrive in Iceland centuries before Columbus set sail?

Analyzing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child, scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to one found mostly in Native Americans.

This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000, when the first Viking-American Indian child was born, the study authors theorize.

Historical accounts and archaeological evidence show that Icelandic Vikings reached Greenland just before 1000 and quickly pushed on to what is now Canada. Icelanders even established a village in Newfoundland, though it lasted only a decade or so

But what is not known for certain is how a family of Icelanders came to have a genetic makeup which includes a surprising marker dating to 1000 A.D. — one which is found mostly in Native Americans.

In 2010, it was reported that the first Native Americans arrived on the continent of Europe sometime around the 11th century. The study, led by deCODE Genetics, a world-leading genome research lab in Iceland, discovered a unique gene that was present in only four distinct family lines.

The DNA lineage, which was named C1e, is mitochondrial, meaning that the genes were introduced by and passed down through a female.

Based on the evidence of the DNA, it has been suggested that a Native American, (voluntarily or involuntarily) accompanied the Vikings when they returned back to Iceland.

The woman survived the voyage across the sea, and subsequently had children in her new home. As of today, there are 80 Icelanders who have a distinct gene passed down by this woman.

Nevertheless, there is another explanation for the presence of the C1e in these 80 Icelanders. It is possible that the Native American genes appeared in Iceland after the discovery of the New World by Columbus.

It has been suggested that a Native American woman might have been brought back to mainland Europe by European explorers, who then found her way to Iceland.

Researchers believe that this scenario is unlikely, however, given the fact that Iceland was pretty isolated at that point of time.

Nevertheless, the only way to effectively eliminate this possibility is for scientists to find the remains of a pre-Columbian Icelander whose genes can be analyzed and shown to contain the C1e lineage.

Another problem facing the researchers is that the C1e genes might not have come from Native Americans but from some other part of the world.

For instance, no living Native American group has the exact DNA lineage as the one found in the 80 Icelanders. However, it may be that the Native American people who carried that lineage eventually went extinct.

One suggestion, which was proposed early in the research, was that the genes came from Asia. This was eventually ruled out, as the researchers managed to work out that the C1e lineage had been present in Iceland as early as the 18th century. This was long before the appearance of Asian genes in Icelanders.

If the discovery does prove ultimately that the Vikings took a Native American woman back to Iceland, then history would indeed have to be rewritten.

Although encounters with the Native Americans, known as Skraelings (or foreigners), were recorded by the Viking sagas, there is no mention whatsoever about the Vikings bringing a Native American woman home to Iceland with them.

Furthermore, the available archaeological record does not show any presence of a Native American woman in Iceland.

The more digging is done into the history of the Vikings, the more our perceptions are changing as to how they lived, traveled, and traded.

Hopefully, more light will be shed on this mystery over time, and the goings-on of the historic world can be unequivocally established, giving us a clearer understanding of our ancient past

Archaeologists expected a routine dig in Sweden, but they uncovered two rare Viking burial boats

Viking Grave Discovery In Sweden Leaves Archaeologists Stunned

Archaeologists expected a routine dig in Sweden, but they uncovered two rare Viking burial boats
A member of the Arckeologerna team at the gravesite in Sweden.

In more than 50 years, the Swedish authorities have announced the country’s first Viking ship grave findings.

In a routine dig in Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) By Archaeologists team, 46 miles (74km) north of Stockholm, were shocked as they unearthed the Viking boat graves that included human remains.

There are only a few known burial sites of this kind in the country. While rare in Sweden, the discovery of Viking burial sites has become more frequent elsewhere in Scandinavia.

Last year, Norwegian archaeologists found remains of longhouses and at least one ship lying just below the topsoil near Halden in the south-east of Norway.

Just months later, another ship discovery was made on the shores of the Oslofjord at the Midgard Viking Center in Horten.

Significant remains

One of the two boats found in the grave is intact and holds the remains of a man, horse, and dog. Personal items including a sword, spear, shield, and an ornate comb were also in the grave.

The people discovered in the grave were likely of high social standing, as it is believed such boat burials were reserved for a privileged few.

 A spokesperson from consultant archaeologists Arkeologerna called the find “sensational.”

A comb and shield were among the items found at the Viking grave in Sweden.

“This is a unique excavation. The last excavation of this grave type in Old Uppsala was almost 50 years ago,” said archaeologist Anton Seiler. The fact the grave contents are so well-preserved and undisturbed is especially exciting for the team.

That’s because it will be the first opportunity archaeologists have to study Viking burial traditions with modern scientific analysis methods in Sweden.

“We can now use modern science and methods that will generate new results, Theory, and answers.

We will also put the boat burials in relation to the very special area that is Old Uppsala and the excavations done here before,” said Seiler.

A routine excavation

Such a find was not at all what archaeologists were expecting at the beginning of the project. 

Old Uppsala was an important religious, economic and political settlement as far back as the 3rd century, and is an area rich in historic remains. 

The routine dig began in the grounds of the vicarage last fall. The work involved excavating a cellar and well that was known to date from the Middle Ages.

Osteologist Ola Magnell and archaeologist Anton Seiler excavating the boat grave

But as the work progressed, one of the boats was gradually revealed beneath the structures. The scope of the project quickly changed, and archaeologists have spent the last month excavating the two burial boats.

It’s thought the damage caused to the second boat was done when the cellar was built sometime around the 16th century.

Once archaeologists have finished their analysis, parts of the discovery will be put on display at Old Uppsala Museum and the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

Norwegian Archaeologists Have Found the Shrine of a Miracle-Making Viking King

Norway’s Saint Olaf Uncovered: Archaeologists Believe They Have Discovered the Shrine of the Lost Viking King.

Archeologists believe that in the ruins of a church in Trondheim, Norway, they discovered a shrine devoted to the Viking king Olaf Haraldsson.

The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) Team of archeologists has found the church foundations where King Olaf II is thought to have been buried after he was canonized.

Olaf II Haraldson reigned in the 11th century, from 1015 until 1028 AD, and today is largely credited for spreading the Christian religion throughout Norway.

Olaf was driven into exile by the Danish King Canute and was slain in battle upon his return to Norway, just north of the city of Trondheim, where his forces fell to the enemy Danes and a rebellious group of Norwegian nobles.

Canute the Great

Olaf was proclaimed a saint and was buried in St. Clement’s Church in Trondheim, but as his cult grew larger and larger, his body was eventually moved to the Trondheim cathedral.

Sometime after, historians believe that St. Clement’s church was destroyed, its location lost –until now.

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) may have discovered the original foundations of St. Clement’s Church, and even believe that they have identified the lost shrine of the martyred King.

They uncovered a stone slab which they claim had been the foundation of the altar where the King’s coffin once rested.

Researchers have also found skeletons at the site, believed to be the remains of the church graveyard, but they were likely buried many years after Saint Olaf.

Norwegian Archaeologists Have Found the Shrine of a Miracle-Making Viking King
The remains of a 1,000-year-old church

Medieval historical accounts attribute a number of miracles to the dead king, such as his coffin being dug up to reveal not only his well-preserved appearance but even the continuous growth of both his hair and fingernails after his death.

These marvels and the historical significance of Olaf’s reign, during which he united a fractured kingdom under Christianity, all led to his canonization in 1164, and he was eventually proclaimed the patron saint of Norway.

Today, he is immortalized on the country’s coat of arms, represented by the ax held in the lion’s arms.

The remains of a 1,000-year-old church.

Anna Petersén, the excavation’s director, said ‘This is a unique site in Norwegian history in terms of religion, culture, and politics,” Mail Online reported.

‘Much of the Norwegian national identity has been established on the cult of sainthood surrounding St Olaf, and it was here it all began.’

Mysterious Viking Sword Made With Technology From the Future?

Mysterious Viking Sword Made With Technology From the Future?

The Vikings were among the fiercest warriors of all time, and a select few carried the ultimate weapon: a sword nearly 1,000 years ahead of its time.

A mystery sword made by the Vikings and engraved with the word Ulfberht has stumped archaeologists.

The sword is forged in such a way that it looks to have been made by technologies that weren’t available until 800 years after the Viking era.

Around 170 of the swords have been found, all of which date from between 800AD to 1000AD, but the technology that would have forged them is from the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s and 1900s.

A television program has looked into the mystery in more detail called, ‘Secrets of the Viking Sword’. Its researchers say that to forge the iron which the swords are made of, the ore needs to be heated to around 3000 degrees (F).

The Vikings were among the fiercest warriors of all time, and a select few carried the ultimate weapon: a sword nearly 1,000 years ahead of its time.

It then liquefies and the impurities are removed. It is then mixed with carbon to strengthen the iron.

However medieval technologies, which are what the Vikings would have been using, would not have been able to heat any metal or substance that high a temperature.

In those days, the impurities would have been removed by hammering them out of the iron.

In contradiction to this, the Ulfberht contains almost no impurities at all and it has thrice the amount of carbon in it than any other metals that are known to have existed at the time. The metal the swords are made of is known as crucible steel.

Fashioned using a process unknown to the Vikings’ rivals, the Ulfberht sword was a revolutionary high-tech blade as well as a work of art.

Furnaces that could heat metals and substances to extremely high temperatures what not invented until the industrial revolution when the tools for the heating iron to these temperatures were also developed.

A blacksmith has consulted with the television program’s researchers and has said that to make a sword like the Ulfberht Is highly complex and difficult.

The blacksmith is the only person who has the skills and tools available to try to reproduce the metal of the Ulfberht.

He believes that whoever made the sword during the Viking era would have surely been thought to possess magic powers since the metal was and still is so special and unique.

Produced between 800 to 1000 AD, the Ulfberht offered unique advantages as a weapon. Its combination of strength, lightness.

The sword bends but doesn’t break, it stays razor-sharp and is very lightweight, and so to soldiers, it would have been thought of as almost supernatural.

The blacksmith spent many days working to try to recreate the Ulfberht using medieval technology and finally did produce a similar metal with great skill and hard work.

Researchers now believe it is possible that the knowledge to make the swords originated in the Middle East and that trade routes between there and Europe would have spread the knowledge and technologies.

When those trade routes eventually closed, due to lack of use, so too did the Ulfberht ceased to continue being made.