Category Archives: NORSE/VIKINGS

Viking Chess piece bought for less than $10 sells for over $1.3M

Viking Chess piece bought for less than $10 sells for over $1.3M

A 900-year-old Viking chess piece purchased for $6 in the 1960s recently sold at auction for $1.3 million.

The Lewis Chessmen are intricate chess pieces in the form of Norse warriors that were carved from walrus ivory in the 12th century. A large hoard of the chess pieces, totaling 93 objects making up some four chess sets, was discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

The elaborately carved pieces soon became featured attractions at museums. Of the 93 pieces, 82 are now in the British Museum in London and 11 are in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Five of the pieces, however, were missing. In June 2019, Sotheby’s announced it had authenticated a missing piece, the equivalent of a rook, and would sell it in with an estimated value of $1 million.

The missing piece had been bought in 1964 by an antique dealer in Edinburgh and passed down through this family. For some time, the Chessman was kept in a drawer at the home of the antiques dealer’s daughter.

Lewis Chessmen set

According to The Guardian, a family member said it had been stored away in their grandfather’s house, with everyone unaware of its importance

“When my grandfather died my mother inherited the chess piece,” said a family spokesperson. “My mother was very fond of the chessman as she admired its intricacy and quirkiness.

She believed that it was special and thought perhaps it could even have had some magical significance. For many years it resided in a drawer in her home where it had been carefully wrapped in a small bag. From time to time, she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness.”

Lewis Chessmen Queen. 
Lewis chessmen Queen (back view).

Alexander Kader, the Sotheby’s expert who eventually examined the piece for the family, told The Guardian that his jaw dropped when he saw it, and he knew immediately what it was. “I said: ‘Oh my goodness, it’s one of the Lewis chessmen.’ ”

Lewis chessmen Bishop.

He added: “They brought it in for an assessment. That happens every day. Our doors are open for free valuations. We get called down to the counter and have no idea what we are going to see. More often than not, it’s not worth very much.”

Lewis chessmen King.

The 3.5-inch warder is a bearded figure with a sword in his right hand and shield at his left side.

Experts believe that this Viking chess piece along with the rest of the Lewis chessmen hail from Trondheim, Norway, which specialized in carved gaming pieces in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Isle of Lewis was Norwegian territory until 1266, and one theory is that the chess set was buried there after a shipwreck.

Lewis was on a thriving trade route between Norway and Ireland and another theory is that they were hidden for safekeeping by a traveling merchant.

They became arguably Scotland’s best known archaeological find when they were found buried in the beach of Uig Bay in 1831, said The Guardian. :How they were discovered is still disputed, with one account claiming they were uncovered by a grazing cow.”

The Lewis Chessmen are “steeped in folklore, legend and the rich tradition of story-telling,” Sotheby’s said in a press release, adding that they are “an important symbol of European civilization.”

Alexander Kader said in a statement, “It has been such a privilege to bring this piece of history to auction and it has been amazing having him on view at Sotheby’s over the last week—he has been a huge hit. When you hold this characterful warder in your hand or see him in the room, he has real presence.”

Since their discovery in the 19th century, a Viking chess piece and the Lewis chessmen has become an important symbol of European civilization, often inspiring portrayals in pop culture, such as the life-size chess game in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Cooking Gear Found In Graves Of Viking Men And Women

Cooking Gear Found In Graves Of Viking Men And Women

Scientists often imagine that men’s and women’s roles during the Viking Age were clearly differentiated, archaeologist Marianne Moen says. “The illustrations show women making food and holding children, while men were active, in battle,” she says. But maybe this wasn’t the way things were. The illustration is from “Vikinger i vest” (Vikings in the West), published in 2009.

“I think we need to move away from distinguishing between men’s and women’s roles during the Viking times,” she said. Moen has completed her Ph.D. on Viking Age gender roles at the University of Oslo. Her research shows that upper-class men and women generally were buried with the same types of items — including cooking gear.

She examined the contents of 218 Viking graves in Vestfold, a county on the southwest side of Oslo Fjord, and sorted the artifacts she found according to type. Many of the graves were richly equipped with everything from cups and plates to horses and other livestock.

In fact, these ancient Viking women were not only housewives.

Not just housewives

Archaeologists often assume that Viking women were responsible for the house and home, while men were merchants and warriors. However, tools and items associated with housekeeping were fairly equally distributed between men and women in the Vestfold graves.

“The key is a good example. It is often considered to be the symbol of a housewife,” Moen said. Nonetheless, almost as many men’s graves had keys as women’s graves.

“It might be time to change the story a bit,” she said.

Men were just as likely to be buried with cooking equipment as women. Ten graves containing cookware were men’s graves, while eight were women’s. Moen likes that fact. It means that men also made food, she thinks. “My interpretation is that cooking equipment indicates hospitality. This was very important during Viking times,” she said, although others interpret it differently.

Cookware doesn’t mean that men cooked

The Gokstad Ship, the large ship displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, was part of a man’s grave and also contained a large array of cooking equipment. “These finds were often excused as being because men needed to make their own food on long voyages,” Moen says.

Not everyone agrees with Moen’s interpretation. Just because men chose to bring cookware into the afterlife doesn’t necessarily mean that they did the cooking in their own home, says archaeologist Frans-Arne Stylegar.

Stylegar was previously the county conservator for Vest-Agder, the southernmost county in Norway. He currently works with cultural preservation and urban planning at the consulting firm Multiconsult.

“It is difficult to translate the persona who is idealized in burial customs into actual historical reality. It’s almost a philosophical question,” he says. Moen also thinks there is a stark difference between life and death when it comes to gender roles. But she also thinks that the items that people were buried with have some relation to what real life was like during those times.

A soapstone vessel from the Viking Age, found at Kaupang in Vestfold. Soapstone was used to make cookware, among other items.

She reminds us that tools and equipment aren’t just something that Vikings were buried with. These items were also found in houses, although without the ability to determine who used them.

Farmers and upper-class citizens

Stylegar thinks that Moen’s Ph.D. thesis was well done and that she makes a convincing case that there wasn’t much difference between the way upper-class Viking men and women were buried. He has studied several Viking graves in Vestfold previously and isn’t very surprised by this conclusion. “I’ve gotten this impression previously, but she shows it very clearly,” he said.

However, from his own work in Vestfold, he had the impression that farmers were much more concerned with marking gender in their graves than the upper-class citizens, although he points out that this was not the focus of his research.

There are still a few clear differences between genders for the elite. Men generally have weapons in their graves, while women have jewellery and textile tools, as Moen’s work shows.

Both genders have jewellery

Viking men and women still had more similarities than differences in their graves, Moen said. More than 40 percent of the male graves contained jewellery such as brooches and beads. The men also have what seem to be toiletries in their graves, including tweezers and razors likely used for personal grooming.

Interpreting the past through a modern lens

Moen wonders where the idea that there was clear gender differentiation in the past comes from. Other researchers have pointed out that many of the items retrieved from graves in the early 1900s were interpreted based on the cultural perspectives of those times, in the same way, that Moen now sees the artifacts from her modern perspective.

She calls herself a gender archaeologist, and wants to challenge other archaeologists’ interpretations of Viking culture.  But entrenched perceptions among experts can be difficult to change, she says.

“I encounter quite a bit of skepticism. There are quite a few researchers who are very set in their opinion on gender when it comes to work-related roles,” Moen said. She thinks part of the reason for this is that it is much easier to relate to a version of history that is in keeping with our modern expectations, “a version of history where men and women have specific roles in society,” she said.

“In general, in Viking Age studies, artifacts found in graves are interpreted as being connected to the person buried in the grave. This shouldn’t change for cases where artifacts don’t meet modern expectations of what a man or woman would have in their grave,” Moen said.

Hoard of Viking coins worth at least £500,000 found during police raids

Hoard of Viking coins worth at least £500,000 found during police raids

A hoard of Viking coins has been confiscated by police investigating an illegal trade in historic treasures that could rewrite British history.

The collection of coins and a silver ingot, dating back to King Alfred the Great’s reign of the 9th century, were retrieved at households in Durham County and Lancashire by police.

Believed to be worth at least £500,000, a leading expert has told the MailOnline they could ‘add significantly to our understanding of the political history of England in the AD 870s’ as they reveal a previously unknown alliance between King Alfred and his contemporary Ceolwulf II, King of Mercia.

Ceolwulf of Mercia was believed by historians to be simply a puppet of the Vikings  – a minor nobleman rather than a proper King.  But the recently discovered coins show the two rulers standing side by side, as allies suggesting a different story. 

While Alfred became known as a national hero who defeated the Vikings, Ceolwulf was written off as insignificant and disappeared without a trace, with experts now suggesting the Mercia King was later ‘airbrushed out of history’ by Alfred. If confirmed, the discovery could reshape our view of how England was united and those who made it happen.

Police, who have now handed over the haul to the British Museum, have arrested a number of people on suspicion of dealing in culturally tainted objects and the complex police operation – codenamed Operation Fantail – is said by Durham Police to be in its early stages. They refused to give further detail on the arrests.

The Coin show images of Alfred the Great 
Rare Kings of Mercia Offa, Light Coinage portrait 
 Shows King Alfred and Ceolwulf standing side-by-side, demonstrating their alliance .
Believed to be worth at least £500,000, a leading expert has told the MailOnline they could ‘add significantly to our understanding of the political history of England in the AD 870s’ .

Detective Inspector Lee Gosling, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Fantail at Durham Constabulary, said: ‘We believe the material recovered comes from a hoard of immense historical significance relating to the Vikings and we are delighted to have been able to hand it over to the British Museum.’

The British Museum believe the coins were in circulation at the time of King Alfred when he won a number of major battles in AD 878 that led to the defeat on the Vikings.    Dr. Gareth Williams, the curator of Early Medieval Coins and Viking Collections at the British Museum, called the latest find ‘nationally important’. 

He said: ‘This is the period in which Alfred the Great was fighting the Vikings, but which also led to the creation of a unified kingdom of England under Alfred and his successors.  ‘The hoard contains coins both of Alfred and of his contemporary Ceolwulf II, King of Mercia.

‘The coins I have seen so far add significantly to our understanding of the political history of England in the AD 870s.  Around the time the hoard was buried, probably in AD 879, Ceolwulf mysteriously disappeared, and Alfred then took over Ceolwulf’s kingdom as well as his own.’ 

Dr Williams added: ‘I think that the coins show that Ceolwulf II was in an alliance with Alfred of Wessex, and not a puppet of the Vikings as suggested in sources written at Alfred’s court a few years later, by which time Ceolwulf had disappeared without trace from history and Alfred had taken over his kingdom. 

‘Sources from Alfred’s court, writing more than fifteen years later, describe as ‘a foolish king’s thegn’, who was only made king by the Vikings. ‘However, the coins show a working relationship with Alfred which the sources ‘forgot’ to mention, and his name suggests that he may well have been a legitimate descendant of earlier kings of Mercia.

‘Some of the coins show the name of Ceolwulf and the images on their back show two emperors standing side by side, and was almost certainly a deliberate choice to symbolize their alliance.’  This isn’t a completely new idea, but until recently coins of this period were too rare to prove the idea. 

‘The discovery of this hoard strengthens the case that Ceolwulf and Alfred were allies and that Alfred’s spin-doctors later re-wrote history to suit the political situation of the time.’  The iconic figure of King Alfred is widely believed to be the man who saved England from the Vikings and is currently being portrayed by David Dawson in the BBC epic The Last Kingdom. 

He spent several years fighting the Vikings, who were wreaking devastation in England, and won several decisive victories. Alfred ruled from 871 to 899 was instrumental in setting the foundations for England known nowadays without whom the English may have even spoken another language.

His defeat of the Vikings earned him the name Alfred the Great.  But in recent years, his role has been called into question by a number of archaeological finds.

More than 200 pieces of Viking silver including coins, ingots, and jewellery were discovered buried in a field in Oxfordshire in 2015 which Shedd fresh light on King Alfred and the little-known ally, Ceolwulf II.

A spokesperson for Durham Police has said the investigation is ongoing and a number of people have been arrested on suspicion of dealing in ‘culturally tainted objects’.  

The Irish Have Much More Viking DNA Than Previously Thought, Genetic Study Reveals

The Irish Have Much More Viking DNA Than Previously Thought, Genetic Study Reveals

An Irish Viking. The concept has become more real and more captivating. Anyone who’s read even a bit about the history of the Vikings knows that their DNA is likely to be found in people living in the British Isles today.

New research shows that the Irish definitely have their fair share of Viking heritage–in fact, the Irish are more genetically diverse than most people may assume.

The Irish have Viking and Norman ancestry in similar proportions to the English. A comprehensive DNA map of the Irish has for the first time revealed lasting contributions from British, Scandinavian, and French invasions.

“By comparing 1,000 Irish genomes with over 6,000 genomes from Britain and mainland Europe, genetic clusters within the west of Ireland, in particular, were discovered for the first time, leading the researchers to investigate if invasions from the Vikings and Normans to the east may have influenced genetics in that part of the country,” according to Irish Central.

Map of Ireland in 950 showing Viking influence and Viking territory (in green)

Because of extensive Irish immigration to the United States and other countries, these findings have ramifications. There are 80 million people in the world who claim Irish heritage.

 “This subtle genetic structure within such a small country has implications for medical genetic association studies,” said Trinity College Dublin geneticist Dr. Ross Byrne. In fact a number of American slang words have roots coming from the Irish:

Researchers found 23 distinct genetic clusters, separated by geography by comparing mutations from almost 1,000 Irish genomes with over 6,000 from Britain and mainland Europe.

“These are most distinct in western Ireland, but less pronounced in the east, where historical migrations have erased the genetic variations,” said the Irish Mirror.

Ireland in 1300 showing lands held by native Irish (green) and lands held by Normans (pale)

The researchers studied genes from Europe and calculated the timing of the historical migrations of the Norse-Vikings and the Anglo-Normans to Ireland, yielding dates consistent with historical records.

The Vikings invaded Ireland for the first time in the 8th century, raiding a monastery on Rathlin Island on the northeast coast. The Viking warriors were large in numbers and well armed.

They moved inland along river-ways, attacking the monastic settlements they came across. They also took captives to trade as slaves.

Ireland in 1450 showing lands held by native Irish (green), the Anglo-Irish (blue) and the English king (dark grey)

The Vikings in Ireland built wintering camps, known as longphorts (derived from the Irish words boat & fort), a ship port. This meant they could settle on the island longer. They used their longphorts as a base allowing them to perform further in-land raids.

Although longphorts were mainly built to only last one winter, some of them became major settlements, such as the one in Dublin, Dyflinn, founded in 841 AD.  Excavations during the 1970’s discovered more than 100 homes from this early period and thousands of daily household objects in Dublin.

The Viking conquest in Ireland would continue for more than 200 years, until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans. In the late 12th century, the Norman lords who had already subjugated England came to Ireland to take large plots of land. In the 16th century, under Elizabeth I, many more English Protestant families arrived, often displacing the native Catholics.

It’s believed that the first group of Vikings to invade Ireland were from Scandinavia. They had also settled in Scotland and would later become known as Gallowglass, an elite mercenary warrior group. From the mid-13th to the early 17th centuries they fought for hire in Ireland itself. Their name is an Anglicization of the Gaelic word gallóglach (roughly pronounced GAHL-o-glukh), which translates as “foreign warrior.”

Gallowglass are descendants of not only Vikings but of Scots native to the western Highlands and Hebrides. As Scottish historian Fergus Cannan notes, the Gallowglass “lived for the war.…His sole function was to fight, and his only contribution to society was destruction.”

Did Viking’s Discover North America?

Did Viking’s Discover North America?

L’Anse aux Meadows was the first Viking settlement believed to have been found in North America in the 1960s.

Scientists claimed to have uncovered another Viking settlement in Newfoundland that was built between 800AD and 1300AD.

Some experts believe the Vikings may have discovered North America nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus made his famous journey to the New World

The site, discovered in an area called Point Rosee in southern Newfoundland, is 400 miles (643km) south west of a Viking settlement found in L’Anse aux Meadows during the 1960s.

Now, one expert claims to have found a mysterious location known as ‘Hop’.

Based on Viking descriptions, three key things identify this mystical settlement – an abundance of grapes, salmon and canoes made from animal hide. 

An archaeologist claims the only place that matches this description is the Miramichi-Chaleur bay area in northeastern New Brunswick in Canada.

This would be the third Viking settlement claimed to have been found in North America, although it could be hard to ever prove it for once and for all.

It is thought the Vikings first discovered America by accident in the autumn of 986AD, according to one historical source, the Saga of the Greenlanders.

It tells how Bjarni Herjolfsson was stumbled across North America after being blown off course as he attempted to sail from Norway to Greenland, but he did not go ashore.

Inspired by his tales, however, another Viking Leif Ericsson then mounted his own expedition and found North America in 1002.

Finding it fertile land, rich in grapes and berries, he named it Vinland.

Eriksson also named two further ‘lands’ on the North American coast – one with flat stones, which he called Helluland, and one that was flat and wooded, named Markland.