Category Archives: NORSE/VIKINGS

Scottish storms unearth 1,500-year-old Viking-era cemetery

Scottish storms unearth 1,500-year-old Viking-era cemetery

The native Picts, a Celtic-language speaking tribe, once populated the Scottish Islands, similar to the natives that live on what is now Scotland. 

Archaeologists and volunteers are working to preserve human bones exposed by recent storms in an ancient cemetery above a beach on the Orkney Islands.

Several powerful storms on Scotland’s Orkney Islands have now revealed ancient human remains in a Pictish and Viking cemetery dated back to about 1,500 years ago.

To order to protect the damage to the former Newark Bay cemetery on Orkney’s largest island, volunteers are now placing sandbags and clay around. The site dates from the middle of the sixth century when ancient Pictish people inhabited the Orkney Islands.

The site is currently being protected by sandbags.

Picts or Norse?

The cemetery was used for about 1,000 years, and numerous burials from the ninth to the 15th century were Norsemen or Vikings who had seized the Orkney Islands from the Picts. Now, storm waves are destroying the low cliff where the ancient site is located, Peter Higgins from the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology (ORCA), said.

“Every time we have a storm with a bit of a south-easterly [wind], it really gets in there and actively erodes what is just soft sandstone,” Higgins explained.

Approximately 250 skeletons were taken out of the cemetery about 50 years ago, but researchers do not know how far the site extends from the beach. They believe that hundreds of Pictish and Norse bodies are still buried there.

“The local residents and the landowner have been quite concerned about what’s left of the cemetery being eroded by the sea,” Higgins said.

Uncovered bones are usually either coated with clay to protect them or removed from the site after their positions are thoroughly labeled, so it is rather unusual for bones to end up on the beach, he explained.

Researchers do not know yet of the exposed bones belong to Picts or Vikings, as no burial objects or funeral clothes were spotted, and the bodies were buried four of five layers under the surface.

Cultural Transition

Historians claim that the first Norse immigrants to the Orkney Islands established there in the late eighth century, leaving a rising new monarchy in Norway. They used the Orkney Islands to begin their own voyages and Viking raids, and ultimately, all the islands were ruled by the Norse, according to The Scotsman.

The relationship between the Picts and the Norse on the Orkney Islands is highly argued by scholars. They cannot know for sure whether the Norse took over by force, or were settlers who traded and entered marriage with the Picts. However, now, the ancient cemetery at Newark Bay may help researchers answer their questions.

“The Orkney Islands were Pictish, and then they became Norse,” Higgins said. “We’re not really clear how that transition happened, whether it was an invasion, or people lived together. This is one of the few opportunities we’ve got to investigate that.”

A part of the scientific work on the remains would require testing genetic material from the ancient bones, which might demonstrate that some people living on the Orkney Islands today are successors of people who lived there more than 1,000 years ago.

The scientific study of bones from the ancient cemetery at Newark Bay could reveal clues to the cultural transition from Pictish to Norse domination of the Orkney Islands.

“We’re fairly confident that we’re going to find that some local residents are related to people in the cemetery,” Higgins said.

Archaeologist hails ‘extraordinary’ Viking village find in Dublin

Archaeologist hails ‘extraordinary’ Viking village find in Dublin

Researcher excavations have modified our understanding of the oldest Viking settlement in Dublin with a black pool or Dubh Linn which was considered to be much larger than originally expected.

The excavation alongside Dublin Castle has also revealed the oldest police cells in the city and a grave of punishment.

The excavation is taking place on Ship St near where the remains of one of Dublin’s oldest churches – St Michael le Pole that was founded in the 6th century – are known to be.

The dig is taking place beside Dublin Castle

Archaeologist Alan Hayden from University College Dublin said the work has uncovered the cells from a police station on Chancery Lane built-in 1830, and beside it are walls from a medieval farm.

There are 12th Century quarries that provided the stone to build Dublin Castle and its walls.

The most important discovery yet is that Dubh Linn – the pool on the River Poddle where the Vikings first settled – was much bigger than originally thought.

At present, a garden inside Dublin Castle marks what was thought to make up most of the original Dubh Linn.

However, this excavation has established it was nearly 400 meters wider extending to the present dig site and where St Michael le Pole church stood.

Mr. Hayden says this solves two questions that have puzzled historians – why St Michael’s Church referred to ‘le pole’ or the pool and how reports that the Vikings had up to 200 ships on the Dubh Linn.

Evidence of the settlement in the 12th Century

Niamh Donlon of the One Le Pole Square project says a development planned for the site will consist of a two-story convention center below six floors of office space.

It will incorporate the history of the site in its name.

The remains of the original St Michael le Pol church will be visible below a screen in a new public square and a tile from the church will be used in a new spa area.

A map of the site in the 14th Century

Tom Wilson, the senior civil engineer with builders JJ Rhattigan, said the archaeological dig was already factored into the development and has not caused delays.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hayden says there was one unusual find – a burial of a man found outside the church cemetery with his hand and feet cut off. He said this was a medieval punishment for insulting a lord or king.

Hoards Of Viking Coins Discovered On The Island Of Saaremaa, Estonia

Hoards Of Viking Coins Discovered On The Island Of Saaremaa, Estonia

On the island of Saaremaa, weeks after a big shipment, which includes a 1,700-year-old gold bracelet, came to light, there was another archaeological discovery.

According to the Heritage Protection Board (Muinsuskaitseamet) and the Saaremaa Museum, the recent find dates from the Viking era contains a large number of silver coins. The ERR’s online news in Estonian reports.

As with the earlier treasure trove, the latest find was the work of a metal detector hobbyist, who, in line with Estonian law, informed the authorities.

Some of the silver coins and other finds dating from Viking-era Saaremaa.

“We are grateful for the licensed hobby detector, who reported the findings to the Heritage Protection Board, which can now preserve some of the crucial histories of Saaremaa,” Saaremaa Museum stated on its social media page.

Archaeologist and Tallinn University Archeology Research Collection nusimatics curator Mauri Kiudsoo said that the find was highly significant for in understanding of Saaremaa’s Viking-era history, as well as running against the trend of hobbyists not handing over finds to the state on Saaremaa itself.

Archaeologist and Tallinn University Archeology Research Collection nusimatics curator Mauri Kiudsoo said that the find was highly significant for in understanding of Saaremaa’s Viking-era history, as well as running against the trend of hobbyists not handing over finds to the state on Saaremaa itself.

Two separate hoards were found. One of these dating to the second half of the 10th century contained silver coins that came via the Viking trade route which crossed the Baltic from the present-day Swedish island of Gotland to Saaremaa’s southern coast, and then on to Lääne County and on to present-day Tallinn.

These were likely to have been buried during upheaval or conflict in the region, as was the case with the other hoard from the Lümanda-Kihelkonna area. 

Both point to destruction and upheaval in particular parts of Saaremaa in the second quarter of the 11th century, according to the article.

Kiudsoo added very few coin hoards from the same era that have been found elsewhere in Estonia.

In September, metal detector hobbyist Jegor Klimov found a substantially-sized gold bracelet, amber brooches, locally-made luxury amber brooches, silver, and silver-plated brooches and a Scandinavian silver-plated belt, at a 1,700-year-old sacrificial site.

The find similarly filled in knowledge gaps on the iron age on Saaremaa, as the more recent find has done for the later Viking era.

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.”