Category Archives: NORSE/VIKINGS

Scans of Viking pot reveal hidden brooches, gold ingots, and beads

Scans of Viking pot reveal hidden brooches, gold ingots, and beads

Since researchers conducted a CT scan of the old artefact, the mystery around the contents of a Viking pot has been resolved. Archaeologists had been unable to open the pot to see what was inside, but its weight suggested it was full of treasure. 

Experts were unable to open the 9th-century Carolingian pot (pictured), which was found on church land in Dumfries and Galloway in September

After undergoing a series of scans, the 1,200-year-old pot was found to contain up to at least five silver brooches and an ornate bead. It was among more than 100 objects discovered by metal detectorist Derek McLennan. 

Other items include solid gold jewellery, armbands, and silver ingots. The find was deemed one of the most significant Viking hoards ever discovered in the UK, but the pot’s contents were a mystery.

Experts were concerned about damaging the 9th-century Carolingian pot when attempting to see what was inside. But now, the CT scanner at Borders General Hospital, Scotland, has revealed the ornate box contains around 20 silver, gold, and ivory items.

Mr McLennan, a retired businessman, said the latest discovery was ‘beautiful and exciting’.

‘It brought it all back to me when I saw what was inside the pot,’ he continued. I was like a kid looking in the sweet shop window unable to touch anything being on the other side of the glass.

‘Nothing else had been on my mind for two-and-half-months than seeing what was inside the pot, and then seeing it, there was a rush of emotion and was incredibly exciting. I was absolutely amazed by what was inside the pot. There seem to be 20 plus artifacts in the pot, while most of them seem to be broaches of some sort.

‘It’s a real mishmash of artifacts. Not everything comes across clear as there are different types of metal in there. There is hopefully something beautiful and exciting to look at when it comes out because [the owner] took the time to wrap these items.

‘I’m now waiting on the pot to be emptied, but I understand these things take time and it’s in the hands of the experts.’ A scan of the Carolingian pot was conducted by Dr. John Reid, a consultant radiographer at the BGH, who is also a keen amateur archaeologist. 

Experts used a CT scanner to inspect what is inside the Viking pot. The circular shape in the upper right corner is said to be an ornate bead. The dome object to its left is a bone or ivory bead, and the coil curling from the bottom left to the center is five brooches. But the rectangular shape at the center remains a mystery
Derek McLennan, who found the trove, was approached by Richard Welander, head of collections with Historic Scotland, who was aware of the previous use of the hospital’s CT scanner for research. With the permission of the hospital chief, the pot was brought in for an evening scanning session (pictured)

He was approached by Richard Welander, head of collections with Historic Scotland, who was aware of the previous use of the hospital’s CT scanner for archaeological research. With the permission of hospital chief Calum Campbell, the pot was brought in for an evening scanning session.

‘This work takes place outwith normal hours and in no way impedes the important work we do for our human patients,’ said Dr. Reid. The scanner is both rapid and accurate, with the ability to produce 120 visual slices, and is accurate to within half a millimeter.’

The monitoring screen revealed the presence of five silver broaches, smaller gold ingots and ivory beads coated with gold – all wrapped in organic material, possibly leather.

Dr. Reid added: ‘The conservationists did not want to [grope] about and compromise this precious object. The discovery was made in early September by Mr. McLennan.  Fellow metal detectorists Reverend Dr. David Bartholomew, who is a Church of Scotland minister of a rural Galloway charge, and Mike Smith, the pastor of an Elim Pentecostal Church in Galloway were also in the vicinity at the time. 

The protected pot is shown being scanned in Borders General Hospital. The CT scanner consists of an X-ray tube that rotates around the object. These rays are received by a detector on the opposite side of the object, and an image of the scan is created. It produces 120 visual ‘slices’, and is accurate to within half a millimeter

Rev Dr. Bartholomew said: ‘We were searching elsewhere when Derek initially thought he’d discovered a Viking gaming piece. 

‘A short time later he ran over to us waving a silver arm-ring and shouting ‘Viking’! It was tremendously exciting, especially when we noticed the silver cross lying face-downwards.

‘It was poking out from under the pile of silver ingots and decorated arm-rings, with a finely wound silver chain still attached to it.

The discovery was made in early September by retiree Derek McLennan. I was made on the Church of Scotland land, but the exact location hasn’t been revealed. A gold ring found in the hoard is pictured
An early medieval cross was also found among the hoard of Viking treasure. The cross is engraved with decorations that experts claim are highly unusual, and which finder Mr. McLennan believes may represent the four Gospels

‘It was a heart-stopping moment when the local archaeologist turned it over to reveal rich decoration on the other side.’

The hoard falls under the Scots law of treasure trove and is currently in the care of the Treasure Trove Unit. The law states that a reward must be made to the finder, and the reward is judged equivalent to the market value of the items. The Church of Scotland General Trustees, as the landowners, have reached an agreement with Mr McLennan about an equitable sharing of any proceeds, which will eventually be awarded.

The location of the find is not being revealed.

The Scottish Government, Treasure Trove Unit, and Historic Scotland are all involved in ensuring the area is properly protected while the full historical significance of the site is established.

Vikings blacksmith tools and weapons found in the grave, ca.800 A.D Norway

Vikings blacksmith tools and weapons found in the grave, ca.800 A.D Norway

Last autumn, farmers Leif Arne Nordheim borrowed a backhoe from his neighbor to remove some pesky flagstones from his garden in Sogndalsdalen on the southwestern coast of Norway.

Lifting the last flagstone revealed tools — a hammer and tongs — which Nordheim first assumed were of relatively recent manufacture.

When he found a bent blade, he realized it was likely archaeological and called in the county Cultural Department.

Archaeologists from the University Museum of Bergen soon followed and an excavation of the find site ensued.

The find turned out to be far greater than originally realized, and the ancient blacksmith tools were impressive enough already.

Archaeologists unearthed a large collection of forging tools and weapons, including three hammers of different sizes, two anvils, blacksmith tongs, coal tongs, a rake to remove coals, a tray used to add coals, a chisel, a scythe, a sickle, a drill, pieces of a grindstone, nails, a single-edged sword, an axe, two arrows, and a knife.

Underneath the tools and products of the blacksmith trade archaeologists found more personal items: a razor, beard trimming scissors, tweezers, a frying pan, and a poker.

The deepest layer of excavation contained ashes, charcoal, and small bone fragments. The pieces of bone haven’t been identified yet, but archaeologists believe they are human remains, likely the blacksmith owner of the marvelous tools above.

Between the ashes and bones fragments, researchers found the objects that the deceased was probably wearing when his body was cremated: beads and a bone comb.

In total, the excavation yielded about 60 artifacts and 150 assorted fragments. Forging tools have been found in graves before, but this is an exceptionally rich collection for a blacksmith burial. Indeed, it’s the richest burial, blacksmith or not, found in the area in years.

“We think that the blacksmiths’ contemporaries wished to show how skillful he was in his work by including such an extensive amount of objects. He might have forged many of these tools himself.”

“The grave gives the impression that this was a local blacksmith and he enjoyed a high status in his society beyond being his trade,” says [co-leader the excavation Asle Bruen] Olsen.

The design of the axe and some of the other metal objects dated them to the 8th or 9th century A.D. Subsequent radiocarbon dating confirmed the date of the burial to be around 800 A.D.

The artifacts are currently being conserved by experts at the University Museum of Bergen. Once they’re stabilized they will go on display, possibly in a dedicated exhibition.

Extinction of Icelandic walrus coincides with Norse settlement

The Vikings may have caused one of the earliest animal extinctions associated with humans

In Iceland, there are no walruses, but there were hundreds at one time . The time of the disappearance of the walruses indicates the loss of population may be one of the earliest known examples of people leading a sea species to local extinction.

The ghost of walruses past

Walruses used to be a major feature of life in Iceland. Several settlements and landmarks along Iceland’s coast still bear names that refer to walruses, and a few of the medieval Sagas (the stories of the island’s early settler families) even mention them.

The Saga of Hrafin Sveinbjarnarson, written down sometime in the late 1100s, tells the story of a chieftain who killed a walrus and brought its tusks and skull to Canterbury Cathedral in England. But the walruses themselves have been reduced to only a few ancient bones and tusks.

A crosier carved from walrus ivory found in Scandinavia dating to around 1100 AD.

Did the walruses disappear before or after the Norse arrived? In other words, did the Norse kill off Iceland’s walruses, or did the population die of natural causes? Because Iceland has no living walruses today, historians have debated whether the place names referred to places where walruses were living when people arrived or just places where settlers found the skulls and tusks of long-dead animals.

The walrus tusks that Hrafin Sveinbjarnarson delivered to England could have been part of a thriving Icelandic walrus population, but it could also have been only a lost wanderer from more distant shores.

To learn more about Iceland’s pinniped past, evolutionary genomicist Xenia Keighley of the University of Copenhagen and her colleagues’ radiocarbon dated and sequenced DNA from 34 samples of bones and tusks from walruses in the Icelandic Museum of Natural History.

The DNA studies also showed that Iceland’s long-lost walruses were a distinct branch of the walrus family. The oldest walrus remains in the museum, dating to 5502-5332 BCE, were related to the ancestors of today’s Atlantic walrus population.

More recent samples, though, belonged to a separate mitochondrial branch of the walrus family tree, genetically distinct from every group that’s known in the North Atlantic—including the older Icelandic walruses.

“I would suspect that the most recent clade represent a colonization event that replaced the lineage represented by the old sample, rather than the old sample being a direct ancestor to the more recent clade,” co-author Morten Olsen, also an evolutionary genomicist at the University of Copenhagen, told Ars.

Radiocarbon dates of the bones, combined with the walruses’ genomes, provided an estimate of the size of their breeding population, which suggested that walruses had lived on Iceland’s coasts for around 7,500 years.

Although their numbers had been small—perhaps around 1,000 walruses at any one time—their foothold on the island had been pretty stable until around 1213-1330 CE, well after Norse settlement began in 870 CE.

Blame the Vikings

So what happened to Iceland’s walruses? As always, the answer is complex, but much of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Norse.

Settlers arrived in Iceland and began hunting walrus for the European ivory trade at a time when Iceland’s walrus population was already struggling with a shifting environment and a series of volcanic eruptions.

Painting depicting the Vikings landing in Iceland.

Walrus ivory was a major trade commodity in markets across Europe for much of the early Middle Ages, and the Norse hunted walrus around most of their territory in the North Atlantic. 

According to a 2020 study of DNA from walrus skulls and tusks found in Western European archaeological sites, most of Europe’s supply of walrus ivory came from a walrus clade (a group of related animals with a common ancestor) living in Greenland, which was home to tens of thousands of walruses.

Iceland’s much smaller walrus population would have been a drop in the bucket by comparison, but the ivory trade would still have put pressure on Iceland’s small population.

When the first Norse hunters reached them, Icelandic walruses were already facing challenges from the Medieval Warm Period (700 to 1100 CE).

A few centuries of relatively warm climate in the North Atlantic were helpful to human explorers, but not so great for walruses, which rely on sea ice as a place to haul themselves out of the water. And at the same time, volcanoes erupted several times near some of the walruses’ key haul-out sites on land. It’s no wonder the walruses couldn’t survive all of that and Vikings.

Some evidence suggests that a Roman fishing industry may have wiped out grey whales in the North Atlantic a few hundred years before the Viking Age, but otherwise, the Norse may have been the first to wipe out a whole population of animals for profit.

Ancient ships of death: Were they on a mission of politics or plunder?

Ancient ships of death: Were they on a mission of politics or plunder?

For more than a thousand years the ships of death moldered unseen on the shore of the Baltic Sea, sheltering the bones of dozens of Viking-era young men and a trove of rich possessions.

Now, after analyzing the ships and skeletons, researchers have a chilling new idea to explain how so many men died at the peak of their strength: they were diplomats from central Sweden, killed while on a mission to talk rather than fight.

The proposal, outlined in a study in the current issue of Antiquity, runs counter to previous interpretations that the men were raiders or warriors. Whoever they were, their bones give researchers a priceless window into life at the dawn of the Viking era.

Skeletons found on ancient ships on the edge of the Baltic Sea

The “graves give us a rare – if not unique – glimpse of a Viking Age drama,” Ole Thirup Kastholm, a curator at Denmark’s Roskilde Museum who was not involved in the new study, says via email. “It (poses) the most intriguing mystery with plenty of questions to investigate: Who are the dead men? What was the purpose of their journey? … And perhaps the most interesting question: Who did it?”

Whoever interred the dead aboard two ships in what is now Salme, Estonia, in about 750 AD went about their work with great care and respect.

Many of the 41 bodies were carefully positioned, and valuables were scattered among the remains.

Researchers found swords bedecked with gold and jewels and hundreds of elaborate pieces from a chess-like strategy game called Hnefatafl, or The King’s Table. They also found two decapitated hawks and the skeleton of a large dog, which had been cut in half.

In life, men must have been fearsome figures. They were young and tall, at least one nearly six feet.

Analysis of their teeth, combined with the design of the buried artifacts, suggests that they came from central Sweden, not Estonia, says study co-author T. Douglas Price, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The skeletons on the larger of the two ships showed signs of violent death: stab wounds, decapitation marks, and an arm bone cleaved by a blade.

A selection of different sword handles parts and scabbard plates of gilded bronze.

Following the discovery of the smaller ship in 2019 and the larger in 2020, researchers thought the men died on a mission of conquest or plunder. But the evidence didn’t quite fit.

The blinged-out swords seemed more suitable for projecting power than for fighting, and Viking-era warriors generally relied on spears and battle-axes rather than swords, study co-author Jüri Peets of Estonia’s Tallinn University says via email.

Game pieces and animals seem impractical for a military expedition but would’ve provided welcome amusement on a diplomatic trip. The men may have been on a voyage to forge an alliance or establish kinship ties, Peets says, when unknown parties set upon them.

Gaming pieces.

Outside opinion on this explanation is mixed. The theory is “a far better solution than … (a) the military expedition has gone bad,” Kastholm says via email.

But Jan Bill of Norway’s Museum of Cultural History argues that the gaming pieces don’t rule out a voyage devoted to battle. “Soldiers have always had lots of waiting time, and games with them to shorten (this) time,” he says via email.

“Whether this group was on a diplomatic mission, or raiding, or both, I don’t think we can decide from the evidence of what was used as grave goods.” Study co-author Peets says the idea of a diplomatic mission is a “working hypothesis,” and research continues.

Sword or axe marks on a victim’s skull

Young aristocratic men of the day routinely took part in warbands, says James Barrett of Britain’s University of Cambridge via email. Whether the men were intent on diplomacy or bloodshed, he says, the burial site “shows the cosmopolitan, albeit very dangerous, the character of the Baltic Sea area even before (or at the very start of) the Viking Age.”

Two Viking Boat Graves—With a Warrior Inside—Found in Sweden

Two Viking Boat Graves—With a Warrior Inside—Found in Sweden

Previously, two Viking burial boats in Uppsala, Sweden have been unraveled by archaeologists the remains of a dog, a man, and a horse are remarkably preserved.

The horse skeleton.

A few of the powerful elites were sent back to their afterlife by the Vikings in boats laden with sacrificed animals, weapons and artifacts; the funeral practice dates back to the Iron Age (A.D. 550 to 800) but was used throughout the Viking age (A.D. 800 to 1050), according to a statement.

Throughout Scandinavia, several richly decorated gravestones have been found. For example, archeologists had already discovered one of those burial boats throughout Norway with evidence of human remains, and one in western Scotland with many burial artifacts, including an ax, a shield boss, a ringed pin a hammer and tongs.

Recent excavations of Viking boat burials reveal the remains of a man, a horse, and a dog.

The elites who were given such elaborate send-offs were also often buried with animals, such as stallions.

These burial boats were typically built with overlapping wooden planks (called “clinker-built”) and had symmetrical ends, a true keel, and overlapping planks joined together, said Johan Anund, the regional manager for The Archaeologists, an archeological organization working with the National Historical Museums in Sweden.

A man’s remains were discovered in one of the boat graves. 

Archaeologists have also found other, simpler boat structures, such as logboats, which are like a dugout wide canoe, Anand told Live Science in an email. 

The remains of the dog and the horse were nestled in the bow of the well-preserved boat, while the remains of the man were found in the stern.

“We don’t know much” about the man yet, Anund said. But analysis of the skeleton will reveal how old he was, how tall he was and if he had any injuries or diseases. Anund’s group may even be able to figure out where the man grew up and where he lived for most of his life, Anund said.

As for the animals buried with him, they could have been sacrificed to help the dead person on the “other side” but could also be there to show the man’s status and rank, Anund said. It’s common to find horses and dogs in such burials, but also big birds like falcons.

Archaeologists also found other items on the boat such as a sword, spear, shield, an ornate comb, and leftover wood and iron nails that were likely used in its construction.

A comb and a part of a shield were discovered in one of the boat graves.

The other boat was badly damaged, probably because a 16th-century medieval cellar was built right on top of it, according to the statement.

Some human and animal bones were still preserved on the damaged ship, but they seem to have been moved around, making it difficult for archaeologists to say much about them, Anund said.

Archaeologists discovered the ships, the well, and the cellar after a plot of land outside Uppsala was marked off to become a new building for the vicarage of Gamla Uppsala parish.

They excavated the boats last month and some of the finds will go on display at Gamla Uppsala museum and the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

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.