“Oh, look at this little beauty”, the team of archaeologists enthusiastically exclaim in their Facebook update, which includes a video of the three-bladed arrowhead.
“The last person who touched it was a Viking,” the post reads.
The team of glacial archaeologists from Innlandet county’s Secrets of the Ice and the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo are currently doing their annual field work up in the Norwegian mountains, where melting ice keeps on revealing lost items from our past.
The unique arrowhead is from a new site in the Jotunheimen Mountains, where the team were just doing an initial exploratory survey. Finds like this Viking Age arrowhead means they will most certainly be returning.
Was it made for hunting or war?
The arrowhead is made of iron. Its shape indicates that it is typical for the Viking Age, Lars Pilø writes in an email to sciencenorway.no.
“This type of arrowhead is known, but it is rare,” he writes.
Four such arrowheads were found in a burial mound in Sparbu in Trøndelag, and one such arrowhead has also appeared in Leirtjønnkollen in Oppdal – another glacial archaeological site.
“We haven’t tested this, obviously, but it is not unlikely that this sort of arrowhead would have had greater penetration than the arrowheads we normally find. It looks more like a war arrowhead than one made for hunting,” he writes – adding that this of course is pure speculation.
Several of the people who have commented on Facebook suggest the same. Three blades would increase blood loss and stop a wound from potentially closing up. “Either way it’s military/war-related,” one reader comments.
“Yes, that is what we are thinking as well. However, it was found at a reindeer hunting site. Perhaps they just grabbed the arrows they had when they went out hunting,” Secrets of the Ice respond.
Broader than your usual combat arrow
Vegard Vike is the Head Engineer of Archaeological Conservation at the Museum of cultural history in Oslo. He is an expert in among other things weapons of the Viking Age.
Vike comments that the arrow is incredibly well preserved.
“Three-bladed arrowheads from the Viking Age are not so common in Norway, they are more commonly found in Sweden,” he writes in an email to sciencenorway.no.
These are however usually slimmer, more like arrowheads made for combat. Some of these combat arrowheads from Sweden and Denmark are decorated and fastened with noble metals.
“The one which is found here I would think is rather made for hunting, as it is so broad,” Vike concludes and explains:
“The reason why dedicated combat arrows are slim and do not have broad blades is that they needed to penetrate chain mails. More broad-bladed arrows are on the other hand perfect for hunting as they create larger wounds, which means that the animal bleeds out faster. They would however be stopped by a chain mail.”
Unique sword casts new light on Viking voyages across the North Sea
The sword was found in three pieces by two metal detector enthusiasts, independent of each other, in the Jåttå/Gausel area in Stavanger, already renowned for the grave of the so-called Gausel queen. Found in 1883, it is considered to be one of the richest women’s graves from the Viking Age.
Like the women buried in the Oseberg ship, the Gausel queen had rich artefacts from the British Isles with her in her grave.
The sword would have been one of the most spectacularly ornamented and heaviest types of swords from the Viking Age. The blade is missing, but the hilt has unique details in gold and silver, and exquisite details not previously known.
Only about 20 such swords have been found in Norway—out of a total of around 3,000 Viking sword finds.
Lavish and complicated décor
The sword is currently under conservation at the Museum of Archaeology at the University of Stavanger. It is still difficult to see the details in the hilt, but the décor includes gilded elements of the typical animal styles found during the Iron and Viking Ages, between ca. 550 and 1050.
“It is very exciting to work on a find like this. It is challenging work, but we uncover new details daily,” conservator Cora Oschmann, in charge of the conservation, says.
The hilt also contains geometrical figures in silver, made with the so-called niello technique. This means that a metallic mixture of sorts was used to make black stripes in the silver.
Both ends of the crossguard are formed as animal heads.
“The technique is of a very high quality, and both the lavish and complicated decor and the special formation of the crossguard make this a truly unique find,” archaeologist Zanette Glørstad from the museum says.
Most likely imported
This particular type of sword has been found in both Eastern and Western Europe. The few swords of this type found in Norway were most likely imported.
“But it is possible to imagine that copies of these types of swords were made by very competent sword smiths in Norway,” Zanette Glørstad points out.
“The décor suggests that the sword was made in France or England and that it can be dated to the early 800s, like the sword found on the island Eigg,” Glørstad says.
Norway and the British Isles
It has previously been speculated whether the Jåttå/Gausel-area was the starting point for extensive alliances and looting.
“The location of the find, close to the Gausel queen, means that we have to take a new look at the entire Jåttå/Gausel area,” says Håkon Reiersen, a researcher at the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger.
“The outstanding collection of imported spectacular finds connected to both men and women in this area shows that this has been an important hub for the contact across the North Sea,” he says.
The metal detector enthusiasts immediately turned in their finds to the Cultural heritage management as Norwegian law demands. This ensured that the Museum of Archaeology at the University of Stavanger immediately could take care of the parts and start the conservation work.
The sword will be exhibited at the Museum of Archaeology at the University of Stavanger when the conservation work is finished.
Norway’s Medieval Monks Discussed Their Meals in Silence
Mealtime peace is a well-known concept in many Norwegian homes: You should sit still at the table and enjoy the food you are served. Monks back in the day took this to a new level. Speaking during meals was forbidden, and so a new sign language was born.
The monastery on a small Oslo island
Marianne Vedeler is a professor of Archeology at the Museum of Cultural History. She says that the silent meals took place on Hovedøya, a small island in the Oslofjord.
“A small group of monks came here in the 12th century. They had travelled from Kirkstead in England and wanted to establish a monastery here in Norway. They were Cistercian monks and had a very strict monastic order,” she says.
The rules covered all aspects of how they should live and were regulated down to how much bread they could eat per day.
“The rules were written down, so we know a lot about how these monks lived in the Middle Ages,” Vedeler says.
The regulations for Cistercian monks were international and thus followed them to Hovedøya in Oslo.
“Here they were to live like the Cistercian monks in monasteries in France and England. And the monasteries were to be designed according to the same template,” Vedeler says.
She has examined ruins, food remains, and fish bones that remain after the monks on the island Hovedøya.
Silent since the 6th century
The Monastic monks’ motto was “Ora et labora” – to pray and work. This was to occupy most of the day. It was generally desirable to minimise talking as much as possible. Their thoughts were to be turned towards God.
The two daily meals were also important. Everyone sat on one side of the table. By doing this, they avoided a possible conversation partner in front of them.
According to an article in the scientific journal Gastronomica, the rules of silent meals were introduced as early as the 6th century with ‘The Rule of Saint Benedict’. Saint Benedict encouraged the monks to communicate in other ways than using their voices during meals.
To accomplish this, monks at the mighty and prosperous Monastery of Cluny in France began remaining silent throughout their meals. The article in Gastronomica makes references to a biography in which Vikings captured a group of monks that they tried to force to speak. They were unsuccessful.
Monk sign language
Vedeler says that the ban on talking may have led to the monks enjoying their meals more. It was important for the monks to find a place to live where they could sustain themselves by fishing and growing fruit and vegetables. They were pescatarians and ate seafood in addition to a largely vegetarian diet.
“This is why Hovedøya was an ideal place to set up the monastery,” she says.
In addition to what could be captured in the sea, the monks constructed a fish farm on land where they could keep freshwater fish. These species of fish have their own specific signs in the sign language.
Kirk Ambrose, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, has created a list of how different foods were communicated through sign language. The monks had signs for, amongst other things, honey, beans, eggs, and seven different species of fish.
To signal fish, the monks moved their hands like a fishtail in water. For squid, they would spread their fingers and wave them. If you wanted an eel, your hands had to be held together as if you were holding an eel. Pike could be communicated using the same sign as for fish, but with a faster movement because the pike is a fast swimmer.
Ambrose further writes that some of the signs are used by Cistercian monks even to this day.
Damaged pieces of rare Viking sword reunited after 1,200 years apart
Two pieces of an ornate Viking sword that had been separated for about 1,200 years have been reunited and still fit together like a puzzle. The pieces were discovered a year apart by amateur treasure hunters in Norway.
The first finding occurred last year, when a metal detectorist in Stavanger, along Norway’s west coast, uncovered a small, odd piece of metal while poking around a farm.
The man handed the fragment over to the local archaeological museum and was unsure what it was — until this spring when his friend and fellow metal detectorist unearthed the rest of the artefact nearby.
Those two small chunks of metal turned out to be part of a massive Viking Age sword.
The sword is “of a rare type, known from Scandinavia but also found in Western Europe (in the areas known today as France, Britain and Ireland) and Eastern Europe, e.g. Hungary,” Ann Zanette Glørstad, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, told Live Science in an email.
Though the blade is missing, the sword’s hilt is richly decorated with intricate carvings and gold and silver details. Each end of the cross-guard is shaped like an unidentified animal.
Based on its ornamentation, Glørstad thinks that the sword may have been forged in the Frankish Empire or England around 800 A.D.
However, it could possibly have been forged by a talented Norwegian smith who was inspired by Frankish weapons, she noted. Of the roughly 3,000 Viking swords recovered in Norway, only about 20 match the newly discovered weapon’s profile — and its owner remains a mystery.
“We can only speculate as to whom it belonged,” Glørstad said.
“However, it was a highly decorative and impressive sword, and it must have belonged to someone with the means to acquire it, as well as someone who wanted to demonstrate their social status.”
Swords from this era sometimes had their owner’s names inscribed on the blade, according to the Art Institute Chicago(opens in new tab), but because this weapon’s blade is lost, archaeologists will have to rely on other clues to infer its owner’s identity.
The area has seen its share of Viking royalty; in 1883, the grave of a rich Viking queen was unearthed not far from where the sword was discovered.
“We knew that this area was of special importance, but that we should find something like this was very unexpected!” Håkon Reiersen, the acting head of the museum’s collection department, said in a translated statement(opens in new tab).
The sword has joined the collection at the Stavanger Museum of Archaeology, where it will be on display once it has been properly restored and preserved.
In the meantime, archaeology enthusiasts can follow the museum’s website(opens in new tab), and Instagram(opens in new tab) for updates on the sword’s restoration.
New Huge Viking Ship Discovered By Radar In Øye, Norway – What Is Hidden Beneath The Ground?
A new Viking Age ship has been discovered by archaeologists in Norway during a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey. This exciting find reveals a huge Viking boat buried beneath the ground in Øye, in Kvinesdal.
This archaeological discovery is highly significant not only because Viking ship burials are rarely found, but also due to the fact that Kvinesdal was once the home to one of Southern Norway’s largest known burial sites from the Iron and Viking Ages.
Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) said the ancient boat was spotted while researchers conducted geophysical surveys in the area as part of the road-building project E39 led by Nye Veier.
The surveys are a part of the research project “Arkeologi på Ney Veier” (Archaeology on new roads). Based on preliminary reports, archaeologists estimate the Viking boat to be between 8 to 9 meters long.
Niku researchers inform that in addition to the boat burial there are traces of several other burial mounds.
At present, it is still unknown how much of the Viking boat remains. Excavations must be carried out and hopefully, the new road project will not interfere with archaeologists’ work. As previously explained on AncientPages.com, Viking burials were very complex which is the reason why so few boat burials have been unearthed.
When a great Viking chieftain died, he received a ship burial. This involved placing the deceased on the ship, sailing him out to sea, and setting the Viking ship on fire. People could watch flames dance high in the air as they embraced the mighty warrior on his way to the afterlife.
By modern standards, it might sound crude, but Viking burials were intended to be a spectacular ritual. Viking funeral traditions involved burning ships and complex ancient rituals. Based on discovered archaeological evidence it seems that the funeral boat or wagon was a practice reserved for the wealthy.
This type of burial was not common however and was likely reserved for sea captains, noble Vikings, and the very wealthy. In Old Norse times, boats proper boats took several months to construct and would not have been wasted without a valid cause or a suitable amount of status.
Another option was that the Vikings was burned, and cremation was rather common during the early Viking Age. Ashes were later spread over the waters. The vast majority of the burial finds throughout the Viking world are cremations.
Archaeological discoveries such as the finding of the magnificent Gokstad Viking ship discovered in 1880 offer more insight into the world of the Vikings. When scientists re-opened and examined the grave in 2007 we could finally learn more about the man who became known as one of the most famous Vikings in Norway – the Gokstad Viking Chief and his remarkable ship.
The Gokstad ship was built in about 850, at the height of the Viking period. In those days there was a need for ships that could serve many purposes, and the Gokstad ship could have been used for voyages of exploration, trade, and Viking raids. The ship could be both sailed and rowed. There are 16 oar holes on each side of the ship. With oarsmen, steersmen, and lookout, that would have meant a crew of 34.
In recent years there have been exciting reports of unearthed Viking Age burial ships in Sweden and Norway.
The discoveries were made by archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) with technology developed by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro).
– We are certain that there is a ship there, but how much is preserved is hard to say before further investigation”, Morten Hanisch, county conservator in Østfold said at the time.
Later, scientists using modern technology put together an outstanding virtual tour of the Gjellestad Viking ship burial site, allowing viewers to see what the place looked like in ancient times.
The new radar discovery in Øye is promising and hopefully, researchers will be able to unearth and examine the remains of the Viking ship. Once they accomplish this, we will learn more about the boat and its history. Maybe remains of a Viking Chief will also be found.
Stunningly Well-Preserved Arrows With Feathers Revealed By Melting Ice Sheets In Norway
A spectacularly preserved arrow from the Iron Age — complete with its iron arrowhead, sinew wrappings and aerodynamic feather fletching — is now in the hands of glacial archaeologists in Norway.
It’s rare for arrow fletching to preserve, as the delicate feathers that help guide the arrow in flight usually decay over time.
The arrows of Ötzi the Iceman, who died about 5,300 years ago in what is now the Italian Alps, also have preserved fletching, although their condition isn’t as good as that of this newly discovered 1,700-year-old arrow, the archaeologists said.
“I think it is perhaps just the Ötzi-find which has preserved fletching on arrows, but his arrow fletchings are nowhere as well preserved as some of ours,” Lars Pilø, an archaeologist at the Department of Cultural Heritage, Innlandet County Council, Norway, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program, told Live Science in an email.
However, “his are older too, by several thousand years, so this is not to diss Ötzi’s arrows,” Pilø said.
The archaeologists found the 31.5-inch-long (80 centimetres) arrow during a survey at an undisclosed site in the Jotunheimen mountains in southern Norway in 2019, the glacial archaeology group Secrets of the Ice announced on Twitter on April 28.
“It is probably the best-preserved arrow we have found so far,” said Pilø, who is also editor of the Secrets of the Ice website. For instance, the sinew, wrapped around the front end of the arrow shaft to reduce the risk of fracture on impact, is still “wrapped tightly” and in place, he said. The remains of the thread and tar used to craft the arrow are also present.
“No wood species determination has been made, but the shafts of this type tend to be made in pine,” Pilø added. “Hopefully, it will be possible to find out which birds the feathers come from, what animal the sinew came from, etc.”
The team decided to forgo radiocarbon dating, as they would have to destroy part of the arrow when taking a sample to test its carbon isotopes (variants of the element carbon). They would rather the entire arrow stay intact for when it goes on display in a museum, he said.
But, because this style of the arrow is well known, it’s fairly easy to date. “The shaft type is known from Danish weapon sacrifices found in bogs, and the arrowhead is also a well-known type from graves in southern Norway,” Pilø said, so it’s likely that this weapon dates to between A.D. 300 and 600.
At that time, hunters would have gone into the mountains and used arrows like this one to shoot reindeer, he added.
This arrow is one of eight that Secrets of the Ice found during the 2019 survey.
The archaeologists hope to find more artefacts soon, as Norway’s glaciers are melting due to climate change. In one instance, the team found an arrow at the edge of the ice at one site in 2013. “The location of this find is now 100 m [328 feet] from the ice,” Pilø said.
Who Was the Exceptionally Powerfully Built Viking Buried in the Gokstad Ship?
Ever since the publication of a scientific article in 1883, “everyone” has known that the skeleton found in the magnificent Gokstad ship in Eastern Norway belonged to Olaf Geirstad-Alf, the legendary Viking king of the House of Yngling. In recent years, however, research has shown that this must be wrong.
Dendrochronological datings show that the Gokstad ship was built about the year 890 AD, i.e. the height of Norwegian expansion in the British Isles, and in the year 901, it was buried in the so-called “King’s Mound” (Gokstad Mound) in Vestfold, Eastern Norway.
The vessel largely is constructed of oak and is 23.22 meters (76.18 ft) long and 5.18 meters (17 ft) wide. On each side, there are sixteen oar holes, and the ship was built to carry thirty-two oarsmen. With a steersman (the ship’s owner) and lookout, the crew consisted of thirty-four people but could carry a maximum of seventy men with some equipment.
The Gokstad ship was both flexible and fast with a top speed of more than 12 knots (14 mph) propelled by the sail of about 110 square meters (1,200 square feet). Recent tests have shown that the vessel worked very well with both sail and oars, and it may have been used for trade, Viking raids and explorations. There have not been found any thwarts, and the oarsmen probably have been sitting on chests that also contained their personal equipment.
When the Gokstad ship was excavated, sixty-four shields were discovered (thirty-two on each side) and every second was painted in yellow and black. In the front part of the ship, there were discovered fragments of white wool fabric with sewn red stripes that probably were parts of the sail. Behind the mast, a burial chamber was discovered with the remains of a beautifully woven carpet decorating the walls. Inside the burial chamber, there was found a made bed containing the buried person.
In addition to the Gokstad ship itself, there were among other objects found a gaming board with gaming pieces made of horn, fish hooks, harness fittings of iron, lead and gilded bronze, kitchenware, and six beds, one tent, one sled and three smaller boats. There were also discovered a large number of animal bones that had belonged to twelve horses, eight dogs, two northern goshawks and two peacocks.
When the excavation took place in 1880, it soon became clear that parts of the grave goods had been plundered in ancient times: there were no jewellery or any precious metals in the grave, nor any weapons that in the Viking Age were an important part of a warrior’s grave goods preparing him for his journey to the Afterlife. Just south of the Gokstad burial mound, a major trading centre has recently been discovered. The items excavated tell different stories and document the close connection between Vestfold and the rest of the world at the time. Weights found in the trading centre show that hectic trading activities took place at about the same time as the Gokstad ship burial.
In 2007, bones from a human skeleton found in the grave were thoroughly examined by Professor Per Holck at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo.
The examination proved that the bones had belonged to a man who died in his 40s. He was between 178 (5ft 10 in) and 184 centimetres tall (6ft), something that was significantly taller than the average height of the period (165 cm / 5ft 5in) and the Viking was exceptionally powerfully built. The man in the Gokstad ship grave has mainly eaten terrestrial food [food coming from land and not the sea, like meat and corn] showing that he has belonged to the Norse community’s social elite.
Professor Holck found clear marks of five or six different cuts from an axe, knife and sword: one on each of the thigh bones, two or three on the left and one on the right calf bone. It is likely that the Gokstad man did not survive these injuries, something proved by the fact that there are no signs that his wounds have healed.
Although none of the injuries has been fatal (perhaps with the exception of a cut on the inside of the right thigh bone, which may have damaged the femoral artery), it cannot be excluded that this particular Viking has had other cuts that did kill him, for example in the head (only parts of the skull was discovered).
Aiming for the enemy’s legs was a common fighting technique in the Middle Ages. The legs were not covered by chain mails and were vulnerable, a fact documented from many examples in Norse sagas.
Professor Holck concluded that there must have been at least two people, with three different weapons, who have killed the Gokstad man, and that the cuts indicate that he most likely was wearing armour and killed in battle.
Not King Olaf Geirstad-Alf
The theory is that the skeleton from the Gokstad mound has belonged to Olaf Geirstad-Alf (Old Norse: Ólaf Geirstaða Álfr, the elf of Geirstad) was already described in a scientific article by anatomy professor Jacob Heiberg back in 1883, and the man’s identity has since been widely accepted. In the first section of the Heimskringla King’s Sagas written down in 1225 by Snorri Sturloson, Olaf «Geirstad-Alf» Gudrødsson is mentioned with a couple of lines: Olaf was a petty king in Vestfold, and the half brother of Halfdan the Black (c. 810 – c. 869 AD). Olaf was allegedly Halfdan’s nineteen years older brother, and thus probably born around the year 800. Since the ship’s grave can be dated back to the year 901, about half a century after Olaf Geirstad-Alf’s death, researchers can safely say that this is not Olaf’s grave.
However, who was the exceptionally powerfully built Viking found in the Oseberg grave chamber?
If we take a close look at the large and versatile Oseberg ship and the rich discoveries, and how the person in the grave was killed – it is quite certain that this was a powerful and respected Viking warrior from Vestfold. The peacocks discovered show that this was a man with an international network and that he did belong to the Norse upper class. Perhaps the birds were a gift from an English king or trophies he brought back home from a Viking raid in Spain?
In Medieval Europe peacocks, a bird species originally brought back from Asia, were considered a symbol of power among kings and aristocrats. Maybe the Gokstad man was a powerful Viking petty king, earl or chieftain who had accumulated enormous wealth abroad?
However, he may also have been an elite warrior, a berserker, one of the king’s loyal elite soldiers who received the funeral he deserved when he was killed in battle. If he was killed in Dublin, London, York– or in Novgorod (Russia), and was brought home to be buried, we do not know. Either way – it is certain that the human bones buried in the Gokstad ship did not belong to King Olaf Geirstad-Alf.
Stunning Roman-looking sandals found deep in the snow in the Norwegian mountains
Global warming is leading to the retreat of mountain glaciers. Incredibly well preserved and rare artefacts have emerged from melting glaciers and ice patches in North America, the Alps, and Scandinavia.
Team Secrets of the Ice has been searching for clues about the past in the Norwegian mountains for 15 years, and during this time the scientists have made many unusual discoveries.
One of the most interesting finds the team found is the surprising Roman-looking sandal they found buried deep in the snow in a dangerous Norwegian mountain pass.
The Lendbreen ice patch suffered an incredible melt in the fall of 2019. Finds appeared on the surface of the ice, showing that the melt had reached ice layers not previously touched by melt.
The Lendbreen ice patch in Norway’s Jotunheim Mountains, about 200 miles northwest of Oslo is located high in the mountains of southern Norway. In the 1800s, the area was dubbed the Jotunheim Mountains, or the home of the Jötnar, the fearful giants in Norse mythology.
Lendbreen has provided the most archaeological finds of any ice patch in Scandinavia and possibly the world.
Among the most significant finds are the hundreds of pre-historic cairns, which are stone structures that signalled to the travellers where the route went, a lost Viking settlement, an iron horseshoe, as well as a 1700-year-old tunic.
Espen Finstad and his team have visited the area on several occasions and their latest finds were recently summarized in a new report.
Did Ancient Romans Visit The Norwegian Mountains?
Would there always have been snow here? Most likely, Finstad says. The amounts would have varied, but in summer or winter, this was no place for flimsy shoes.
“I do a lot of hiking in the mountains, and you know, I find myself thinking, why would you wear that shoe up here… it’s just very, open. Full of patterns and holes. But it was there. We found it on the ice”, says Finstad.
“He suggests googling roman shoes for images of similar footwear. The shoe found in the Norwegian mountains is dated to 200-500, so the end of the Roman Empire,” Science in Norway reports.
“It looks almost like a sandal. It’s pretty astonishing, we’re up here at almost 2,000 meters, and we find a shoe with fashion elements, similar to those found on the continent at the time,” Finstad says.
“We have found quite a number of shoes in the ice, from the Early Bronze Age to the Medieval period,” glacial archaeologist Lars Pilø tweeted about the Horse Ice Patch shoe. “Why did people lose their footwear in the snow? They probably didn’t – the shoes are worn out and probably thrown away as rubbish. Well, we don’t think this shoe is rubbish.”
“It’s easy to joke about a roman tourist who didn’t quite understand much about the country he was visiting”, Finstad says.
“But in any case, I believe the people who walked these routes most likely knew what they were doing. They would have worn something inside this shoe that made it work. Perhaps scraps of fabric or animal skin”.
As the ice melts, scientists hope to uncover many more ancient items that may offer clues to those who visited the Lendbreen ice patch in ancient times.