Thursday, 2 February 2023

Viking warriors sailed the seas with their pets, bone analysis finds

A Viking burial mound at Heath Wood being excavated.
(Image credit: Julian Richards, University of York)

A Viking cemetery in England doesn't just hold the cremated remains of these warriors but also the beloved animals they brought from Scandinavia.

When the Vikings sailed west to England more than a millennium ago, they brought their animal companions with them and even cremated their bodies alongside human ones in a blazing pyre before burying them together, a new study finds. 

These animal and human remains were found in a unique cremation cemetery in central England that has long been assumed to hold the remains of Vikings — in particular, the warriors who sailed west to raid the countryside in the ninth century A.D. However, the new analysis revealed that several of the burial mounds didn't contain just the remains of humans but also those of domesticated animals that the warriors brought with them on their journey.

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Vikings brought their animals to England, research suggests

Excavations at Heath Wood in Derbyshire, the only known large-scale Viking cremation site in the British Isles. Photograph: Handout

Experts find evidence at Derbyshire cremation site of horses and dogs originating from the Baltic Shield

When the Vikings arrived in England they didn’t just bring their helmets, axes and beards –they also brought their horses and dogs, research suggests.

Experts studying cremated remains associated with the Viking great army that invaded England in AD865, say they have found evidence of animals and humans travelling from the Baltic Shield – a geographical area that encompasses Finland and parts of Norway, Sweden and Russia.

“It’s the first scientific proof that the Vikings did bring their animals with them from Scandinavia,” said Prof Julian Richards, co-author of the study from the University of York.

“It’s so nice to have this scientific evidence for something we see later in the Bayeux tapestry with the Normans disembarking the fleet, but this is 200 years earlier.”

Writing in the journal Plos One, Richards and colleagues describe how they analysed the ratio of different strontium isotopes in cremated remains found at the barrow cemetery at Heath Wood, Derbyshire.

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Vikings brought horses and dogs to England, cremated bones confirm

Excavations at Heath Wood in England
Julian Richards, University of York

The first physical proof that Vikings brought horses and dogs to England has been unearthed

Archaeologists have uncovered the first physical evidence that confirms some Vikings shipped their own horses and dogs from Scandinavia to England.

The animal bone evidence comes from a burial mound at the only known Viking cremation cemetery in the British Isles. The Heath Wood cemetery – located in what is now Derbyshire in central England – is believed to be a burial ground for the first large Viking army to travel to the country.

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First Solid Scientific Evidence That Vikings Brought Animals To Britain

Viking burial mound at Heath Wood, Derbyshire, UK, being excavated.
Credit: Julian Richards, University of York.

Archaeologists have found what they say is the first solid scientific evidence suggesting that Vikings crossed the North Sea to Britain with dogs and horses.

Research led by Durham University, UK, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium, examined human and animal remains from Britain's only known Viking cremation cemetery at Heath Wood, in Derbyshire.

Scientists looked at strontium isotopes contained within the remains. Strontium is a natural element found in different ratios across the world and provides a geographical fingerprint for human and animal movements.

Their analysis showed that within the context of the archaeology, one human adult and several animals almost certainly came from the Baltic Shield area of Scandinavia, covering Norway and central and northern Sweden, and died soon after arrival in Britain.

The researchers say this suggests that Vikings were not only stealing animals when they arrived in Britain, as accounts from the time describe, but were also transporting animals from Scandinavia, too.

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Study: Some Vikings Brought Horses and Dogs To Britain

Cremation leaves behind bone fragments like these, which can still reveal information about their geographic origin, if not much else.Julian Richards, University of York

The bones of one dead warrior and their animals may shed new light on the Viking Great Army’s logistics.

When the army of (mostly) Scandinavian warriors landed in East Anglia in 865 CE, they came to plunder — and they were equally happy to fight or to extort the locals. The king of East Anglia, Edmund the Martyr, apparently gave the Viking Great Army horses in return for not having to fight the Vikings, and unleashing them on neighboring, rival kingdoms like Mercia and Wessex. Elsewhere, the Vikings were said to steal horses and whatever else they wanted.

Based on historical descriptions like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it sounds like the Viking Great Army’s approach to logistical planning was “we’ll just steal it when we get there.” But recent archaeological evidence suggests that at least some Vikings brought animals like horses, dogs, and maybe even pigs with them on their campaign to Britain.

Durham University archaeologist Tessi Löffelmann and her colleagues published their findings in a recent paper in the journal PLOS ONE.

What’s new — Wherever you go in the world, the bedrock beneath your feet has a particular ratio of different isotopes of the element strontium. That isotopic ratio gives the place a chemical fingerprint that’s shared by plants that grow in the soil, animals that eat the plants and drink the water, and other animals that eat those animals. Once it’s in the body, strontium can fill in for calcium in your bones, so that if you’ve in a place long enough, its geology becomes part of your bones.

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Horses and dogs sailed with Vikings to Britain, say scientists


Vikings sailing from Scandinavia to England brought horses, dogs and perhaps even pigs with them, according to analysis of bone remains.

Invading Vikings were previously thought to have largely stolen animals from villages in Britain.

The findings also provide evidence Viking leaders had a close relationship with animals and travelled with them, the lead scientist says.

The 9th Century bones were found in burial mounds in Heath Wood, Derbys.

Cremated animal and human remains had been found buried together, suggesting the creatures had special meaning and been burned on the same funeral pyre as humans, doctoral researcher Tessi Löffelmann, from Durham University and Vrije Universiteit Brussels, told BBC News.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Medieval English monasteries found ways to survive Viking attacks, archaeologists find



English monasteries were more resilient to Viking attacks than previously thought, archaeologists have concluded.
Lyminge, a monastery in Kent, was on the front line of long-running Viking hostility which ended in the victories of Alfred the Great. The monastery endured repeated attacks, but resisted collapse for almost a century, through effective defensive strategies put in place by ecclesiastical and secular rulers of Kent, University of Reading archaeologists say.
The new evidence is presented after a detailed examination of archaeological and historical evidence by Gabor Thomas from the University of Reading. “The image of ruthless Viking raiders slaughtering helpless monks and nuns is based on written records, but a re-examination of the evidence show the monasteries had more resilience than we might expect,” Thomas explains.
Despite being located in a region of Kent which bore the full brunt of Viking raids in the later 8th and early 9th centuries, the evidence suggests that the monastic community at Lyminge not only survived these attacks but recovered more completely than historians previously thought, Dr Thomas concludes in research, published this month in the journal Archaeologia.

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Tuesday, 31 January 2023

New Evidence Vikings Failed To Wipe Out Communities And Anglo-Saxon Monasteries

 



St Paul's Church, Jarrow. Credit: Adobe Stock - Electric Egg Ltd.

The new evidence is presented after a detailed examination of archaeological and historical evidence by Dr. Gabor Thomas from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading.

“The image of ruthless Viking raiders slaughtering helpless monks and nuns is based on written records, but a re-examination of the evidence shows the monasteries had more resilience than we might expect,” Dr. Thomas said.

Despite being located in a region of Kent that bore the full brunt of Viking raids in the later 8th and early 9th centuries, the evidence suggests that the monastic community at Lyminge not only survived these attacks but recovered more completely than historians previously thought, Dr Thomas concludes in research, published today (30 January 2023) in the journal Archaeologia

During archaeological excavations between 2007-15 and 2019, archaeologists uncovered the main elements of the monastery, including the stone chapel at its heart surrounded by a wide swathe of wooden buildings and other structures where the monastic brethren and their dependents lived out their daily lives. Radiocarbon dating of butchered animal bones discarded as rubbish indicates that this occupation persisted for nearly two centuries following the monastery’s establishment in the second half of the 7th century.

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Thursday, 26 January 2023

The Oldest Rune Stones in the World

The Svingerud Stone is the oldest rune stone, created almost two thousand years ago

There are many things that come into mind when thinking of Vikings – horned helmets, which are historically inaccurate, longships that brought terror to Europe, Norse gods that have been turned into Hollywood super heroes and, the subject of this article, their unique way of writing.

The runic alphabet developed among the early Germanic people of Northern Europe almost 2,000 years ago. How it was created it still not fully understood, though it is widely believed that contact with Mediterranean civilisations – Greeks, Etruscans and Romans – influenced the creation of this writing system.

Some of the best preserved examples of this script can be found on rune stones, including the lions-hare located in Sweden. They had many varied purposes ranging from marking territory to memorialising fallen kinsmen. Rune stones used to be highly colourful, though hundreds of years of being out in the open means very little is left for modern observers.

Here were look at some of the oldest rune stones found by archeologists.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Archbishop Wulfstan of York (c. 946/66 – 1023)


Wulfstan played a significant political role in Anglo-Saxon England at the turn of the first millennium and the events surrounding the political and personal demise of King Æthelred (r. 978–1013, 1014–1016) and the conquest (996 – 1018) of Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great

Wulfstan was not just a prominent figure in high political circles during the turn of the first millennium in Anglo-Saxon England. He was also a prolific writer of legislative texts, homilies and other devotional and poetic texts in which he called for repentance and reform.

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Monday, 19 December 2022

Time Team recording special at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk

Sir Tony Robinson, pictured in 2005, is recording at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk (Image: Newsquest)

Long-running archaeological TV show Time Team has been in Suffolk recording a special episode at Sutton Hoo.

Original presenter Sir Tony Robinson has been at the Anglo-Saxon burial site near Woodbridge to film the special for the show's YouTube channel.

Time Team was broadcast for 20 years on Channel 4 and released almost 300 episodes, with each one featuring a team of specialists carrying out an archaeological dig over a three-day period.

After the show's original run ended in 2014, it returned as an online show earlier this year and is fan-funded via Patreon.

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Tuesday, 13 December 2022

Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers


The University of Oxford online course: Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers is currently enroling for Trinity Term when the course will begin on 25 January.

Find out more about this course...

Monday, 12 December 2022

Early medieval female burial site is ‘most significant ever discovered’ in UK

A reconstruction of the burial site near Harpole in Northamptonshire. 
Photograph: MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology)

Find dating from about 650AD in Northamptonshire includes jewelled necklace and changed archaeologists’ view of the period

Archaeologists don’t often bounce with excitement, but the Museum of London archaeology team could hardly contain themselves on Tuesday as they unveiled an “exhilarating” discovery made on the last day of an otherwise barren dig in the spring.

“This is the most significant early medieval female burial ever discovered in Britain,” said the leader of the dig, Levente Bence Balázs, almost skipping with elation. “It is an archaeologist’s dream to find something like this.”

“I was looking through a suspected rubbish pit when I saw teeth,” Balázs added, his voice catching with emotion at the memory. “Then two gold items appeared out of the earth and glinted at me. These artefacts haven’t seen the light of day for 1,300 years, and to be the first person to see them is indescribable. But even then, we didn’t know quite how special this find was going to be.”

What Balázs had found was a woman buried between 630 and 670 AD – a woman buried in a bed alongside an extraordinary, 30-piece necklace of intricately-wrought gold, garnets and semi-precious stones. It is, by a country mile, the richest necklace of its type ever uncovered in Britain and reveals craftsmanship unparalleled in the early medieval period.

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A 1,300-Year-Old Gold Necklace Found in an Early Christian Burial in England Is a ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime Discovery,’ Says Archaeologist

Collection of pendants from the Harpole Treasure. Photo by Andy Chopping; © MOLA.

An exquisite gold necklace from the seventh century C.E. has been found in England at the burial site of a powerful woman who was interred some 1,300 years ago, according to the Associated Press.  

The necklace, known as the Harpole Treasure after the Northamptonshire village where it was discovered, is decorated with 30 pendants and beads fashioned from gold Roman coins and semi-precious stones. The large rectangular pendant features a cross, iconography that suggests the deceased may have been an early Christian religious leader. The use of precious metals and stones suggests she was also very wealthy.

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Who were the Normans?


How did a group of rowdy itinerant Scandinavians come to dominate swathes of Europe for more than two centuries? Alex Burghart tackles the big questions about the origins of the Normans and their enduring influence

The Normans were the violent parvenu opportunists of their day: Vikings who settled in Normandy and became French before conquering England and becoming English.

From obscure Scandinavian origins, the Normans relied on their military proficiency – and ruthlessness – to dominate the institutions and elites of Europe, and assimilated cultures, ideas and whole political systems in their pursuit of glory. Norman knights and generals occupied areas from the lowlands of Scotland to the deserts of the near east, thrusting themselves into the midst of conflicts and seizing chances whenever they appeared. They also left behind some of the most remarkable ecclesiastical and military architecture of the period, which speaks volumes about both their self-importance and their piety.

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Sunday, 30 October 2022

Harald Hardrada: King of Norway


Coming back to Norway meant that Harald Hardrada had two relatives to deal with – Sweyn and Magnus. It would make for an interesting path to the Norwegian throne. 

By 1043 the wheel of fortune had turned once more, and the family of Harald Hardrada was triumphant. While Harald had busied himself in his exile waging war across the wine-dark sea in the employ of the empire of the Romans, his nephew Magnus, the illegitimate son of Harald’s half-brother King Olaf II, had become the figurehead of a powerful bloc of Norwegian aristocrats disaffected by the burdens and excesses of Danish overlordship. With their support and after a decade of warfare, Magnus was able to not only secure his hold on Norway, doing much to establish and disseminate notions of royal authority, but also capture the throne of Denmark. Their traditional enemies and tormentors had all fallen by the wayside or been bent to purpose. Cnut the Great and his sons, their power fragmented by internecine rivalries and squabbles, all fell victim to illness and tragedy while the Norwegian aristocrats who had overthrown and then slain Olaf II had all reconciled themselves to Magnus and the notion of Norwegian kingship.

Magnus, whose role in the political unification of Norway and establishment of the kingdom has all too often been overlooked and undervalued, is known to history as Magnus the Good. He earnt this epithet we are told by the 13th-century saga material because rather than seek revenge against his father’s killers and perpetuate a destructive blood feud, Magnus chose to forgive them and work together in challenging Danish hegemony over Norway. Of course, Magnus was only eleven when he was first proclaimed king in 1035, therefore despite the support of several powerful advocates, such as his stepmother Queen Astrid and her brother King Arnud Jacob of Sweden, the extent to which he could have struck back against his aristocratic sponsors is highly questionable. Harald’s epithet of Hardrada on the other hand translates into English into something along the lines of the severe or stern. Wars fought between those famed for their decency and gentleness of heart and those known for their severe and forceful nature seldom last long.

And it was to be war, for Harald arrived in Scandinavia intent upon seizing the throne of Norway for himself. Perhaps he felt like he had come too far, seen too much and served too many simply to present himself to his nephew as just another poor relation, a potential military proxy and advisor in a royal court already replete with vested interests and aristocratic affinities. Harald had departed Constantinople with considerable haste with a meagre handful of ships and a few hundred diehard followers at the most. Yet he was a force to be reckoned with.

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The Value and Power of Books in Anglo-Saxon England

The St Cuthbert Gospel of St John. (formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel) is the oldest intact European book

Despite the ‘Dark Ages’ myth, Anglo-Saxon England actually had an impressive wealth and sophistication, and books were prized possessions. The printing press was still centuries away and so the creation of each book required a painstaking amount of time and effort. Thus, those available became symbols of power and wealth and were highly-valued among the upper echelons of Anglo-Saxon society.

In what different ways did books hold such value and power during this period?

Valuable possessions

One of the most notable figures who placed high value on literature was King Alfred the Great. His famous beautifully-crafted jewel, the Alfred Jewel, is thought to have originally been the handle of his reading stick, used for pointing at words when reading.

We also know Alfred championed the making of books. In the mid 880s, Alfred summoned Asser, a Welsh monk from the monastery at St David’s, to write the Life of King Alfred – while the king was still alive.

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Saturday, 29 October 2022

Landscapes of the Norman Conquest


An exciting new book “Landscapes of the Norman Conquest” by Trevor Rowley has now been published.

For a long time, the Norman Conquest has been viewed as a turning point in English history; an event which transformed English identity, sovereignty, kingship, and culture. The years between 1066 and 1086 saw the largest transfer of property ever seen in English History, comparable in scale, if not greater, than the revolutions in France in 1789 and Russia in 1917. This transfer and the means to achieve it had a profound effect upon the English and Welsh landscape, an impact that is clearly visible almost 1,000 years afterwards.

Although there have been numerous books examining different aspects of the British landscape, this is the first to look specifically at the way in which the Normans shaped our towns and countryside.

The castles, abbeys, churches and cathedrals built in the new Norman Romanesque style after 1066 represent the most obvious legacy of what was effectively a colonial take-over of England. Such phenomena furnished a broader landscape that was fashioned to intimidate and demonstrate the Norman dominance of towns and villages.

The devastation that followed the Conquest, characterised by the ‘Harrying of the North’, had a long-term impact in the form of new planned settlements and agriculture. The imposition of Forest Laws, restricting hunting to the Norman king and the establishment of a military landscape in areas such as the Welsh Marches, had a similar impact on the countryside.

You can find further details here…

Monday, 24 October 2022

Metal detectorist’s find of lifetime as rare 700AD gold sword pommel uncovered

The solid gold sword pommel was found near Blair Drummond and is valued at £30,000.

An “exceptionally rare” solid-gold sword pommel discovered by a metal detectorist and which dates back to the early medieval period has come into the ownership of Scotland’s national museums.

The impressive find was located near Blair Drummond, Stirling, and is believed to date back to 700AD.

Measuring 5.5cm wide and weighing 25g, the golden pommel – the fitting at the top of the handle – is valued at £30,000.

On recommendation of the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel, the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer allocated the find to National Museums Scotland (NMS), which described the item as “exceptionally rare”.

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Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Rendlesham: 1,400-year-old royal hall unearthed

Volunteers working with Suffolk County Council fully excavated post holes on the east side of the hall

A royal hall of "international importance" that dates back 1,400 years has been unearthed on private land.

The Hall of the first Kings of East Anglia was discovered in Rendlesham, Suffolk, over the summer.

Prof Christopher Scull said it was the "most extensive and materially wealthy settlement of its date known in England".

It was discovered by a community dig as part of Suffolk County Council's Rendlesham Revealed project.

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