Tag Archives: Archaeology

Viking news, and Erling’s grave

Archaeologists in Vestfold county, Norway, recently discovered what they’re pretty sure is a Viking Age ship burial.

A burial site featuring what seems to be a complete viking ship has been discovered in the Vestfold county in Norway. Many spectacular finds have been unearthed in the region over the years, including the famous Oseberg and Gokstad ships now housed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum. The latest discovery of the grave in Borreparken was announced at a press conference in the Midgard Viking Center in Horten.

“The data clearly shows the shape of a ship, and we can see weak traces of a circular depression around the vessel. This could point to the existence of a mound that was later removed,” said a spokesperson for cultural heritage in Vestfold county. Researchers will now carry out detailed investigations to assess the size of the find.

Read the rest here.

It’s interesting that the article says nothing about any plans to actually excavate the ship. All the work so far has been done by georadar. That’s cool – it’s definitely a conservative (conservative is always good) way to prevent damage to the site. But it seems to me they’ll want to actually look at possible grave goods at some point. Don’t expect to see the ship resurrected like the ones in the museum in Oslo. Those were very special cases, where the vessels were buried in anaerobic (I think that’s the right word) blue clay, which prevented rotting of the wood. Most Viking ships found in modern times are pretty much decomposed, and you recognize them from the way the iron rivets are distributed in the earth.

Vestfold has always been an important part of Norway – it has good agricultural land and it’s close to the shipping lanes. The king of Denmark generally considered himself the rightful ruler of Vestfold (and often of Norway as a whole) in Viking times. Cultural development and foreign influences were both rich in Vestland.

I hope they dig it up in time. I’m not like Native Americans; it doesn’t offend me if somebody excavates my ancestors’ graves. Especially if they find cool stuff.

In case you’ve ever wondered about Erling Skjalgsson’s grave, it’s never been identified. A history of Sola which I read related a local legend: During a period of hard times, when erosion had stripped much of the topsoil in the area, the farmer at Sola decided to dig up an ancient mound on his property, and distribute the dirt in his fields. Rumor said that he came into sudden wealth at that time. Some suspected he’d found a rich Viking grave, and sold off its treasures.

However, if the story’s true – which is questionable in itself (we had a not dissimilar legend about the farm where I grew up in Minnesota, and it was also dubious) – there’s no reason the grave would have been Erling’s. As a Christian he would have been buried in the churchyard, not in a mound, and with minimal or no grave goods. It would be more likely to be his father, Thorolf Skjalg’s – or that of any of a number of other powerful ancestors.

Your Viking news update

My reading pace is a little slow just now. Had some translation to do on Monday, and now I’m working hard on preparing for my lecture at Union University in TN next Tuesday.

So here’s some Viking news, courtesy of HisTecho:

While Norwegian archeologists in Trondheim’s city, excavated the market area, they stumbled upon a curious discovery.

It was 13 feet long, and while the wood had been destroyed over time, evidence such as nails and rusty lumps indicated that it was a boat. The boat dates from the 7th to the 10th century, a time when Vikings wandered the seas, raided and explored, according to the initial analysis.

Inside the boat, burial goods such as bronze, a piece of a spoon, and a key to a small box were discovered, alongside 2 long bones.

The DNA testing is yet to prove if the bones are human or provide any details that might bring more information about the person possibly buried in the boat.

The article indicates that scholars are surprised by the age of the find, but I don’t find it surprising that there would be human habitation, and burials, in Trondheim before the turn of the millennium. Trondheim didn’t become really important until Olaf Trygvesson’s time (around 1000), but we’re talking about arable land in a soil-poor country. Trondheim is a nice spot, with a good port. I’d be surprised if somebody wasn’t living there.

More fake Viking news

Not Kufic

It’s getting so there’s a new bogus, agenda-driven story about the Vikings every week or so. Not long ago it was the story about the “female Viking warrior,” which seems to have been far less than advertised. This week it was the name “Allah” “discovered” in a piece of Viking embroidery. From the English paper, the Independent:

The silk patterns were originally thought to be ordinary Viking Age decoration but a re-examination by archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University revealed they were a geometric Kufic script.
They were found on woven bands as well as items of clothing, in two separate grave sites, suggesting that Viking funeral customs had been influenced by Islam.

I was skeptical about this story from the git-go. In the first place, the pattern looked like a fairly standard geometrical pattern, very much like the kinds you get from tablet weaving, common in the Viking Age. Secondly, even if the pattern was derived from Muslim script, that does not imply belief. The Vikings had strong trade contacts with Baghdad, to whose representatives they sold thousands of slaves every year. Arabic silver coins (dirhems) are one of the most common objects found in Viking hoards, especially in Sweden. Arabic coins have no pictures, in keeping with Islamic law. Just the flowing, graceful Arabic script. It would be no surprise if the shapes of the letters might have inspired a Viking embroiderer. No religious motive should be assumed.

Now, as expected, there’s been a rebuttal, even more categorical than I expected.

…now a leading expert in mediaeval Islamic art and archaeology has disputed the claim and said the inscription contains “no Arabic at all.”

Stephennie Mulder, a professor from the University of Texas in Austin, said the error stems from a “serious problem of dating”.

She claims Kufic script did not occur until 500 years after the Viking age.

“It’s a style called square Kufic, and it’s common in Iran, C. Asia on architecture after 15th century,” she wrote on Twitter.

Listen archaeologists – I know you want to see your names in the papers. And I know it’s good for your careers to make the most exaggerated claims you can, in the service of multiculturalism. But stop trying to promote your causes by exploiting history.

That’s the job of historical novelists. Like me.

Tip: Dave Lull.

Skeleton in armor (not by Longfellow)

A number of people have drawn my attention to an article recently published in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology. I think I’ve seen it linked at least twenty times of Facebook: A Female Viking Warrior Confirmed by Genomics.

Several people asked my opinion of it. My initial responses were brief. I had a pretty good idea that there was more smoke than fire here, and that the article was going to get some pushback.

And I was right. This article is by none other than Judith Jesch, author of Women in the Viking Age, a standard work on its subject. I’ve never read the book, allergic as I am to feminist historians, but I think I’ll get it now. Because Ms. Jesch has articulated exactly my concerns. (Plus a lot more, because she’s you know, smarter than me.) Continue reading Skeleton in armor (not by Longfellow)

Heist

A Danish scholar, Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, is considered one of the fathers of the modern field of archaeology. He was the first curator to arrange artifacts according to the materials from which they were made, helping to develop the concept of historical ages – Stone, Bronze, Iron.

Scandinavian archaeology suffered a serious blow recently, when thieves entered the University Museum of Bergen, Norway, by way of a repair scaffold. Inventory still has not determined the entire extent of losses, though I’ve seen pictures of missing items posted on Facebook, with alerts to watch out for them on the antiquities market. It appears a number of Viking Age items are among those missing.