In October 2018, a geophysical survey of a field in Halden, southeastern Norway, revealed the presence of Viking ship burial. The landowner had applied for a soil drainage permit and because the field is adjacent to the monumental Jell Mound, archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) inspected the site first. Using a four-wheeler with a georadar mounted to the front of it. The high-resolution ground-penetrating radar picked up the clear outline of a ship 20 meters (65 feet) long.
The ship was found just 50 cm (1.6 feet) under the surface. It was once covered by a burial mound like its neighbor, but centuries of agricultural work ploughed it away. Subsequent investigation of the area found the outlines of at least 11 other burial mounds around the ship, all of them long-since ploughed out as well. The georadar also discovered the remains of five longhouses.
In order to get some idea of the shipâ€™s age, condition and how much of it is left, in September of 2019, NIKU archaeologists dug a test pit was dug to obtain a sample of the wood of the keel. The keel was of a different type to ones from other Viking ship burials known in Norway. It is thinner and smaller than usual. The two-week investigation and analysis of the sample found that the ship does indeed date to the early Viking era. The wood was felled between the late 7th century and the start of the 9th century. Later dendrochronological analysis narrowed down the date to the period between 603 and 724 A.D.
In more distressing news, the analysis of the sample revealed that the wooden remains were under severe attack from fungus. The use of fertilizer on the farmland above the ship encourages the fungal growth and not only is the keel plagued by soft rot, the remains even at the deepest point where preservation conditions are the best possible are under acute distress.
Norwayâ€™s government has responded to the archaeological emergency by allocating 15.6m kroner (about $1.5 million) to excavate the Gjellestad Viking Ship and get it out of the ground before it rots to nothingness. While other Viking ship burials have been excavated in recent years, the last Viking ship burial mound to be excavated was the Oseberg ship in 1904-1905. If the Norwegian parliament approves the budget, excavation of the Gjellestad Ship is slated to begin in June.
Scientists have re-created the face of a female Viking warrior who lived more than 1,000 years ago.
The woman is based on a skeleton found in a Viking graveyard in SolÃ¸r, Norway, and is now preserved in Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History.
While the remains had already been identified as female, the burial site had not been considered that of a warrior ‘simply because the occupant was a woman’, archaelogist Ella Al-Shamahi told The Guardian.
But now British scientists have brought the female warrior to life using cutting-edge facial recognition technology.
Scientists reconstructed the face of the female warrior who lived more than 1,000 years ago by anatomically working from the muscles and layering of the skin
And scientists found the woman was buried with a hoard of deadly weaponry including arrows, a sword, a spear and an axe.
Researchers also discovered a dent in her head, which rested on a shield in her grave, that was consistent with a sword wound.
It is unclear whether the brutal injury was the cause of her death however it is believed to be ‘the first evidence ever found of a Viking woman with a battle injury’, according to Ms Al-Shamahi.
She added: I’m so excited because this is a face that hasn’t been seen in 1,000 yearsâ€¦ She’s suddenly become really real.’
[P]ieces of some 100 Viking swords and spearheads dating to the middle of the tenth century A.D. were found in two caches placed about 260 feet apart along a remote Viking trade route near Estoniaâ€™s northwestern coast. Archaeologist Mauri Kiudsoo of Tallinn University said the bits of broken weapons may have been cenotaphs, or items left as a monument to warriors who had died and were buried somewhere else. The surviving sword parts provide enough information, however, to know the weapons included H-shaped double-edged swords. Eight nearly intact type H swords and fragments of 100 more have been found in Estonia alone.
The fragments were found in two closely located sites in a coastal area of north Estonia, in the territory of the ancient Estonian county of Ravala, late last autumn.
The finds consisted of dozens of items, mostly fragments of swords and a few spearheads.
Mauri Kiudsoo, archaeologist and keeper of the archaeological research collection of Tallinn University, told BNS the two sites were located just 80 meters apart. The swords date from the middle of the 10th century and are probably cenotaphs, grave markers dedicated to people buried elsewhere.
The reason why the swords were not found intact, Kiudsoo said, is due to the burial customs of the time. It is characteristic of finds in Estonia from the period that weapons were put into the graves broken or rendered unusable.
While the Ravala fragments constitute the biggest find of Viking-era weapons in Estonia, more important according to Kiudsoo, is the fact that the grips of the swords allow us to determine which type of swords they are. They have been identified as H-shaped double-edged swords. This type of sword was the most common type in the Viking era and over 700 have been found in northern Europe.
Kiudsoo said that by 1991, eight more or less intact type H swords and about 20 fragments had been discovered in Estonia but the number has risen to about 100. The overwhelming majority of the Estonian finds have come to light on the country’s north coast, which lies by the most important remote trade route of the Viking era.
Sword Pommel, XI-XIII century from LÃ¤Ã¤nemaa, Estonia.
A medieval chess piece that was missing for almost 200 years had been unknowingly kept in a drawer by an Edinburgh family.
They had no idea that the object was one of the long-lost Lewis Chessmen – which could now fetch Â£1m at auction.
The chessmen were found on the Isle of Lewis in 1831 but the whereabouts of five pieces have remained a mystery.
The Edinburgh family’s grandfather, an antiques dealer, had bought the chess piece for Â£5 in 1964.
He had no idea of the significance of the 8.8cm piece (3.5in), made from walrus ivory, which he passed down to his family.
They have looked after it for 55 years without realising its importance, before taking it to Sotheby’s auction house in London. …
Sotheby’s expert Alexander Kader, who examined the piece for the family, said his “jaw dropped” when he realised what they had in their possession.
“They brought it in for assessment,” he said. “That happens every day. Our doors are open for free valuations.
“We get called down to the counter and have no idea what we are going to see. More often than not, it’s not worth very much.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s one of the Lewis Chessmen’.”
Mr Kader, Sotheby’s co-worldwide head of European sculpture and works of art, said the family, who want to remain anonymous, were “quite amazed”.
“It’s a little bit bashed up. It has lost its left eye. But that kind of weather-beaten, weary warrior added to its charm,” he said.
Despite not knowing its significance, the late 12th/early 13th Century chess piece had been “treasured” by the family.
The current owner’s late mother believed it “almost had magical qualities”.
A family spokesman said in a statement: “My grandfather was an antiques dealer based in Edinburgh, and in 1964 he purchased an ivory chessman from another Edinburgh dealer.
“It was catalogued in his purchase ledger that he had bought an ‘Antique Walrus Tusk Warrior Chessman’.
“From this description it can be assumed that he was unaware he had purchased an important historic artefact.
“It was stored away in his home and then when my grandfather died my mother inherited the chess piece.
“My mother was very fond of the Chessman as she admired its intricacy and quirkiness. She believed that it was special and thought perhaps it could even have had some magical significance.
“For many years it resided in a drawer in her home where it had been carefully wrapped in a small bag. From time to time, she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness.”
The Lewis Chessmen set includes seated kings and queens, bishops, knights and standing warders and pawns. Some 82 pieces are now in the British Museum and 11 pieces held by the National Museum of Scotland. As well as the chess pieces, the hoard includes 14 “tablemen” gaming pieces and a buckle.
Since the hoard was uncovered in 1831, one knight and four warders have been missing from the four combined chess sets.
The newly-discovered piece is a warder, a man with helmet, shield and sword and the equivalent of a rook on a modern chess board, which “has immense character and power”.
The discovery of the hoard remains shrouded in mystery, with stories of it being dug up by a cow grazing on sandy banks.
It is thought it was buried shortly after the objects were made, possibly by a merchant to avoid taxes after being shipwrecked, and so remained underground for 500 years.
Mr Kader, who has kept the discovery under wraps for six months while authenticating the find, said: “We can safely say that a million pounds will transform the seller’s life.”
He added: “There are still four out there somewhere. It might take another 150 years for another one to pop up.”
The extreme nature of the ornamentation on this sword, combined with the unusual (for Scandinavia) motifs coupled with the apparent lack of a fuller (lenticular, ‘grooveless’ sword blades being a common hallmark of swords from Constantinople) may indicate that this sword was manufactured in Byzantium and may have belonged to a Varangian Guardsman or may have been gifted to a Nordic person held in esteem by the Romans.
With double-edged blade of gradual taper; inlaid on both sides in gold and silver with decorative patterns, one side bearing a gradually tapering geometric-architectural design in five stages and the other bearing a gradually tapering palmette design. The hilt comprising down-curved cross guard, sturdy tang and five-lobed pommel riveted to the upward-curving upper guard; the cross-guard, upper guard and pommel all inlaid in silver with decorative knotwork and tracery and in gold with dots.
Overall length: 94 cm (37″); Blade length: 80.6 cm (31.75″)
This rare Viking sword, the hilt of Petersen Type O, has a cross-guard with decorative devices reminiscent of those on one of the three swords that were found in the rich ship burial of about 900 at Hedeby in Denmark when it was subsequently excavated in the 1950s. More of these â€˜rabbit earâ€™ or â€˜knotted ropeâ€™ characters may be found on three of the â€˜Hiltiprehtâ€™ group of swords, namely one in the Wallace Collection, London (Inv. No. A456), the Ballinderry sword in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin (Inv. No.1928.382) and the example from Malhus in the Trondheim Museum, Norway (Petersen, Abb.89).
The credentials of this prestigious weapon are further enhanced by the decoration upon the blade. On one side there is a palmette design of inlaid silver with traces of gold that is very similar to that on a fragmented blade from the River Bann in Ireland and illustrated in BÃ¸e. This should be compared with the inlay on a sword from the Waal near Nijmegen (Oakeshott, Records of the Medieval Sword, p.47). On the other side, the inlaid precious metals may well represent a schematic plan view of a building, as is believed to have been intended upon another silver inlaid sword illustrated and described by Ewart Oakeshott (Records of the Medieval Sword, pp.28-29).
The story that Guy Mellgren told about the curious silver coin began on the shores of Maine, where he met a stranger named Goddard. In the fall of 1956, Mellgren and Ed Runge, a pair of amateur archaeologists, had come in search of the most basic of coastal dig sitesâ€”a shell middenâ€”when they happened onto a more unusual discovery.
Goddard had invited them to explore his shoreline property, and there, on a natural terrace about eight feet above the high tide line, they found stone chips, knives, and fire pits, along with an abundance of other unexpected artifacts. Each summer for many years, Mellgren and Runge returned to excavate the â€œGoddard Site,â€ with little help from professional archaeologists. In the second summer, they produced the coin.
For two decades, based on an analysis by a friend in a numismatics club, Mellgren described it as a coin minted in 12th-century England, and no one questioned that identification. The discovery should have been noteworthyâ€”thereâ€™s no good explanation for how a medieval English coin could have crossed the Atlanticâ€”but Mellgren never sought wider attention for the find. It was a curiosity to show off to friends and his sonâ€™s classmates, until, in 1978, a scrappy regional bulletin published a picture of the coin and an article titled, â€œWere the English the First to Discover America?â€
That picture found its way to a well-known London dealer, who recognized at once that the coin could not have come from England. Two weeks after Mellgren died, the coinâ€™s reidentification swept into the news. It was a Norse penny, made between 1065 and 1093â€”evidence for Viking contact with North America centuries before Columbus.
All of sudden, experts from around the world began taking a careful look at the details of Mellgrenâ€™s story. Of many objects purported to prove a Viking presence in North America, only the artifacts painstakingly excavated at Lâ€™Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, have stood up to investigation. The restâ€”the Beardmore relics, the Vinland Map, the notorious Kensington Rune Stoneâ€”are all considered hoaxes.
Since 1978, no one has questioned that the Mellgren coin is an authentic Norse penny, made in medieval Scandinavia. But 60 years after Mellgrenâ€™s find, archaeologists and numismatic experts are still asking how in the world this small, worn coin got to Maine.
Tim Folger, at Smithsonian, describes the current academic debate over the vanishing of the Viking colony on Greenland.
Archaeologists once assumed that the Norse in Greenland were primarily farmers who did some hunting on the side. Now it seems clear that the reverse was true. They were ivory hunters first and foremost, their farms only a means to an end. Why else would ivory fragments be so prevalent among the excavated sites? And why else would the Vikings send so many able-bodied men on hunting expeditions to the far north at the height of the farming season? â€œThere was a huge potential for ivory export,â€ says Smiarowski, â€œand they set up farms to support that.â€ Ivory drew them to Greenland, ivory kept them there, and their attachment to that toothy trove may be what eventually doomed them.
When the Norse arrived in Greenland, there were no locals to teach them how to live. â€œThe Scandinavians had this remarkable ability to colonize these high-latitude islands,â€ says Andrew Dugmore. â€œYou have to be able to hunt wild animals; you have to build up your livestock; you have to work hard to exist in these areas….This is about as far as you can push the farming system in the Northern Hemisphere.â€
And push it they did. The growing season was short, and the land vulnerable to overgrazing. Ian Simpson has spent many seasons in Greenland studying soil layers where the Vikings farmed. The strata, he says, clearly show the impact of their arrival: The earliest layers are thinner, with less organic material, but within a generation or two the layers stabilized and the organic matter built up as the Norse farmwomen manured and improved their fields while the men were out hunting. â€œYou can interpret that as being a sign of adaptation, of them getting used to the landscape and being able to read it a little better,â€ Simpson says.
For all their intrepidness, though, the Norse were far from self-sufficient, and imported grains, iron, wine and other essentials. Ivory was their currency. â€œNorse society in Greenland couldnâ€™t survive without trade with Europe,â€ says Arneborg, â€œand thatâ€™s from day one.â€
Then, in the 13th century, after three centuries, their world changed profoundly. First, the climate cooled because of the volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Sea ice increased, and so did ocean stormsâ€”ice cores from that period contain more salt from oceanic winds that blew over the ice sheet. Second, the market for walrus ivory collapsed, partly because Portugal and other countries started to open trade routes into sub-Saharan Africa, which brought elephant ivory to the European market. â€œThe fashion for ivory began to wane,â€ says Dugmore, â€œand there was also the competition with elephant ivory, which was much better quality.â€ And finally, the Black Death devastated Europe. There is no evidence that the plague ever reached Greenland, but half the population of Norwayâ€”which was Greenlandâ€™s lifeline to the civilized worldâ€”perished.
The Norse probably could have survived any one of those calamities separately. After all, they remained in Greenland for at least a century after the climate changed, so the onset of colder conditions alone wasnâ€™t enough to undo them. Moreover, they were still building new churchesâ€”like the one at Hvalseyâ€”in the 14th century. But all three blows must have left them reeling. With nothing to exchange for European goodsâ€”and with fewer Europeans leftâ€”their way of life would have been impossible to maintain. The Greenland Vikings were essentially victims of globalization and a pandemic.
â€œIf you consider the world today, many communities will face exposure to climate change,â€ says Dugmore. â€œTheyâ€™ll also face issues of globalization. The really difficult bit is when you have exposure to both.â€
So what was the endgame like in Greenland? Although archaeologists now agree that the Norse did about as well as any society could in confronting existential threats, they remain divided over how the Vikingsâ€™ last days played out. Some believe that the Norse, faced with the triple threat of economic collapse, pandemic and climate change, simply packed up and left. Others say the Norse, despite their adaptive ingenuity, met a far grimmer fate.
For McGovern, the answer is clear. â€œI think in the end this was a real tragedy. This was the loss of a small community, a thousand people maybe at the end. This was extinction.â€
The Norse, he says, were especially vulnerable to sudden death at sea. Revised population estimates, based on more accurate tallies of the number of farms and graves, put the Norse Greenlanders at no more than 2,500 at their peakâ€”less than half the conventional figure. Every spring and summer, nearly all the men would be far from home, hunting. As conditions for raising cattle worsened, the seal hunts would have been ever more vitalâ€”and more hazardous. Despite the decline of the ivory trade, the Norse apparently continued to hunt walrus until the very end. So a single storm at sea could have wiped out a substantial number of Greenlandâ€™s menâ€”and by the 14th century the weather was increasingly stormy. â€œYou see similar things happening at other places and other times,â€ McGovern says. â€œIn 1881, there was a catastrophic storm when the Shetland fishing fleet was out in these little boats. In one afternoon about 80 percent of the men and boys of the Shetlands drowned. A whole bunch of little communities never recovered.â€
Norse society itself comprised two very small communities: the Eastern and Western settlements. With such a sparse population, any lossâ€”whether from death or emigrationâ€”would have placed an enormous strain on the survivors. â€œIf there werenâ€™t enough of them, the seal hunt would not be successful,â€ says Smiarowski. â€œAnd if it was not successful for a couple of years in a row, then it would be devastating.â€
McGovern thinks a few people might have migrated out, but he rules out any sort of exodus. If Greenlanders had emigrated en masse to Iceland or Norway, surely there would have been a record of such an event. Both countries were literate societies, with a penchant for writing down important news. â€œIf you had hundreds or a thousand people coming out of Greenland,â€ McGovern says, â€œsomeone would have noticed.â€
Niels Lynnerup, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen who has studied Viking burial sites in Greenland, isnâ€™t so sure. â€œI think in Greenland it happened very gradually and undramatically,â€ he tells me as we sit in his office, beneath a poster of the Belgian cartoon character Tintin. â€œMaybe itâ€™s the usual human story. People move to where there are resources. And they move away when something doesnâ€™t work for them.â€ As for the silence of the historical record, he says, a gradual departure might not have attracted much attention.
The ruins themselves hint at an orderly departure. There is no evidence of conflict with the Inuit or of any intentional damage to homesteads. And aside from a gold ring found on the skeletal finger of a bishop at Gardar, and his narwhal-tusk staff, no items of real value have been found at any sites in Greenland. â€œWhen you abandon a small settlement, what do you take with you? The valuables, the family jewelry,â€ says Lynnerup. â€œYou donâ€™t leave your sword or your good metal knife….You donâ€™t abandon Christ on his crucifix. You take that along. Iâ€™m sure the cathedral would have had some paraphernaliaâ€”cups, candelabrasâ€”which we know medieval churches have, but which have never been found in Greenland.â€
Jette Arneborg and her colleagues found evidence of a tidy leave-taking at a Western Settlement homestead known as the Farm Beneath the Sands. The doors on all but one of the rooms had rotted away, and there were signs that abandoned sheep had entered those doorless rooms. But one room retained a door, and it was closed. â€œIt was totally clean. No sheep had been in that room,â€ says Arneborg. For her, the implications are obvious. â€œThey cleaned up, took what they wanted, and left. They even closed the doors.â€
Perhaps the Norse could have toughed it out in Greenland by fully adopting the ways of the Inuit. But that would have meant a complete surrender of their identity. They were civilized Europeansâ€”not skraelings, or wretches, as they called the Inuit. â€œWhy didnâ€™t the Norse just go native?â€ Lynnerup asks. â€œWhy didnâ€™t the Puritans just go native? But of course they didnâ€™t. There was never any question of the Europeans who came to America becoming nomadic and living off buffalo.â€
We do know that at least two people made it out of Greenland alive: Sigrid Bjornsdottir and Thorstein Olafsson, the couple who married at Hvalseyâ€™s church. They eventually settled in Iceland, and in 1424, for reasons lost to history, they needed to provide letters and witnesses proving that they had been married in Greenland. Whether they were among a lucky few survivors or part of a larger immigrant community may remain unknown. But thereâ€™s a chance that Greenlandâ€™s Vikings never vanished, that their descendants are with us still.
Inside an ancient Viking â€œdeath house,â€ a type of large tomb, Danish archaeologists recently made several important discoveries. The tomb, measuring 13 feet by 42 feet, was first unearthed in 2012 during a construction project in Denmarkâ€™s southwestern HÃ¥rup region.
Archaeologists have been studying the tomb ever since â€“ burial sites are currently the only way archaeologists can study Viking history since remains of Viking settlements have yet to be excavated.
Constructed circa 950 AD, the â€œdeath houseâ€ contains three separate graves. Inside two of the graves, researchers found the remains of a male and female â€œpower coupleâ€ likely of high birth or strong community influence. However, lead archaeologist Kirsten Nellemann Nielsen of the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, cannot say for sure whether the â€œpower coupleâ€ is a brother and sister or husband and wife. Clothing items found with the remains show that the man and woman were nobility.
The femaleâ€™s clothing had silver threads in it, and she was buried with a key, which was a Viking status symbol.
The male remains found in the main tomb yielded an amazing discovery â€“ one of the largest Viking axes found to date. The extremely heavy, giant ax could have been used in combat, but it would have taken two hands to fight with it. Experts believe it was probably used to terrify Viking enemies. As Nielsen explains, â€œPeople across Europe feared this type of ax, which at the time was known as the Dane Axe â€“ something like the â€˜machine gunâ€™ of the Viking Age.â€ The ax did not have many decorative markings, which also suggests it was used in battle. The man it was buried with was probably quite strong to wield the ax successfully. The fact that he was buried with the ax and nothing else leads researchers to conclude that he identified himself solely as a strong and competent warrior.
Archaeologists working in Trondheim in Norway are amazed by the discovery of a human skeleton in the bottom of an abandoned castle well. The skeleton provides evidence that confirms dramatic historical events mentioned in the Sagas.
The location and contents of the well are mentioned in Sverreâ€™s Saga. …
In 1197 King Sverre Sigurdsson and his Birkebeiner-mercenaries were attacked and defeated in his castle stronghold, Sverresborg, by his rivals, the Baglers. According to the Saga, the Baglers burned down buildings and destroyed the castleâ€™s fresh water supply by throwing one of King Sverreâ€™s dead men into the well, and then filling it with stones.
Now, following a trial excavation in the well, archaeologists can confirm this dramatic story. Archaeologists managed to retrieve part of the skeleton they found in the well in 2014. A fragment of bone produced a radiocarbon date that confirmed that the individual lived and died at the end of the 12th century, the same time as the incident described in the Saga.