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Archaeologists in Norway have uncovered a particularly odd burial. The second burial was placed in the grave some 100 years after the first ship burial. A large number of grave goods were also recovered, and they are helping experts gain a greater understanding of the early years of the Viking Age.
Archaeologists from the NTNU Science Museum were working on some farmland as part of a road improvement project, at Vinjeøra in central Norway. Under Norwegian law, archaeologists must ensure that a construction project does not threaten or damage the country’s heritage.
The archaeologists were working in the area to protect the site of a Viking Age farm , where a burial house was recently found. Then they came across the mysterious grave with its two boat burials.
Viking Boat Burials
The original grave has long since been leveled, possibly by plowing. The Heritage Daily reports that “Nearly all the wood in the boats had rotted away, there was only a little left in the keel of the smallest boat”.
A large number of rivets from the vessels were found and it appears, based on their distribution that one boat had been placed on top of the other. Further investigations revealed that the smaller vessel was carefully placed on top of a larger ship in the grave, many years after it was dug.
In the smaller of the two boats was a female who probably died sometime in the 9th century AD. She was evidently a person of some importance judging by her grave goods, which included a pearl necklace, scissors, and a spindle whorl .
Life in Norway reports that “The dead woman's clothes were fastened with a bronze-plated bowl-shaped buckle and a cross-shaped buckle from a harness made in Ireland”. The harness may have been seized during a Viking raid in Ireland and this would have been a symbol of high social status in the 9th century.
This crucifix-shaped buckle was found at the twin boat burial site. (Raymond Sauvage / NTNU)
The other burial was from the 8th century and it contained the remains of a man who was buried with a sword, spear, and shield. He was probably a warrior and was in the larger boat, which was about 30 feet (10 meters) long. This twin grave was located near a bigger burial mound, overlooking a Fjord which would have been a major landmark in the area.
Rare Two-in-one Grave
This boat burial was typical of Viking funerary practices and all that makes it unique is the twin internment. It appears that instead of digging a new grave for the woman her relatives had her buried in one that was about 100 years old. These double internments are not unknown in Norway, but they are rare.
Some similar graves were found in Tjølling, in the south of Norway in the 1950s. The leader of the excavation Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum stated that the twin burial “is essentially an unknown phenomenon” according to Heritage Daily .
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Researcher excavating the site of the Viking boat burials. (Vitenskapsmuseet / NTNU)
Archaeologists then asked themselves the question of why the man and woman who lived decades apart came to be buried together. The Heritage Daily quoted Sauvage as saying that “it’s reasonable to assume that the two were related”.
It appears that the local Vikings knew who was interred in each mound and this knowledge was passed down through the generations. It seems that the woman was buried with a long-dead relative.
The Dead and Property Rights
The family was central to Viking life , it was important because it gave an individual status and property rights. Burial mounds were often used to legally prove a claim to a piece of land.
Sauvage states that “it’s reasonable to think that the two were buried together to mark the family’s ownership of the farm” reports Life in Norway . The twin internment was a way of symbolically asserting a legal right to the property, which was important in a pre-literate society.
The skeletons of the two appear to have disintegrated many years ago. However, a fragment of the woman’s skull has been found and this is going to be tested for DNA and isotopes. These can help researchers to better understand the life of the woman but also help them to recreate an image of what she looked like.
The soil in the area of the boat burials was not good for preserving human remains. Archaeologists were consequently overjoyed when they found parts of the skull of the woman in the upper boat tomb. (Astrid Lorentzen / NTNU)
Another important aspect of the burials is their date. Judging by the style of the sword it is apparent that the man was buried during the Merovingian Age in Scandinavia. There is little known about this period and it is expected that the grave of the dead warrior may provide some clues. It is hoped that some more remains and artifacts from this obscure period will be found around the old burial mound.
With great interest for sailing, boatbuilding and vikings the project to build and sail the greatest viking ship of modern times started. The curator of the project, Sigurd Aase, wanted this extraordinary ship to follow in the wake of one of the most challenging viking explorations – the Viking discovery of the New World.
Extinct Genetic Strains of Smallpox – World’s Deadliest Virus – Discovered in the Teeth of Viking Skeletons
Scientists have discovered extinct strains of smallpox in the teeth of Viking skeletons — proving for the first time that the killer disease plagued humanity for at least 1400 years.
Smallpox spread from person to person via infectious droplets, killed around a third of sufferers and left another third permanently scarred or blind. Around 300 million people died from it in the 20th century alone before it was officially eradicated in 1980 through a global vaccination effort — the first human disease to be wiped out.
Now an international team of scientists have sequenced the genomes of newly discovered strains of the virus after it was extracted from the teeth of Viking skeletons from sites across northern Europe. The findings have been published in Science today (July 23, 2020).
Professor Eske Willerslev, of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen, led the study.
Massacred 10th century Vikings found in a mass grave at St John’s College, Oxford, were part of the study. Credit: Thames Valley Archaeological Services
He said: “We discovered new strains of smallpox in the teeth of Viking skeletons and found their genetic structure is different to the modern smallpox virus eradicated in the 20th century. We already knew Vikings were moving around Europe and beyond, and we now know they had smallpox. People traveling around the world quickly spread Covid-19 and it is likely Vikings spread smallpox. Just back then, they traveled by ship rather than by plane.
“The 1400-year-old genetic information extracted from these skeletons is hugely significant because it teaches us about the evolutionary history of the variola virus that caused smallpox.”
Smallpox was eradicated throughout most of Europe and the United States by the beginning of the 20th century but remained endemic throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. The World Health Organisation launched an eradication program in 1967 that included contact tracing and mass communication campaigns — all public health techniques that countries have been using to control today’s coronavirus pandemic. But it was the global roll out of a vaccine that ultimately enabled scientists to stop smallpox in its tracks.
Historians believe smallpox may have existed since 10,000 BC but until now there was no scientific proof that the virus was present before the 17th century. It is not known how it first infected humans but, like Covid-19, it is believed to have come from animals.
Massacred 10th century Vikings found in a mass grave at St John’s College, Oxford, were part of the study. Credit: Thames Valley Archaeological Services
Professor Martin Sikora, one of the senior authors leading the study, from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, said: “The timeline of the emergence of smallpox has always been unclear but by sequencing the earliest-known strain of the killer virus, we have proved for the first time that smallpox existed during the Viking Age.
“While we don’t know for sure if these strains of smallpox were fatal and caused the death of the Vikings we sampled, they certainly died with smallpox in their bloodstream for us to be able to detect it up to 1400 years later. It is also highly probable there were epidemics earlier than our findings that scientists have yet to discover DNA evidence of.”
The team of researchers found smallpox — caused by the variola virus — in 11 Viking-era burial sites in Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the UK. They also found it in multiple human remains from Öland, an island off the east coast of Sweden with a long history of trade. The team were able to reconstruct near-complete variola virus genomes for four of the samples.
Dr. Lasse Vinner, one of the first authors and a virologist from The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, said: “Understanding the genetic structure of this virus will potentially help virologists understand the evolution of this and other viruses and add to the bank of knowledge that helps scientists fight emerging viral diseases.
“The early version of smallpox was genetically closer in the pox family tree to animal poxviruses such as camelpox and taterapox, from gerbils. It does not exactly resemble modern smallpox which show that virus evolved. We don’t know how the disease manifested itself in the Viking Age — it may have been different from those of the virulent modern strain which killed and disfigured hundreds of millions.”
Dr. Terry Jones, one of the senior authors leading the study, a computational biologist based at the Institute of Virology at Charité — Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Centre for Pathogen Evolution at the University of Cambridge, said: “There are many mysteries around poxviruses. To find smallpox so genetically different in Vikings is truly remarkable. No one expected that these smallpox strains existed. It has long been believed that smallpox was in Western and Southern Europe regularly by 600 AD, around the beginning of our samples.
“We have proved that smallpox was also widespread in Northern Europe. Returning crusaders or other later events have been thought to have first brought smallpox to Europe, but such theories cannot be correct. While written accounts of disease are often ambiguous, our findings push the date of the confirmed existence of smallpox back by a thousand years.”
Dr. Barbara Mühlemann, one of the first authors and a computational biologist, took part in the research during her PhD at the Centre for Pathogen Evolution at the University of Cambridge, and is now also based at the Institute of Virology at Charité, said: “The ancient strains of smallpox have a very different pattern of active and inactive genes compared to the modern virus. There are multiple ways viruses may diverge and mutate into milder or more dangerous strains. This is a significant insight into the steps the variola virus took in the course of its evolution.”
Dr. Jones added: “Knowledge from the past can protect us in the present. When an animal or plant goes extinct, it isn’t coming back. But mutations can re-occur or revert and viruses can mutate or spill over from the animal reservoir so there will always be another zoonosis.”
Zoonosis refers to an infectious disease outbreak caused by a pathogen jumping from a non-human animal to a human.
The research is part of a long-term project sequencing 5000 ancient human genomes and their associated pathogens made possible thanks to a scientific collaboration between The Lundbeck Foundation, The Wellcome Trust, The Nordic Foundation, and Illumina Inc.
Professor Willerslev concluded: “Smallpox was eradicated but another strain could spill over from the animal reservoir tomorrow. What we know in 2020 about viruses and pathogens that affect humans today, is just a small snapshot of what has plagued humans historically.”
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.
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.
- Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden made the discovery
- They were working to recreate patterns found in Viking woven bands
- Instead of traditional Viking patterns they found ancient Arabic Kufic script
- This may suggest similarities between the two cultures' views of the afterlife
Published: 09:54 BST, 12 October 2017 | Updated: 10:30 BST, 12 October 2017
Burial costumes from Viking boat graves have provided more evidence of contact between Nordic tribes and ancient Islam.
A study of the garments, found in 9th and 10th century graves, has revealed the presence of Arabic script invoking Allah.
The presence of Islamic artefacts at Viking sites was once explained as evidence of looting and trade, but new finds continue to reveal closer links between the cultures.
Researchers believe the latest discovery points to similarities between the Viking and Muslim view of the afterlife.
Burial costumes from Viking boat graves have provided more evidence of contact between Nordic tribes and ancient Islam. Analysis of the garments, found in ninth and tenth century graves, revealed the presence of Arabic script invoking Allah
SILK BURIAL CLOTHES
In her earlier research, Annika Larsson looked at the widespread occurrence of Eastern silk in Scandinavia's Viking Age graves.
In the Valsgärde boat graves, just north of the key early Iron Age site Gamla Uppsala, silk is found in the clothing of those buried far more often than wool and linen.
Analyses of materials, weaving techniques and design suggest ancient Persian and Central Asian origins.
'Grave goods such as beautiful clothing, finely sewn in exotic fabrics, hardly reflect the deceased's everyday life, just as little as the formal attire of our era reflects our own daily lives,' said Ms Larsson.
'The rich material of grave goods should rather be seen as tangible expressions of underlying values.
Experts from Uppsala University in Sweden made the discovery after working to recreate textile patterns found in Viking woven bands.
They found that the objects, used as inspiration for a Viking Couture exhibit at Enköping Museum, contained Kufic characters, rather than traditional Viking patterns as had been assumed.
As well as Allah, Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, is also mentioned in the text.
Kufic characters were commonly found during the Viking Age in mosaics on burial monuments and mausoleums, primarily in Central Asia.
Similar text was found on the woven bands, which were part of grave costumes uncovered inside both chamber graves, in sites such as Birka in Mälardalen, and in boatgraves in the Gamla Uppsala area.
Annika Larsson, researcher in textile archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, said: 'It is a staggering thought that the bands, just like the costumes, was made west of the Muslim heartland.
'That we so often maintain that Eastern objects in Viking Age graves could only be the result of plundering and eastward trade doesn't hold up as an explanatory model
'The inscriptions appear in typical Viking Age clothing that have their counterparts in preserved images of Valkyries.
'Presumably, Viking Age burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in Paradise after death.'
In her earlier research, Ms Larsson looked at the widespread occurrence of Eastern silk in Scandinavia's Viking Age graves.
The History Blog
/>Nestled in the lush Valpantena valley five miles east of downtown Verona in the village of Santa Maria in Stelle is the little parish church of Santa Maria Assunta. Underneath it is a unique archaeological site, a Roman aqueduct turned nymphaeum turned early Christian baptismal font turned extravagantly frescoed church and pilgrimage destination. The hypogeum is named Santa Maria in Stelle after the starry sky fresco on the ceiling, and the whole village is named after its greatest archaeological gem.
The hypogeum was first constructed in the 1st century as an aqueduct to channel the water of a natural spring on the property to supply fresh water to the villa and agricultural estates of the Gens Pomponia, an important Roman senatorial family who owned large tracts of land in the area. It’s one of few examples of Roman aqueducts in northern Italy, and the best conserved. There is still water running through the original conduits, albeit with nothing like the powerful flow they channeled in the days of Roman yore.
/>In the first half of the 3rd century, a nymphaeum, a cult site dedicated to nymphs, was added to the aqueduct by expanding one of its cisterns. An inscription at the entrance to the hypogeum records that Publius Pomponius Cornelianus built it and lists the rest of his family: wife Julia Magia, sons Pomponius Julianus (future praetor of Arabia) and Pomponius Magianus (future praetor of Thrace). The inscription is not in its original context, so it’s not clear whether what he built in this case refers to the nymphaeum or another structure, but we know from other inscriptions that Cornelianus, a prominent imperial magistrate and major landowner, dedicated a votive altar “to the nymphs and their waters” for the restoration of a nearby mineral spring around between 200 and 215 A.D.
/>Sometime in the 4th century, probably after a visit from Saint Zeno, Bishop of Verona, the nymphaeum was converted to use as a baptismal font. Some remains of the elliptical tub used for baptisms are extant in the atrium of the ancient nymphaeum, and frescoes were added to the walls with motifs related to salvation, initiation and martyrdom decorated with floral and swirls. The murals are worn with large missing sections, but two can be recognized as depictions of Daniel in the lion’s den, complete with a tiny Habakkuk above him to his left bringing mystical food and drink, and Christ the Lawgiver flanked by Peter and Paul. A partial view of the horses in a quadriga also survives, its interpretation unclear. These are the only Paleo-Christian frescoes in northern Italy.
Around the turn of the 5th century the baptismal space was expanded and two semi-elliptical chambers added to the left and right of the atrium. It became a space dedicated to the teaching of the catechism and the walls and ceilings were frescoed with scenes and figures from the Old and New Testament. The north chamber’s frescoes are the most spectacular. They were painted in the 5th century by an unusually fine artist for such a modest site, with highly refined renderings of faces, clothing, architecture and dynamic action. Even the border, a three-dimensional Greek meander pattern, seems to leap off the wall (and sink deep into it).
On either side of the entrance to the north camber are two youths carrying torches, iconography often found at the entrance to Roman villas. Above the entrance and the youths is an Enthroned Christ with a rare blue halo. Very Roman-looking unbearded apostles in togas flank him. Two cylindrical boxes on each end of the apostles contain scrolls of the New and Old Testament. Jesus and the apostles also hold scrolls. This fresco dates to the 6th century.
Turning left, the first panel depicts the entry of Christ into Jerusalem as people lay down rugs for him, an event described in the Gospel of Luke. The next scene is from the Book of Daniel and features Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to worship the gold idol of King Nebuchadnezzar II. The motif continues in the next fresco where the three stand in the fiery furnace, protected from harm by the angel behind them.
Then it’s back to the New Testament with a shockingly dynamic Massacre of the Innocents from the Gospel of Matthew. Herod is on the right commanding two soldiers who are in the act of slamming babies to death. Another child bleeds on the ground. The Nativity is next, but it lacks the iconography we’re familiar with. Instead of Mary and Joseph adoring Christ in the manger with shepherds and animals, only the animals are present: an ox and a donkey. The manger has faded and only the outline of the head of Baby Jesus is still visible. This very simple scene of Christ Child and animals was the earliest representation of the Nativity. Mary and Joseph and the rest of the cast were introduced to the iconography in later centuries.
Next to the Nativity is an elliptical niche. Two figures of women in exotic clothing adorn opposing walls of the entry archway. The back wall of the niche has solar image on the back wall with an umbrella on the curved ceiling. Above the entry to the niche is a very worn figure of Mary. On the ceiling above her is a dark blue background with white stars. This is the fresco that gives the hypogeum its name. It dates to the 9th century.
/>Last but most certainly not least, and the main motivation for this entire post, is a fresco like nothing I’ve ever seen before decorating the domed ceiling of the chamber. It’s a series of tubes, four rows of them, each in a different color — red on the bottom, then blue, yellow and green. Every tube is decorated. This incredibly abstract vista is likely an architectural reference. Romans used “tubuli,” empty clay pipes, in domes to fill the space while lightening the weight pressing down on the support walls. The artist has brought the structural secrets of a dome to the surface.
The south chamber is smaller with less elaborate decoration. Its frescoes date to the 8th century and are very damaged. There is a youth holding a scroll and a panel of the hand of god with devotional inscriptions on either side. A 1st century funerary altar not original to the space has been placed in the chamber. It was toppled and had an inscription carved into the back by Pope Urban III in the 12th century.
/>The hypogeum was used in the 8th and 9th centuries as a safe place for Christians to meet when the Lombards were in charge, and it was ready to step in for parish services in 1100 when the church above it was severely damaged in an earthquake. In 1187, Pope Urban III declared any pilgrims visiting the site would receive plenary indulgences. He used that ancient altar for the dedication to signify the triumph of Christianity over paganism. The hypogeum was used mostly as a well in the late Middle Ages, but saw a revival of its religious significance in the late 16th century. It was consecrated for mass by the Bishop of Verona in the 18th century.
The hypogeum was closed to the public in 2008 due to its precarious condition. The frescoes were afflicted with thick mineral deposits and biological growth. Water penetration from the church above had led to paint loss, and materials used in a misguided restoration attempt in the 1960s had also deteriorated. In 2016, a new program of conservation, documentation and light design restored the murals and the space was opened to visitors again on a very limited basis to maintain a stable temperature and humidity in the delicate environment. The restoration of the north chamber was particularly successful, as the removal of deposits revealed the colors of the frescoes were still brilliant.
Take a virtual tour of the amazing north chamber in this photogrammetric reconstruction.
Four burials found under Verona Arena archways
Skeletal remains of four individuals have been discovered underneath the arches of Verona’s iconic Roman arena. These are the first burials ever found inside the amphitheater’s archways.
/>The first was discovered in December during a comprehensive program of restoration and infrastructure improvements in the archways of the amphitheater. Archaeologists found traces of burning between the walls of Arch 31 and expected to unearth evidence the arch had been used a blacksmith’s forge as similar finds have been made in previous excavations. Instead, they unearthed an unprecedented burial. The remains were of an adult woman buried with her arms folded across her chest. Potsherds used to pave the floor in the 1st century A.D. had been moved to make room for the burial. The depth of the grave suggests it dates to late antiquity, between the 3rd and 6th centuries.
/>Earlier this month, archaeologists came across another surprise burial, this time of three individuals under Arch 10. The remains are of an adult man and two adolescents around 16 years of age. One of the youths is morphologically female, with shorter limbs and smaller bones. The sex of the other has yet to be determined. Coins found in a small purse attached to the man’s circular buckle have been identified as “Enrician” coins, coinage dedicated to the four Henrys who were crowned King of the Romans in the 11th century struck by the Verona mint in the 12th century. Radiocarbon analysis will confirm his dates and those of the two adolescents.
The bodies were found in a central pit. The young woman’s head was pointing south. The adult man’s was as well and the other youth was next to him head pointing north. If viable DNA can be extracted, it should be possible to determine if there was any familial relationship between the three that explains their burial in such close quarters.
In the wake of these discoveries, the restoration program will now also include archaeological investigations of all the internal archways to see if more of the small, narrow spaces were dedicated to funerary use. The burials will be included in the new museum itinerary dedicated to the arena’s 2000-year history which will open inside the amphitheater after the program of restoration is complete.
Viking kinsmen reunited in Denmark
The skeletal remains of two close relatives who died 1,000 years ago 500 miles away from each other have been reunited in a new exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. The younger of the two was unearthed in 2008 on the Oxford University campus in a mass grave of Danes slaughtered by order of King Æthelred the Unready in 1002. The skeletal remains of his relative were discovered in the town of Otterup on the island of Funen.
The relationship was discovered last year in the course of a large DNA study of the remains of 442 people from the Bronze Age through the Middle Ages discovered in Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, England, Ireland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Poland, Italy, Russia and Ukraine. DNA extracted from teeth and femoral bones was compared with DNA from 3855 contemporary individuals and another 922 prehistoric individuals collected in previous studies.
DNA analysis found that the Oxford man and the Funen man were close relatives in the 2nd degree, meaning they were either half-brothers or nephew and uncle. Strontium isotope analysis of their teeth confirmed that they were both born and raised Otterup, but the younger man crossed the North Sea to end up slaughtered in Oxford. The older man died where he lived, on Funen, when he was around 50 years old.
Both of them lived hard lives with plenty of physical labor. They also ate the same type of diet, heavy on the land animal protein with some fish. The Funen man had severely worn teeth and arthritic lesions in almost all of his cervical and thoracic vertebrae, plus in several rib joints, one jaw joint and one big toe. Evidence of inflammation on his ribs suggest he may have had tuberculosis. Sharp-force trauma on his neck had healed, but a second injury on his pelvis had not. It may have been a death blow. Archaeologists hypothesize that he was a farmer for most of his life, but he did see combat on a few occasions.
The Oxford man was powerfully built, but he suffered inflammation on his legs likely caused by chronic sores or repeated blows to the legs. The sharp-force trauma on his body was massive. There were at least nine blows to head by a sword, multiple arrow wounds and spear wounds to his back. The brutality of his death is very much in keeping with descriptions of the St. Brice’s Day Massacre in chronicles and contemporary documents.
The Oxfordshire County Council’s Museum Resource Centre has now loaned the bones of the Oxford Dane to the National Museum where they will remain for three years. The exhibition, which brings together Denmark’s largest group of Viking Age treasures with a multimedia cinematic experience to give visitors an immersive insight into the Viking era, opens on June 26th.
150 Merovingian sarcophagi in situ
A vast Merovingian-era cemetery with more than 150 heavy lidded stone sarcophagi has gone on display in a new exhibition center built around the archaeological site in Luxeuil-les-Bains. The concentration of well-preserved stone sarcophagi is unique in eastern France, and in terms of area and density of remains, this is one of the largest and most important Merovingian sites in Europe.
The Gallo-Roman city of Luxovium grew over a 2nd century B.C. Gallic sanctuary to its namesake deity Luxovius. Hundreds of Gallic votive statuettes and dedications to Luxovius and his associated goddress Brixta have been discovered. The town at the foot of the Vosges was known for its hot springs, and the 1st century bathhouse became the heart of a prosperous spa district. Roman Luxovium was devastated by Attila’s forces in 451, but while the town was, according to a 7th hagiography, a vegetation-choked ruin, the thermal baths were still very much in working order and still in use in 590 when Saint Columbanus had a monastery built there as a permanent home for his community.
The site preserved in the new museum was first discovered during a preventative archaeology excavation carried out in 2008-2009. Out of the old parking lot in the center of town, archaeological material from 2,000 years of history emerged, with the oldest remains from a 2nd century domus. The domus was abandoned in the early 4th century and reused as a pagan necropolis. A large early Christian funerary basilica, Saint-Martin, was built at the Abbey in the 5th-6th centuries. The entire church, including the sanctuary, was used for burials. About 350 burials have been unearthed in total, including the 150 stone sarcophagi. One crypt with elaborate vaulting was built in the 670s as the final resting place of Saint Valbert, third abbot of the monastery. His remains were translated as relics all over Europe, so there’s nothing much of Saint Valbert left in Saint Valbert’s crypt, but it attests to how sacred and important a space Saint-Martin was considered to be.
The church was rebuilt in the early 9th century and major modifications altered its architectural character beyond recognition. Saint-Martin evolved from monastic church to parish church in the 12th-13th centuries. It was demolished in 1797 during the dissolutions of the French Revolution. Today the foundations of the church are visible around the dense population of sarcophagi.
Dubbed L’Ecclesia, the new exhibition center was designed by architect Michel Malcotti with a suspended metal framework that allows visitors to explore walkways and stations throughout the site without a single pillar obscuring the landscape.
- The Saint-Martin site
- The funeral basilica and methods of burial
- The crypt of Saint Valbert
- Ancient habitat
- The late phases of the Saint-Martin church
Duke’s wife replaced in 15th c. illumination
Infrared imaging has revealed that a 15th century Book of Hours was reworked to replace the first wife of a duke with a depiction of his second wife. Curators at the Fitzwilliam Museum noticed a strange darkened area on folio 20r of MS62, aka the Hours of Isabella Stuart. The dark area was examined in the laboratory using IR technology to reveal the underdrawing and the late first wife.
The Hours of Isabella Stuart was not made for Isabella Stuart. The manuscript was commissioned by Yolande of Aragon, Dowager Duchess of Anjou, who had it elaborately illuminated by artists in Angers known as the Rohan Masters. She gave the book to her daughter, Yolande of Anjou, around the time of her marriage to the future Duke Francis I of Brittany in 1431. Yolande died in 1440 and two years later Francis remarried to Isabella Stuart, daughter of James I of Scotland. Francis had his late wife’s prayer book adapted as a wedding gift for his new wife by artists in Nantes. When Isabella’s daughter Margaret of Brittany got married (to her cousin, the future Duke Francis II) in 1455, the book passed to her. She had another Breton artist adapt the manuscript by adding a new illumination of Margaret kneeling before the Virgin and Child.
With more than 500 figural scenes, this is one of the most extensively illuminated Book of Hours still in existence. The large miniatures depict scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus taken from each Gospel. Smaller marginal miniatures depict signs of the Zodiac and seasonal labor (in the Calendar), and of Christ and the saints inspired by the Book of Revelation and a 14th century cycle of allegorical poems illustrate the prayers. Dense floral designs infill the pages.
The central image on folio 20r depicts the Virgin and Child. Kneeling in front of her to the left is a woman wearing a ducal coronet. Behind her stands St. Catherine. The dark blotch looms behind the coronet on the chest of St. Catherine. The overpainting was done in two stages. In the first stage, St. Catherine was added and the face and clothes of the original patron, Yolande of Anjou, were repainted to represent Isabella Stuart. The heraldic dress now featured the arms of Isabella Stuart, the Scottish lion rampant impaled (in the heraldic sense of a divided field) with the ermine of Brittany to denote her marriage. The same arms were added to the four corners of folio 20r and throughout the rest of the book.
In the second stage, Yolande’s head dress, which Isabella retained at first, was overpainted to blend into Catherine’s robe and the ducal coronet added. Yolande was never duchess because Francis didn’t succeed to the title until August 1442, two years after her death. When he commissioned the Nantes artist to make the changes to the Book of Hours, he and Isabella weren’t married yet, so the coronet was added after she became Duchess of Brittany.
Analysis of the materials used laid out a timeline of the modifications. The Rohan Masters used malachite, ultramarine, lead white, red lead, brown earth and a pink derived from insects for their images. The two Nantes artist that made the modifications for Isabella and Margaret’s additions used less expensive materials — an organic green colorant instead of the mineral malachite, azurite instead of ultramarine and vermilion instead of red lead. The blue mantle of St. Catherine standing behind Isabella was painted with ultramarine initially, matching the rich blue of the Virgin’s garment, but when the kneeling patron’s headdress was covered up with the coronet, the front of St. Catherine’s robe was touched up with azurite. All of the blue elements in the Margaret of Brittany addition were made with azurite.
Richly illuminated manuscripts like this were expensive heirlooms and as they traded hands over the generations, the new owners liked to add their stamp to them. The addition of new heraldic elements, as was done here with Isabella Stuart’s arms, was more common.
Dr Reynolds said: “It’s a very exciting discovery.
“These books in a way are sort of archaeological sites and when you start to uncover what lies under these images it actually unlocks the human story of how these books were commissioned and then passed from one person to another as the story of these different marriages and different dynastic alliances evolved.”
She described the over-painting as “not unique but unusual”.
The Hours of Isabella Stuart has gone on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s new exhibition The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces. The manuscript has also been digitized and can be perused in high definition with copious fascinating annotations on the museum’s website.
Confirmed: Cerne Abbas Giant is medieval
The evidence of the microscopic snail shells has been confirmed: the Cerne Abbas Giant dates to the Middle Ages. National Trust researchers used Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) to analyze soil samples taken from the deepest sediment layer of the chalk. OSL can determine when minerals were last exposed to sunlight, and the soil in the earliest archaeological layer of the Cerne Abbas Giant last saw the sun between 700 and 1100 A.D.
National Trust senior archaeologist Martin Papworth said: “The archaeology on the hillside was surprisingly deep – people have been re-chalking the giant over a long period of time. The deepest sample from his elbows and feet tells us he could not have been made before 700AD, ruling out theories that he is of prehistoric or Roman origin.
“This probable Saxon date places him in a dramatic part of Cerne history. Nearby Cerne Abbey was founded in 987AD and some sources think the abbey was set up to convert the locals from the worship of an early Anglo Saxon god known as ‘Heil’ or ‘Helith’. The early part of our date range does invite the question, was the giant originally a depiction of that god?”
There are still knotty problems that need unraveling. Some of the soil samples returned dates up to 1560, but the earliest surviving written account documenting its existence is from 1694, and it defies comprehension that the carving of a naked man 180 feet tall with a 30-foot erection into the side of a hill would go unremarked. For that matter, wouldn’t Cerne Abbe have had a bone (lol) to pick with the choice of subject matter?
Martin’s working theory is that the giant may have been a medieval creation but then – for reasons we may never know – was neglected for several hundred years, before being rediscovered.
“I wonder whether he was created very early on, perhaps in the late Saxon period, but then became grassed over and was forgotten. But at some stage, in low sunlight, people saw that figure on the hill and decided to re-cut him again. That would explain why he doesn’t appear in the abbey records or in Tudor surveys.”
This is consistent with Mike Allen’s research, which found that microscopic snails in the sediment samples included species that were introduced into Britain in the medieval period. The archaeological fieldwork and scientific study, however, found no archaeological evidence that the giant was deliberately covered over.
113 pre-Columbian burials found in Guadeloupe
More than 100 pre-Columbian burials have been unearthed in the Les Abymes township of Guadeloupe. The discovery of so dense a concentration of pre-contact graves is without precedent in Guadeloupe. Agriculture and industry, primarily sugar cane production, in the colonial period damaged many of Guadeloupe’s pre-European archaeological layers, and most of what is known and recorded today is rock art and potsherds. Habitation sites are rare and human bone remains even rarer because of the high acidity of the volcanic soil.
A team from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) excavated the site of a future housing development and found filled pits and post holes, evidence of habitation from the later part of the Troumassoid Period (650 -1600 A.D.), between the 11th and 13th centuries. Several hundred post holes correspond to the numerous dwellings and there are about 50 pits that were used for domestic purposes. The fill in the pits contains pottery fragments, stone tools, heating rocks, animal bones and the remains of shellfish.
The burials were associated with this settlement. Skeletal remains of adults and children were found in a variety of positions: on their backs, semi-seated, seated and on their sides. The bodies were inhumed folded over on themselves. The arms were flexed over the abdomen, the legs pressed against the forearms, elbows or chest. The fact that the bones are still in these postures means the bodies were tied or placed in bags to ensure they stayed in place.
The habitations and burials form a unique database of information about ancient Guadeloupian communities. The remains will be radiocarbon dated and if possible DNA extracted. The condition of the bones in past finds made genetic analysis impossible, but the sheer quantity of burials here give archaeologists reason to hope that they might be able to figure out any familial relationships among the deceased. The pits and post holes will be analyzed to determine phases of occupation and construction, the layout and usage of the settlement. Researchers also hope to pinpoint whether the burials were contemporaneous with the occupation of the settlement or if they came later after the dwellings were abandoned.
This research will help advance knowledge about the Late Neoindian period. This period is characterized by economic and cultural changes that took place around the 9th century throughout the Lesser Antilles archipelago, resulting from a process of regionalization of cultures, linked to the dispersion of groups throughout the Caribbean archipelago. Paleoclimatic changes identified in the Lesser Antilles doubtless also contribute to the cultural changes.
Medieval child found buried in Alcázar palace
The remains of a little blonde-haired girl have been discovered buried under the royal chapel of the Gothic Palace in the Real Alcázar of Seville, southern Spain. This is the first burial ever discovered in the Real Alcázar palace.
The remains were discovered last month during restoration work on the 16th century ceramic tiles. Eight inches under the floor of the chapel’s main altar archaeologists found a lead sarcophagus 46 inches long, 16 inches wide at the head, 12 inches wide at the feet and a foot deep. Inside was a deteriorating wood coffin and the complete articulated skeleton of a child. Blonde hairs were found at the nape of her neck and a permanent molar indicates she was about five years old when she died. . Fragments of her clothing — fabric, shoe leather and two mother-of-pearl buttons — were also found in the coffin. Next to the coffin were six boxes containing an earthy substance that will be excavated and analyzed.
So far there is no evidence pointing to the child’s identity, no seal or mark on the lead coffin or in the surviving wood. The fact that she was buried in a lead sarcophagus indicates she belonged to a very wealthy family, as does the palace location. Radiocarbon dating results aren’t expected for another three months, but the sarcophagus style suggests it dates the 13th-14th century.
Archaeologist Miguel Ángel Tabales, who is leading the research, is in no doubt that the altar of the chapel was not the little girl’s original burial place. He also believes she must have belonged to a very powerful family to be buried within the royal palace. His theory is that she was placed to the side of the altar when the chapel was repaved between 1930 and 1940. “We have not found any documentation to confirm it, but the lead coffin was surrounded by a cist [stone coffin] made from reused bricks held together with cement, materials that tell us it is from the first half of the 20th century,” he says. “My theory is that the workers found the sarcophagus in another area, opened it and, on seeing it was a corpse, decided to cover it decently and place it near the altar.”
Archaeologists and palace officials are on the lookout for the possible original location. They suspect there are more bodies to be found somewhere inside the palace, perhaps a crypt in the Gothic Palace built by King Alphonso X of Castile over the Almohad-era palace destroyed in the Christian reconquest of Seville.
Anthropologist Juan Manuel Guijo, who is in charge of studying the remains, hopes that the tests will provide information about the girl’s lineage, where she lived, the cause of death and the funeral rites performed at her burial. “She had her arms semi-flexed and crossed over her thorax,” notes Guijo. “And the body had not been tampered with. We will be able to extract her DNA from the root bulb of her hair [rather than the bones], because when the wood disintegrated, the bones came into contact with the lead, which alters the results of this test. If we find remains of oils, we will know if she was an important person and also if she had been embalmed, a ritual forbidden by the Catholic Church, but which the wealthy practiced in their quest for eternal life.”
Viking prince’s bones found in mislabeled box
The skeletal remains of a Viking aristocrat unearthed at the Bjerringhøj mound in Jutland in 1868 have been rediscovered after more than a century spent in a mislabeled box in the National Museum of Denmark.
Located in the village of Mammen, the mound was first dug up by the landowner as fill to level a depression. He and his buddies stripped the topsoil and exposed the central grave: a wooden chamber grave replete with precious objects which they happily helped themselves to and showed off in the village. Arthur Feddersen, a fishery professor at the Viborg Cathedral School with a passion for archaeology, heard about the find and went to the site. The farmers had scattered everything that they weren’t interested in looting — textile fragments, bones, feathers — leaving nothing in situ. He interrogated them to document as much as possible about the structure of the grave and its goods and a subsequent survey recorded what was left of the burial. The grave goods were eventually reclaimed from the villagers and sent to the National Museum of Denmark.
/>From surviving fragments we know the deceased was richly clad in woolen garments decorated with purple and red silk and red and blue embroidery. He wore two cape bands, padded silk cuffs decorated with bands of silk, silver and gold threads, which survived the crude excavation in good condition. The individual had been laid to rest on down bedding in a wooden coffin, and the coffin placed inside a wooden chamber grave sealed with blue clay. Two iron axes were at his feet, one of them decorated with intricate silver inlay which was the first of its kind ever found and whose decorative motif is now known as Mammen style. Atop the coffin was a bronze bucket, two wood buckets a wax candle almost two feet long which may be an indication that the deceased was Christian.
Dendrochronological analysis of wood recovered during a 1986 re-excavation revealed the man was buried in the winter of 970-1 A.D., during the reign of King Harald Bluetooth, first Christian king of Denmark who had converted in the 960s. The Bjerringhøj burial is one of the greatest finds of the Viking era. It has the largest textile assemblage ever found in a Danish Viking grave and the greatest quantity of silk ever found in a Danish Viking grave. The richness of the furnishings suggest the deceased was a high-ranked aristocrat in the circle of the king himself, perhaps even a member of the royal family.
/>His elite status could not protect his remains from falling down the storage hole, however. There was very little written about the bones at the time of the discovery. The only extant description of them is a brief paragraph from 1872 declaring the surviving right radius, right ulna, right foot and one molar were from an adult. Sex could not be determined, and then the bones went missing so subsequent researchers were unable to analyze them to learn more about the deceased despite several attempts to locate them over the years.
The bones were rediscovered by accident as part of a project investigating textiles found in elite Danish Viking graves, the Bjerringhøj textiles among them. Researchers found the bones in a box labelled “Slotsbjergby,” site of another Viking Age burial found on Zealand in 1897. Bones were unearthed at Slotsbjergby, but fragments of textiles attached to the ones in this box matched the Bjerringhøj textiles, not Slotsbjergby’s.
The extant remains include the shafts of the right humerus and right ulna, the lower part of a right radius, and the trapezium and the trapezoid from the right wrist. From the lower body, the shafts of the right and left femora are present, along with the broken distal end of the left femur, a fragment of an unsided patella, a right tibia with a broken proximal epiphysis, a fragment of the left tibia shaft, the shafts of the right and left fibulae, and a fragment of the right calcaneus.
All the bones mentioned in the 1872 report are present — right humerus and ulna, lower right radius, right wrist bones, right heel — except for the fragment of molar which is probably lost for good. Also in the box are the shafts of the right and left femora, a fragment of patella, a right tibia, a fragment of the left tibia shaft and the shafts of the right and left fibulae.
/>Another key piece of evidence that these are the bones retrieved from the Bjerringhøj burial are the fragments and imprints of textiles preserved on the right tibia, femora and fibulae. A piece of twill on the right tibia is an exact match for an embroidered textile from Bjerringhøj. A little further up on the same tibia are two rolls of cloth identical to the rolled padding inside the pair of cape bands.
Unfortunately the bones are not in good enough condition for DNA retrieval and without the long bones and pelvis sex and age are still hard to determine. Measurement suggests the deceased was male and older than 30 years, but there could also be a mixture of bones from two individuals as the right radius and heel bone are more gracile, so from a more petite individual, either younger or female.
The study had been published in the journal Antiquity and can be read in its entirety here.
14th century latrine raised in Berlin
A latrine from the 14th century has been raised intact from its find site on Fischerinsel, central Berlin, so it can be preserved, studied and eventually put on display. Just under six feet square and 6.5 feet deep, the latrine was built using large-format bricks and is one of the oldest secular brick structures surviving in Berlin.
Fischerinsel, the south section of Spree Island on the River Spree, is where the city of Cölln was founded in the 13th century. Its twin city Altberlin (Old Berlin) was founded on the other bank of the Spree shortly thereafter. They shared a common administration — city hall was built literally in the middle of a bridge between them — for centuries until Frederick I of Prussia officially merged the two to form the single city of Berlin in 1710.
As the germ cell of what would become Berlin, Fischerinsel is an archaeologically sensitive area, so it was excavated in 2016 in advance of a planned real estate development at the site. The dig revealed traces of the city going back to its earliest days around 1200, including cellars, foundations, courtyards, paths, wells and the prize pig at the fair: the brick latrine.
The fill inside of it — animal bones, broken pottery — dates to the 14th century, which is the source of the tentative dating of the latrine, but these were filled and emptied repeatedly over the course of their use, so the latrine itself could be a little older. The use of brick is an example of how the city was growing as prospering so soon after its founding. Most of the early structures of Cölln and Altberlin were made of wood. The latrine was an expensive feature, likely built for a private dwelling.
The real estate development is moving forward and has now reached the stage where the latrine had to be removed to make way for new construction. (Full disclosure: I tried to insert a “shit or get off the pot” gag here, but couldn’t figure out how to phrase it. I refuse to just walk away, though, hence this interjection.) To put as little stress as possible on the structure, it was stabilized in situ. Restorers strengthened the mortar, filled large cracks and packaged it with reinforced padding before building a custom crate around it. That crate was then craned to an interim storage area right next to the excavation pit.
The latrine will remain there until 2023 when it will be moved to a green space of the new building. A pavilion will be built around it to protect it from the elements while still making it accessible to the public.
9. Only one helmet has been found
Vikings are often depicted with helmets with horns, and even though it has been debunked as a myth, the horned Viking helmets continue to sell over the world.
However, experts are not even sure that Vikings wore helmets. It is believed that only important and wealthy Vikings wore helmets. Another theory is that the helmets were passed down from father to son and that they were used until they broke down.
So far, there has only been one finding of a helmet that could be fit together into one piece. Other than the Gjermundbu helmet, only fractions of helmets have been found.
The Gjermundbu helmet is on display at Kulturhistorisk museum in Oslo, Norway.
Extraordinary Twin Viking Boat Burial Found in Norway - History
(For voyage and event details/schedule and full menu, click on icon above.)
( Sae Hrafn under sail at sunset )
- The Sae Hrafn is out of the water for yearly maintenance - Covid is still keeping the sailing season plans uncertain -
Meanwhile we pursue other projects and research, and welcome you to contact us to learn more about our activities
( Sae Hrafn under oars on the lower Potomac )
The Longship Company, Ltd. is a non-profit educational organization devoted to increasing understanding and knowledge of the life, culture, technology, commerce, and exploration of the early northern European seafarers and those with whom they came into contact. (We are an all volunteer organization -- the "Company" in our name refers to a ship's company of its officers and crew.)
( Sae Hrafn with crew in period clothing, under oars in fog on a marshy creek inlet off of the Potomac River 2016)
Central to the activities of the Longship Company are authentic reconstructions of Viking era ships. The Sae Hrafn (Sea Raven), is a 39' (12m) class A (Div. II) tall ship which is based on similarly sized coastal raiding and defense vessels (i.e. Skuldelev V & Ralswiek/Rugen II ), with the sweeping lines of the classic longships . She was launched in September 2005. The Sae Hrafn replaced the Fyrdraca ( Fire Drake), a lap-strake, 32' (10m) class A (Div II) tall ship based on a 9th century warship excavated in Germany, which had been the organization's primary vessel for nearly 25 years before she was retired. The other vessel currently in use is the Gyrfalcon - so named for the hunting falcons of the far northern regions. It is based on the small, 21' (6.5m), faring boat found in the Gokstad Viking ship burial, and serves primarily as a teaching tool easily transportable overland for exhibits, educational demonstrations, and historical reenactments. Although these reconstructions are based on Scandinavian archaeological finds, most of their basic elements are common to ships of other cultures of the era, spanning across Europe from the Celts in the West to the Slavs in the East, with nautical and other cross-cultural contacts and influences having extended even to the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to the activities of sailing, maintaining, and exhibiting/demonstrating the vessels, the Longship Company participates in living history events, contributes to ongoing international archaeology-by-experiment efforts relative to early seafaring and technology, produces educational materials, and supports artistic and scholarly efforts related to the Vikings and their era. In the manner of a Scandinavian smorgasbord-style feast, Longship Company members can partake of all those activities, or pick and choose among them.
(Local college students aboard the Sae Hrafn examining a Viking navigation device for maintaining course on a line of latitude, one of
several reconstructed by Longship Company members based on archaeological finds from Greenland and the Baltic area)
( Sae Hrafn under sail on a tributary of the Potomac River)
In past years the organization has taken part in an international gathering of replica and reconstruction Viking ships at the Norse archaeological site at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, participated in several parades of tall ships in the harbors of the Mid-Atlantic region, served as consultants to the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Museum of Natural History, provided a Viking exhibition for the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC, presented lectures at the Calvert Marine Museum and other regional venues and produced a video adaptation of the medieval poetic account of the Battle of Maldon . Pushing a bit beyond both ends of what is usually considered the classic Viking age, for filming of a History Channel program, "Quest for King Arthur", on the historical basis of, and the later romantic legends about, King Arthur, the Fyrdraca underwent a temporary makeover to become a 6th century Saxon ship. Later, converted back to its more usual appearance, the Fyrdraca became a funerary ship for the Arthur of legends of later medieval times in which the three mysterious women carried his body off to Avalon in some stunning sunset shots, others of which were used to depict the flight of Celts to Brittany. Even further beyond the Viking age, a few of our members and the Gyrfalcon portrayed the reputed landing of the 1398 Sinclair/Zeno expedition in Nova Scotia, for History Channel programs on the Templars and early Freemasons -- the Scottish craft in use as ships' boats and general rowboats in that era having been influenced by, and almost identical to, Norse boats such as the Gyrfalcon.
(The Fyrdraca depicting Arthur's funerary ship sailing to Avalon in The Quest for King Arthur on The History Channel)
Some of the members of the organization have attended courses at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde , Denmark on the history, operation, and preservation of single-square-sail ships. Other members have contributed articles on various aspects of Norse history and technology, as well as the Longship Company's efforts to increase understanding of medieval sailing vessels, to journals and magazines around the world. Members' photos of our vessels have been used to illustrate books published in the US and other countries on historical subjects as well as modern efforts to understand sailing in that era. Closer to home, some of those involved pursue traditional techniques and/or styles of blacksmithing, woodworking, textile arts, etc., and lend their expertise in these areas to the activities of the Longship Company. (A few of our members have also been seen explaining and demonstrating early blacksmithing and wood working tools and techniques in the History Channel's "Tool Box" series segments.) In any given week some members may be lecturing at a school, museum, or cultural festival others attending a scholarly conference on historical subjects or taking courses on boating, archaeology, or traditional craft skills and others taking part in living history reenactments -- providing a continual two way flow of knowledge from and to the organization. Yet like the independent, free-spirited seafarers of old, this diverse group still manages to work together as a team in the formidable tasks of keeping traditional-style wooden vessels in seaworthy condition -- and in experiencing the unique thrill of moving such ships gracefully across the water by oars and sail in the same manner as would have been done 1000 years ago.
In our wooden vessels, propelled only by oars and sail, we blend with nature and see it much as our ancestors would have. The local wildlife, while somewhat wary of a large moving object, usually treat us more as a curiosity and annoyance than a threat. Ospreys scold as we pass by their nests. Herons fishing along the shores sometimes take flight when we approach, but then fly low across our path very near to the ship, and other times they stay cautiously where they are in anticipation of our passing further off shore driving fish in their direction. Bald eagles often watch from their secure high perches as we traverse the water below. And there have been times when eagles and herons, in disputes over fishing territory, have engaged in aerial combat above us, far more concerned with their avian rivals than with the big piece of floating wood with strange looking large mammals on it below them. Dolphins are beginning to frequent the part of the Potomac River where we occasionally sail, and in 2020 some were sighted in various parts of St. Clement's Bay which we regularly cross. The Longship Company will thus now be taking part in the Dolphin Watch of the Potomac-Chesapeake Dolphin Project (PCDP). And while we are currently keeping watch when out in our small power vessels, when we get our ship back in the water, it's natural appearance and non-motorized movement will make it an ideal vessel from which to observe and record the activities of these fascinating creatures.
( Sae Hrafn under oars, with full historical rigging and reenactor crew, at dusk as the moon rises over Chesapeake Bay )
It is impossible to come away from even the briefest voyage on a reconstruction of a ship of the era without a sense of connection to, and a much greater appreciation for, those medieval seafarers who ventured out in such vessels. Although operating primarily on the relatively sheltered waters of the lower Patuxent and Potomac rivers and Chesapeake Bay, Longship Company vessels and their crews experience many of the same challenges and maritime hazards encountered by those who traveled in such ships in the Viking age. Even when the weather is fair and the winds favorable, sailing a longship is always a learning experience. In less ideal circumstances, such as making slow progress rowing into a freezing headwind after having had to chip ice off the ship, it is an extraordinary education in the realities of medieval life and seafaring. Our usual voyage, however, is a casual afternoon out on the water, often pursuing knowledge through archaeology-by-experiment, refining our sailing skills, enjoying nature, getting a rowing workout far better and infinitely more interesting than any obtained in a gym, and experiencing something few people alive today ever have. In any event, whether out on a voyage or maintaining the vessels, there is usually no lack of exercise for one's mind and body, nor any shortage of hard working companions with an incredibly broad array of interests, skills, and knowledge.
( Sae Hrafn rowing in from Drum Point)
The Longship Company, Ltd. is incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in the state of Maryland and is run by a Board of Trustees. It has 501(c )( 3) status, meaning that donations to the Longship Company are tax deductible under IRS regulations regarding donations to tax-exempt non-profit organizations. The Longship Company began in 1979, branching off from Markland , a Maryland re-enactment group. However, in subsequent decades as the Longship Company grew and evolved, it attracted members with a wide range of interests in, and approaches to, the various aspects of early European history, and particularly to the operation of oared and square-rigged ships of the period. The majority of members are from Maryland , Virginia , and Washington , DC , with additional members from the adjoining states, as well as a few in other locales as distant as North Dakota , Idaho , California , and Hampshire, England.
( Sae Hrafn used as background for a photo feature in Fast Lane Biker Delmarva Magazine of a Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 with Viking themed artwork owned by Wayne Lund - Photo by Stephen Vreatt )
( Ghostly image of the Sae Hrafn as torches at the bow were lowered and doused after a night-time torch-light voyage)
If you are interested in learning more about the Longship Company or want to contact us, use the menu below (following the pictures and announcements) to access the complete website.
( Sae Hrafn -- She isn't really quite this light and well balanced -- but close. )
( interior of the Sae Hrafn ,, looking aft)
The Sae Hrafn :
After the longest Viking longship portage in history -- from Inyokern, California to her new home in southern Maryland, an overland journey of nearly 3000 miles -- the Sae Hrafn underwent some additional work, and was launched under oars on September 12, 2005. She was found to be as swift as she looks, with stability even better than expected. She was first rigged for sail in 2006 , and we continued to be delighted with her handling and performance during the 2006 through 2019 sailing seasons. All along, we have been making modifications, adjustments, and repairs to the ship and related equipment a continuous learning and fine-tuning process that leads to safer, more efficient, pleasurable and educational voyaging. She is currently out of the water for yearly mainenance, but we hope to soon get her back in for the sailing season, for which we have some intriguing voyages and activities planned - and those will be all the more interesting and fun if you take part in them with us.
( Sae Hrafn returning to dock at nightfall )
For further information about the Longship Company, the schedule of voyages and events, how to arrange to come on a voyage as a guest, how to become a member, more pictures, information on the ships, sailing, navigation, clothing, tools, etc. choose from the following menu:
Call for papers/articles for a new online journal on Viking age history and square-rigged sailing vessels
click here for more information
(Current Articles Online: A working paper on oar dynamics, materials, etc. Additional light on oar racks Sculling Viking ships? A proposal for archaeology by experiment)
Want a Viking ship of your own?
Or if you don't have room for one in your garage, perhaps you'd like a smaller item of wood artistry of the Viking age?
The builder of the Sae Hrafn is an artist and craftsman working primarily in wood, and specializing in reproductions of items from the Viking era. Further information can be found at RAVENKRAFT.COM
Your support is needed
The educational mission of the Longship Company is one which requires many different resources. The Longship Company is an all volunteer organization with no paid employees. Unlike similar organizations maintaining authentic reconstructions of historical ships which generally have budgets of at least many tens, and more often hundreds, of thousands of dollars from government or foundation sources, we rely primarily on the resources of our members, the occasional payments for special event participations and appearances, and donations from the public. Some of our members contribute large amounts of their time as well as money to the acquisition, maintenance, and operation of our vessels. A number of the members also continually make their property, vehicles, tools, historical accessories, and similar personal possessions available for the work of the organization. While we usually manage to make financial ends meet, support from the public is critical to our ablity to function efficiently, and to further our efforts to preserve and increase knowledge of medieval life and seafaring.
Financial donations can be made by credit card or PayPal account, via PayPal - just click on the "Donate" button
If you can help with a donation of machinery or tools useful in maintaining wooden vessels, a portable generator, materials such as suitable lumber, large heavy duty tarps, property/use of a dock/slip and/or shore property on the Patuxent or Potomac or Bay, indoor space where we can work on the ship over the winter, or if you wish to make a financial donation by check, please contact us.
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page Copyright 2021 Longship Company Ltd.
Images Copyright 2005 - 2019 by individual photographers/artists and/or Longship Company Ltd.
For information on obtaining license to use/reproduce photographs seen here, to inquire about other images and artwork available, or to inquire about hiring the ship and crew for photo shoots or film work, contact : photography[at]Longshipco[dot]org
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Chapter 10: Early Medieval Art
-wood so well preserved b/c soil was moist
-relatively flat and aerodynamic ship design
-many sets of oars
-body of ship framed at bow and sterns by bands of carved intricate and strangely ordered procession of what appear to be sea monsters/dragons/beasts
under Charlemagne there was "Carolingian Revival" in which Charlemagne proclaimed "renovatio imperii romani" = renewal of imperial rome, wanted to better admin, create large territory w/ central power, sponsoring great building projects and expansion
Charlemagne from Carolus Magnus means "Charles the great"
Charlemagne recognized that the monasteries were essential to the promotion of learning ad culture, and he encouraged the collection and copying of ancient works in addition to bible
charlemagne restored ancient roman learning and est system of schools at all monasteries and cathedrals
dominated region of germany and some france --> brought to germany christianity that was absent during time of rome
twd end 8th C CE Charlemagne constructed imperial palace at Aachen, germany and modeled it after Constantine's Lateran Palace in Rome
Palace included basilica linked to palace chapel almost identical to San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy
Palace designed by Odo of Metz who incorporated westwork into W entrance
westwork was innovation of Carolignian period
Charlemagne modeled rule after Constantine and Justinian, hence why his building projects emulated theirs
monastery plan at St Gall, Switzerland reveals self-contained and self-sufficient features of medieval monastic community
Estonia: Salme Ship Burials
Warriors cut down in battle on the Estonian island of Saaremaa were buried aboard their ship – the earliest known Viking vessel to sail across the Baltic Sea. Nearby is a smaller boat, its slain sitting eerily upright. Who are these dead men? Jüri Peets reveals his discovery of a mysterious double Viking ship burial.
Bone and ancient artefacts began to appear almost as soon as workmen cut into the earth. They were laying an electric cable for a cycle path through the tiny village of Salme on the island of Saaremaa in Estonia. Work stopped immediately, and the archaeologists were called in.
That was in 2008. By the time excavations were complete, in 2012, they had revealed a most extraordinary discovery: two Viking boat burials, within 30m (98ft) of each other, and both dating to about AD 750, the very beginning of the Viking period.
The larger of the vessels is the first known example of a sailing ship to cross the Baltic Sea. Both are about 100 years older than the Oseberg boat in Norway – the earliest example of a Viking boat to be found in the region. And both bore a grim cargo: the remains of several men killed in battle. Alongside the dead were the possessions they had carried with them in life: their weapons, gaming pieces, knives, whetstones, and combs.
None of the artefacts recovered at Salme come from this region: they belonged to a style associated with Scandinavian settlements across the Baltic Sea. These men, then, were strangers to these shores.
Finding the first burial
This smaller vessel was the first to be discovered. When the archaeologists, led by Jüri Peets of Tallinn University, began excavation at Salme, they recovered fragments of bent swords, boat rivets, and two antler dice from soil disturbed by the workmen digging the cable trench.
As the archaeologists continued to sift through the soil, they found more fragments of weapons, human and animal bones, and a total of 75 gaming pieces turned from whale bone or made from bovine femur-heads. Five of these gaming pieces are decorated with engraved ornamentation.
The style of weapon fragments suggests they belong to the Vendel Period or the beginning of the Viking Age, about AD 600-800. They had been deliberately damaged by bending, hacking, and breaking – a common practice during this period – and showed evidence of having been in a fire. Subsequent carbon-14 analyses of the human and animal bones confirmed a date of about AD 750, the late Pre-Viking Period.
The cable trench had cut through the stern of the boat – Salme I – but a section of the prow was still evident. Most of the wood had rotted away. However, the archaeologists were able to trace the lower section of the boat’s original contours by the three rows of rivets that remained.
The boat, therefore, was clinker-built – that is, the hull was formed by overlapping planks secured by rivets. It was about 11.5m (38ft) long with a maximum width of about 2m (6ft 6in). Its size and shape suggest it would have been a 12-oar rowing vessel. The rivets are only about 3-4cm (1-1.5in) long, which means the planks would have been very thin. So, Salme I was light, fast, and easy to manoeuvre: almost certainly a military ship.
The skeletal remains of seven individuals were recovered. All seven are male, and all are of impressive stature. Three of the men were more than 30 years old when they died, the others were under 30 years of age. Examination of the osteological and dental evidence showed that this crew enjoyed good health – and only one of them suffered tooth decay.
The prow of the boat points to the north-east, and most of the human remains were found to the middle and stern. Because part of the boat was destroyed by the cable trench, it is difficult to ascertain exactly how or where they were positioned. However, no traces of human or other remains associated with the boat were found outside the hull’s contours in areas not affected by the trench disturbance, suggesting all seven had been buried within it. Strangely, the undamaged articulated skeletal remains indicated that rather than being laid flat, the men were buried in a sitting position – perhaps at what would have been their work-stations during life.
The animal bones recovered showed butchery marks. Perhaps they were part of a funerary feast, or supplies the crew had brought along for themselves. Interestingly, several decapitated goshawks and a sparrowhawk were also found. These birds of prey would have been used for hunting fresh food for the crew as they travelled along the shoreline.
What is absent can be as significant as what is present: usually horse and dog bones are included in Viking boat burials as prestige possessions of the deceased, yet none were recovered from Salme I. These, men were buried far from home, with only the possessions they carried aboard ship with them during their lifetime.
Finding the second ship
In 2010, the team of archaeologists extended their search. The new area took in the yard that belonged to a farm, demolished by a destroyer battalion of the Red Army in the autumn of 1941. Almost immediately, pieces belonging to two sword hilts were uncovered, along with a scattering of boat rivets and then more finds.
Lying about 15-20cm (6-8in) below the surface, were the contours of a second Vendel-era ship. Like Salme I, it pointed in a north-east/south-west direction. The size of the rivets and the distance between the board contours – about 3.20m (10ft) – indicated immediately that this vessel was considerably larger than the first. The ditch cut for the electrical cable crossed the excavation trench but this, rather fortuitously, exposed an important clue: the dark, rotted outline of the ship’s keel beneath the hull. Salme II, then, was a sailing ship.
This ship, Salme II, also carried crew: two well-preserved human skeletons lay on the western side of the hull. Beside them were two shield bosses, several sword fragments, and a complete skeleton of a dog that had been slashed in two.
These individuals had met with a violent end. The humerus of one had been chopped through in three places the other had two injuries made to the front of his skull by either a sword or an axe.
As excavation continued, it became clear that there were many more skeletons here. This was, in effect, a closely packed multi-layered mass grave: a staggering 33 individuals were eventually revealed, packed four deep. The human remains and grave goods were located in several layers in a very small area in the middle of the boat. As a result, it was often difficult to determine which of the find assemblages belonged to which skeletons. This work continues in the laboratory, and the final results will have to wait until further extensive analysis of the finds is completed.
A large calibre shell or bomb, almost certainly courtesy of the Red Army on their return in 1944, had slightly damaged the hull of the boat. But as the crater had filled up again, some bones, boat rivets and other artefacts had fallen into it. Among these finds were four gaming pieces, one made from walrus tusk, as well as fragments of two single-edged swords and a broken double-edged sword. The double-edged sword was, rather curiously, discovered in an upright position directly beneath the yellow-mantled cable.
The dead on Salme II were buried in four layers: those in the bottom layer had been arranged between the ribs of the ship, some facing south-east, some north-west. It appears, therefore, that the orientation of the ship, along the north-east/south-west axis – which, in summer, follows the line of the Milky Way, or ‘Souls’ Way’ – was of more importance symbolically than the orientation of the dead. Most Scandinavian ship burials lie more or less along this axis.
The largest group of finds from Salme II – aside from rivets, of which there were about 1,000 – are the gaming pieces. Two were made from walrus tusk, and 326 from whale bone. Five or six dice, of different materials, were also recovered.
Most of the gaming pieces are similar in shape, material, and size to those found in the first burial. However, a set of 11, found around the skull of Skeleton XIV on Salme II, are considerably smaller than the rest. Also, while the gaming ‘king’ from Salme I was larger than other pieces and was covered with intricate plaited decoration, the ‘king’ from this assemblage simply had an iron tack on top.
A larger ‘king’ piece was found in the jaw region of Skeleton XIV, as if deliberately placed in the dead man’s mouth. Was this a symbolic act denoting this person’s higher status? Certainly, this individual was richly furnished with grave goods that included fragments of a double-edged sword with a ringed hilt of gilt bronze. Furthermore, he was positioned along the central axis of the boat.
Most of the gaming pieces appeared to have been scattered among the skeletons. However, there was a clear assemblage of pieces recovered from between the legs near the pelvis of Skeleton 30, buried on the bottom of the ship.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 58. Click here to subscribe