Stories tagged Vikings

Mar
07
2013

Good day sunshine: Scientists have found a sunstone on a sunken ship, similar to the devices believed to help Vikings navigate the seas on cloudy days.
Good day sunshine: Scientists have found a sunstone on a sunken ship, similar to the devices believed to help Vikings navigate the seas on cloudy days.Courtesy ArniEin
One legend connected to the Nordic Vikings got a strong jolt of reality with the discovery of a possible "sunstone" on a shipwreck off of Great Britain. Viking lore claimed that the sailors used such a stone to determine the position of the sun, even on cloudy days or when the sun had dropped below the horizon.

The stone is an Icelandic spar about the size of a pack of cigarettes that has a crystal appearance. Due to its shape and material, the sunstone can diffract light into two distinct rays which can be used to determine the position of the sun. This particular stone was found on a ship that sank in 1592 and was found close to other navigational equipment. The theory is that the stone would have been used as a back-up to a conventional compass on the more modern ship.

Why have no Viking sunstones been found? The strongest theory is that the stones were shattered in the cremation rituals given to dead Vikings. Researchers will now be able to tinker with the newly found sunstone to learn more about how Vikings possibly used them.

Apr
01
2010

Scroll discovery: While paddling about on Lake Superior last summer, these two kayakers found more than just a pack of otters. They found some mysterious scrolls.
Scroll discovery: While paddling about on Lake Superior last summer, these two kayakers found more than just a pack of otters. They found some mysterious scrolls.Courtesy Wikipedia
Two kayakers skirting along the south shore of Lake Superior last summer were just trying to find a place to get out of a sudden rain burst. Little did they know that they’d soon make what could be considered the greatest archaeological discovery of the 21st Century.

While waiting out the storm inside a hollowed out cave along the rocky shores of Superior near Bayfield, Wisc., the kayakers decided to explore a little bit around their new shelter, they found a pile of five rolled up deer skins. The top two were pretty moldy and crumbled in their hands but the bottom three were intact and completely amazing. While the outer sides of the hides still had traces of deer hair on them, the inner sides were tanned to a very smooth surface and had mysterious symbols written on them.

The kayakers, 20-something guys who wish to remain anonymous as they were paddling the Lake Superior waters without the proper permits and licenses, tucked their new-found treasures into their kayaks and paddled back to their launch point. From there, they drove immediately to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. One of the kayakers was the former student of Dr. Jonathan Nordquist, a professor of linguistics at the college.

Messages from Vikings?: Initial analysis of "The Lake Superior Scrolls" show that they have no religious connotation, but appear to be epic tales of Viking adventures in the New World.
Messages from Vikings?: Initial analysis of "The Lake Superior Scrolls" show that they have no religious connotation, but appear to be epic tales of Viking adventures in the New World.Courtesy Wikipedia
Nordquist, who specializes in Scandinavian and other northern European languages, was stunned. There had always been this “side rumor” to the Kensington Runestone controversy that Viking explorers who traveled the Great Lakes had left other traces of their exploits. Unfurling “The Lake Superior Scrolls” – as they’re now being called – he found runic characters that were similar to those on the runestone, but not exactly the same. Carbon dating testing done on small sections of the corners of the scrolls found that they date back to about the year 1032, around the same time that Vikings were exploring the North American continent.

After cross-referencing runic writings found across the globe in England, Italy and Greece, Nordquist started to unravel the messages encoded on the Lake Superior Scrolls.

“Unlike the famous Dead Sea Scroll, the Lake Superior Scrolls seem to have no religious or spiritual context,” Nordquist is quoted in today’s edition of Science Illustrated, where the full findings of the discovery were announced. “Rather, they message seems to be the lyrics of song, probably sung while sailing the open waters.”

A Viking sailing song?: A linguist at the University of Minnesota-Duluth was quickly able to recognize that the characters on the scrolls were similar to Viking runes, often found on runestones around the globe.
A Viking sailing song?: A linguist at the University of Minnesota-Duluth was quickly able to recognize that the characters on the scrolls were similar to Viking runes, often found on runestones around the globe.Courtesy Wikipedia
Allowing for some differences between the original language and today’s English, here’s what Nordquist has translated a section of the first scroll to read:

Fine little girl waits for me
Catch a ship across the sea
Sail that ship about, all alone
Never know if I make it home

Ole Ole, oh no
Me gotta go
Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
Ole Ole, oh baby
Me gotta go

“What’s absolutely fascinating is that this appears to be the earliest known version of ‘Louie, Louie’ the classic rock-and-roll song,” continued Nordquist. “And when you consider the instrumentation available to Viking musicians of that era, you can hear the root sounds of that classic song.”

An old, but effective, warrior: The text of Scroll 3 tells the tale Favre the Gray, an old but effective warrior who led Vikings to victory long after people thought he was capable. Notice the intimidating pink shoes he wears.
An old, but effective, warrior: The text of Scroll 3 tells the tale Favre the Gray, an old but effective warrior who led Vikings to victory long after people thought he was capable. Notice the intimidating pink shoes he wears.Courtesy Wikipedia
On scroll two, Nordquist has not been able to make a breakthrough with the completely different style of runic writing it carries. But the third scroll has even more fascinating information, he said.

“It appears to be an epic tale, the story of an old, but gallant warrior who led his fellow Vikings on many successful missions,” Nordquist said. “But this Viking, despite his age and graying hair, could just not decide if he’d be able to give up the Viking lifestyle. He would sit by the docks where his ship was tied up weighing the pros and cons of doing another conquest while all of his younger charges would encourage him to take on one more mission. But alas, the time passed to set the line-up of voyage. But while the supplies and weapons were being loaded on the ship, this grand old Viking – going by the name of ‘Favre the Gray’ on the scroll – changed his mind, boarded the ship and led another hugely successful mission while the displaced captain – Jackson the Younger – held a clipboard at the back of the ship.”

Further details on information gleaned from The Lake Superior Scrolls will not be made public until exactly a year from today….April Fool’s Day 2011.

Oct
01
2008

Cute, nautical, and Scandinavian: But probably smaller.
Cute, nautical, and Scandinavian: But probably smaller.Courtesy hans s
So… we’re learning about genetics, aren’t we? We can’t help it—here we have see-through frogs, there we have genetically engineered vegetables, here we have a fatherless child with the same hair color, eye color, and blood type as me. Genetics are all around us these days, in our schools, in our dinners, and calling our lawyers. As much as we might try to hide from it, the subject is unavoidable.

It’s nice, then, when some aspect of this genetic tsunami can take our minds off of all the tricky stuff. Things like mutant frogs are fun (All those legs! Somebody give them their own cartoon!), but they never last long (The frogs tend to die. Cancel the frog show.)

I think, however, that I may have found a winner: Viking mice. They’re genetically remarkable, and they’re lifespan is the same as any other mouse: about 2 or 3 years. Somebody start work on a Viking Mouse cartoon!

So what we have here is your common house mouse. The house mouse evolved into a variety of different strains as it spread into Western Europe about 3,000 years ago, during the Iron Age. Little French house mice learned to wear berets and smoke cigarettes, German mice developed a love of sausages and efficiency, and so forth; the Iron Age was a wonderful time, and it birthed many of our favorite cultural stereotypes. However, something interesting has come up in a recent genetic study of British house mice.

The surprising result of a nationwide rash of mouse paternity cases, the mice of Britain were surprised to find that they themselves were the products of unexpected parents. Studying their mitochondrial DNA (traceable genetic material from the mother’s side), it appears that most mice from mainland Britain are closely related to mice from Germany (the descendants of little Saxon mice?). Mice from the Orkney Islands of Northern Scotland, however, were found to be “Viking mice,” genetically similar to mice from Norway. And it makes sense—the Orkneys were an important center of the Norwegian Viking “kingdom,” back in the 11th and 12th centuries. These little mousies are the descendants of the warlike Viking mice, who hitched rides across the North Sea in the holds of Viking longboats a thousand years ago. Or… maybe they had their own tiny boats… Viking mice!

We pretty much already knew that Vikings were in the Orkneys at that time, but the genetic evidence from the mice are is a good example of how non-human DNA (mitochondrial DNA in particular) can be a tool for tracking other historical human migrations, and… and…

Just picture those little Viking mice. Tiny helmets, curly little beards, squeaky battle cries… they must have been adorable. Just to see them slaughtering little monk mice, it must have been too cute.

Oh, also, while we’re on the subject of house mice—I noticed this little section in Wikipedia’s article on them. After being accidentally introduced to the south Atlantic Gough Island, house mice, which normally have a body length of about 3 inches, began growing “unusually large” and feeding on albatross chicks. The mice kill the chicks, which can be about a meter tall, by “working in groups and gnawing on them until the bleed to death.” Talk about Viking mice.

Jun
25
2008

Sailing again: The Sea Stallion is shown here on a practice run before its voyage last summer.
Sailing again: The Sea Stallion is shown here on a practice run before its voyage last summer.Courtesy Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark
If you have a memory that's good for at least a year, you'll recall that we had a post here this time in 2007 about the start of a Viking ship re-creation trip from Denmark to Ireland. Well, on Sunday the same gang of Viking-wannabes will be retracing their trip from Dublin to a viking ship museum in Denmark.

Smithsonian Magazine has some interesting preview stories about this year's effort. You can access the print version here and watch video here, which includes some pretty cool Viking sea chanty singing. Last year's trip was plagued by some of the coldest, stormies weather that northern European seas had seen in ages. The video gives you a good feel of how harrowing it must have been a thousand years ago for the original Vikings to take off on such a trip. And they didn't have Gor-Tex clothing, GPS and other modern convienences to help them get through the ordeal.

The official website of the Sea Stallion is linked here.

May
29
2008

When your old Viking wears out: Just toss him out and buy a fresh one.
When your old Viking wears out: Just toss him out and buy a fresh one.Courtesy Extra Medium
We live in exciting times. If I knew how to spell “exciting” I would write it out, letter by letter, just to emphasize how exciting these times are. E X I T I N G.

F A Y L Y U R.

Who among us hasn’t sat at home as a child, listening to Wagner, wishing that Vikings still existed, or even, perhaps, that we might have our own little Viking…

But farewell my little Viking—thems is dreams, just dreams.

Or are thems? Is thems?

The Danes, you see, have had their scientists hard at work, scouring the earth for viable Viking DNA. Their first thought was to mine archaeological sites for petrified Viking beard dreadlocks, with the hope that somewhere inside might be preserved ticks, full of rich Viking blood. This idea was quickly abandoned, however, on account of its being “indskrænket.”

The geneticists then considered a much simpler solution: getting dirty in a Viking grave. Using teeth from a thousand year old Viking burial on the Danish Island of Funen, the scientists were able to obtain “authentic Viking DNA!”

The world is changing! Can you feel it? It’s like sitting in a warming hot tub!

Soon we will be able to observe real cloned Vikings! Just think…we’ll finally know if their helmets really were horny…we could even have a Viking theme park on an island (I’m thinking Funen). I think it could work!

Real Vikings…

Some might argue that the point of this research had nothing at all to do with cloning Vikings, or cloning at all. They would probably point out that retrieving ancient human DNA is notoriously fraught with complications involving modern genetic contamination, as well as simply finding fully intact DNA molecules (fill the gaps in the Viking DNA with frog genes. Duh). They might also say that analyzing ancient DNA can tell us about the origins of diseases, human migration patterns, and tribal and family organizations not recorded by history.

Yawn. Wake me up when they mention “pet Viking.”

The Danish researchers collected and analyzed the DNA in meticulously controlled situations, wearing full body suits and facemasks during collection and using sterilized tubes for transport of the specimens back to the lab. A wise move, I think—if the samples were contaminated, just think about the monstrosity that could emerge from the cloning procedure that is sure to come: a Viking/Danish hybrid. It would be like The Fly, I bet.

Apr
25
2008

Death boat, but not murder boat: New medical testing done on remains from two women's bodies found in this Viking burial boat -- the Oseberg ship -- show no signs of foul play or murder. The ship is now on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Death boat, but not murder boat: New medical testing done on remains from two women's bodies found in this Viking burial boat -- the Oseberg ship -- show no signs of foul play or murder. The ship is now on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway.Courtesy flappingwings
It took more than 100 years of research, but modern technology has been used to determine that injuries found on a woman in a Viking burial were not the result of murder.

The young woman is one of two people buried in the Oseberg ship, an ornamental craft measuring 72-feet long that was found in 1904 buried under a huge mound in Norway.

It’s believed that the ship was the burial chamber for a Viking queen, the other body found in the excavation. The younger woman had evidence of fractures on her collarbone, initially leading researchers to think she was the queen’s attendant who was also killed at the time of the queen’s death to serve her in the afterlife. The burial boat also contained a slain dog, other animals and a collection of household goods and furniture that were thought to be needed for the queen to continue her regal life in the afterworld.

Through closer inspection of the women’s bones, a little bit clearer picture is starting to emerge about their story. The younger woman, who was around age 50, indeed had a broken collarbone at the time of the burial, but it also showed several weeks worth of healing. So the impact that caused the collar to crack didn’t likely occur at the time of the older woman’s death. Also, the older woman, about age 80, was suffering from a form of cancer based on evidence collected from her bones. The women died in the year 834.

Researchers also think that they both might have achieved high status in Viking culture. While that was known for the queen based on her elaborate burial, new data collected from the younger woman show that she had a diet rich in meat (lower class Vikings ate mainly fish) and that she used a metal toothpick to clean her teeth, something that was only available to upper-class Vikings.

Still, a lot more questions than answers remain about the situation, researchers add.

The largest treasure trove of old coins was unearthed at the airport in Stockholm, Sweden. This new collection is the largest and oldest collection of viking-collected coins ever found on the Swedish mainland. No word if Hari Krishna members had been bugging the vikings for donations before the coins were buried at the airport site.

Jul
23
2007

Hitting the jackpot: Two treasure hunters with a metal detector recently uncovered this silver Viking bowl and a treasure trove of other artifacts in a farm field in England. Early estimates peg the find at worth more than $1 million.
Hitting the jackpot: Two treasure hunters with a metal detector recently uncovered this silver Viking bowl and a treasure trove of other artifacts in a farm field in England. Early estimates peg the find at worth more than $1 million.
I make no apologies for taking every chance I can get to put Viking information on this blog.

Last week the British Museum announced the find of a huge horde of Viking artifacts a father-son team of treasure hunters. It’s believed to be the largest Viking find in the past 150 years.

The duo made the discovery going through a farm field in northern England back in January. Basically, their metal detector when berserk when it sensed the cache of coins and jewelry that was amassed more than 1,000 years ago in lands spanning from Ireland to Russia.

Starting to dig, the first thing they found was a silver bowl. Inside the bowl were a lot of other goodies, with some spilled out around the area. The entire find was slightly more than a foot underground.

When all was said and done, they’d found more than 600 coins, dozens of jewelry pieces, silver ingots and fragments of silver. Among the coins, there was a mix of Nordic and pagan images, showing a religious transition taking place in the Viking culture at that time.

Once all the pieces are studied, the British Museum hopes to make an offer to the treasure hunters to purchase some of the pieces. Preliminary press reports estimate that the find might be worth more than $1 million. In the meantime, they’re going out to keep digging, something they’ve been doing for years without nearly the historical success

Jun
05
2007

Chickens discover America: New evidence indicates that Pacific Islanders brought chickens to Chile 100 years before Columbus.  Photo from Flickr.com by 2-Dog-Farm.
Chickens discover America: New evidence indicates that Pacific Islanders brought chickens to Chile 100 years before Columbus. Photo from Flickr.com by 2-Dog-Farm.

American Indians were the first people on this continent, having arrived here from Asia no later than about 10,000 BC. But over the years, they had some visitors. We all know the poem:

In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

And visitors to The Science Museum of Minnesota know that Vikings reached America some 500 years before that.

But now comes word of another possible visitor. Archaeologists digging along the southern coast of Chile have uncovered a chicken bone. No big deal, you might think. Except :

  1. chickens aren’t native to the Americas;
  2. chickens don’t swim, and they can’t fly very far. This bird did not get to Chile on its own—someone had to bring it; and
  3. the bone dates to the 1300s or early 1400s, well before Europeans started colonizing the New World.

What’s more startling, DNA recovered from the bone is more similar to that of chickens from Pacific islands than to those from Europe. The scientists who uncovered this bone consider this to be evidence that Polynesians visited America perhaps 200 years before Columbus did.

The Polynesians were the greatest seafaring people in history, colonizing virtually every inhabitable island from Madagascar to Hawaii. It’s entirely possible that they could have made the final leap to South America at the far eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. However, scientists aren’t certain how long they stayed. While there is some evidence of cultural influence – Polynesian and Chilean fish hooks show some similarities – there is yet no evidence of Polynesians living permanently in South America.

Jun
01
2007

Colorful Viking: Hitting the open waters of the North Sea in July and August, the Sea Stallion Glendalough will be retracing the route of a 9th Century Viking voyage. (Photo courtesy of the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark)
Colorful Viking: Hitting the open waters of the North Sea in July and August, the Sea Stallion Glendalough will be retracing the route of a 9th Century Viking voyage. (Photo courtesy of the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark)
Here’s how I really want to spend my summer vacation.

On July 1, a crew of 100 will begin rowing and sailing the Sea Stallion of Glendalough, a recreation of a 9th Century Viking ship, from Roskilde, Denmark. Seven weeks later, they hope to land in Dublin, Ireland, all in one piece a mere 1,200 miles away.

The 100-foot ship is modeled after a similar ship salvaged from the depths of the Roskilde Fjord in 1962. The 2007 trip in the recreated vessel will backtrack the route the original ship took from its home port in Dublin, a city that was founded by Vikings. The project is being coordinated by the Viking Ship Museum of Roskilde, Denmark.

Old tools: The recreated Sea Stallion was made using hand tools as close as possible to the tools used in the Viking age. (Photo courtesy of the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark)
Old tools: The recreated Sea Stallion was made using hand tools as close as possible to the tools used in the Viking age. (Photo courtesy of the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark)
Work from the crew will be divided up into four-hour shifts. They’ll be rowing the oars and tending the huge single sail. The crew will be made up of 78 men and 22 women, a significant change from the staffing the original Viking ships, which were almost entirely all men.

And the 21st Century crew will have some other advantages: global positioning technology, cell phones and waterproof clothing along with a support team on another boat.

But not all modern conveniences are involved with this new Viking ship. As much as possible, hand tools similar to those of the Viking Sailing colors: Builders of the Sea Stallion had to guess on the color scheme of the ship's sail and trim, but have an accurate recreation of the ship's shape. (Photo courtesy of the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark)
Sailing colors: Builders of the Sea Stallion had to guess on the color scheme of the ship's sail and trim, but have an accurate recreation of the ship's shape. (Photo courtesy of the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark)
era were used in the ship’s construction, as were the fabric methods of that time in making the sail. The only guesswork of the whole process was determining the color schemes of the ship’s sides and sails.

We all have the chance to be part of the trip and keep tabs on the entire voyage through the Viking Ship Museum’s website. You can go to this link to follow the progress of the ship, read the history of its creation and learn a lot more information about the Viking era. You can also register your e-mail address there to get updated information as the trip approaches. The educational section of the website will include 3-D animations, film and photos of the trip.

All I can think of as a way to sign off here is to say “Skoal Vikings!”