March has been pretty fruitful for news in ancient Germanic studies. From a new Birka-type Viking Age crucifix found on the Danish island of Funen, to a new translation of newly discovered fragment of an account of a Gothic invasion of Greece, to the implications of a curious belt buckle found in a Viking Age grave in Jutland, and finally to new images of a Viking Age hoard found in Scotland, there's plenty to talk about here.Read More
Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that archaeologists in Bulgaria have unearthed numerous finds suggesting that a large settlement of Visigoths, an East Germanic people, once existed in what is now northeast Bulgaria.
The finds center around a Roman fortress—modernly referred to as Kovachevsko Kale—constructed in the 4th century CE, and consists primarily of ceramics.
According to the team at the site, the ceramics types—polished gray pottery and gray-black pottery—reveal a sudden appearance of a large amount of Eastern Germanic peoples during the 4th century, a notable period in Gothic history (and the Migration Period in general).
Beginning in the 4th century and spurred by the westward movement of the Huns, open conflict occurred between the Roman Empire and the Goths, events that are generally considered crucial to the collapse of the Roman Empire.
An apparently wealthy Iron Age settlement has been found in Ørland, Norway. Archaeologists in Norway have long suspected that Ørland may yield notable new finds—the site is between three notable bodies of water—but they have not had access to the site. This situation has recently changed. New facilities have been ordered to make room at the Ørland Main Air Station for recent acquisitions by the Royal Norwegian Air Force (Luftsforsvaret) and Norwegian laws requires that an archaeological survey must be conducted before construction can begin.
The suspicions of archaeologists were confirmed when the digs began and a settlement from around 500 CE was discovered. Both the size of the site and the workforce used for the dig are notable—the area to be examined is sizable and around 20 individuals will be working in the field. Archaeologists have 40 weeks to work at the site.
The site has already yielded a variety of notable finds, including colorful glass items. Gemini reports:
This, Ystgaard says, is a bonanza, because the size of the area allows archaeologists to see how different longhouses, garbage pits and other finds relate to each other.
“We’re really able to put things in context because the area is so big,” she said. The size of the dig also means there are lots of archaeologists at work, and for a long time.
... the team has also found lots of old animal and fish bones – mainly because the soil in the area is made from ground-up seashells, which isn’t very acidic. Normally, soil in Norway tends to be more acidic, and eats away at bones.
“Nothing like this has been examined anywhere in Norway before,” Ystgaard said.
There are enough bones to figure out what kinds of animals they came from, and how the actual animal varieties relate to today’s wild and domesticated animals, she said. The archaeologists have also found fish remains, from both salmon and cod, and the bones from seabirds, too.
The middens have also provided others surprises. One was a delicate blue glass bead and several amber beads, too, suggesting the former residents liked their bling. Another was the remains of a green drinking glass that was characteristic of imports from the Rhine Valley in Germany.
This last is also a testament to how well off the former residents of this area were, Ystgaard said. “It says something that people had enough wealth to trade for glass."
Recent discoveries in the Netherlands have shed new light on a massacre ordered in 55 BCE by Roman general Julius Caesar.
The massacre remained obscure until December of 2015, when a group of archaeologists at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam announced that they had discovered the site of the massacre in the present-day Netherlands. The discovery has led to significant media attention. For example, the Guardian reports:
The tribes were massacred in the fighting with the Roman general in 55BC, on a battle site now in Kessel, in the southern province of Brabant.
Skeletons, spearheads, swords and a helmet have been unearthed at the site over the past three decades. But now carbon dating as well as other historical and geochemical analysis have proved the items dated to the 1st century BC, the VU University in Amsterdam said.
“It is the first time the presence of Caesar and his troops on Dutch soil has been explicitly shown,” said Nico Roymans, an archaeologist at the institution.
A report at Past Horizons features photographs of items from the excavation sites.
In chapters 13 and 14 of book 4 of his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar describes how he ordered a massacre of the children and women of the Usipetes and the Tencteri during a truce. These two peoples had fled the territory of the Suebi, a large confederation of Germanic peoples. Plutarch records that Roman statesman Cato the Younger—a contemporary and major critic of Julius Caesar—responded to news of the massacre by saying that Rome should turn Caesar over to the remaining Usipetes and Tenchtheri (see chapter 51 of Plutarch's biography on Cato the Younger).
This, of course, didn't happen—history would certainly have turned out differently if it somehow had!—and Caesar went on to play a pivotal role in the conversion of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Whether the Usipetes and the Tencteri were Germanic or Celtic peoples (or both) is unclear. While Caesar describes them as Germanic and they lived among the Suebi, their names appear to be Celtic.
An unexcavated archaeological site, potentially from the Viking Age, was washed away by a glacial lake outburst flood in South Iceland earlier this autumn. Iceland Magazine reports:
Uggi Ævarsson, the Cultural Heritage Manager of South Iceland[,] tells RÚV that the ruins had neither been charted nor catalogued, let alone explored by archaeologists.
This is all the more serious because the ruins could have dated back to the Viking Age, he tells RÚV: “This is a great loss. Now we are missing another piece of the puzzle which is the settlement history of Skaftártunga region. These floods come regularly here, and then the nearby volcano Hekla also has her regular eruptions, all of which makes the settlement history of this region extremely interesting.”
Glacial lake outburst floods are highly destructive. Outside of priceless loss to the historic record that the loss of such a site may cause, this particular flood caused significant damage to the region, washing away a road and causing damage to several farms in the region, resulting in losses of "ISK Hundreds of Millions" as reported by Iceland Review Online.
A forthcoming issue of postmedieval on the Staffordshire Hoard is calling on the community for crowd review. The issue, edited by the Material Collective, will be published spring 2016. The edition will utilize Crowd Review instead of the more traditional peer review making this issue of postmedieval a community project, and redefining scholarly review in the process. From their website:
“In the spirit of our collaborative process, we now ask contributors–and the broader public–to respond to one another’s work in the form of a crowd review. We ask for comments, queries, suggestions, and ideas for new direction. As a reviewer, you are charged with being part of the collaboration, part of the Hoard/Horde. Our goal in this open review process is not to change the form of these experimental contributions, but rather to collaborate to expand, clarify, and refine. The crowd review mirrors the dialogic and collaborative form of the volume itself, and so we have generated an interface that allows for threaded comments in which readers can respond to one another as well as to authors directly. Our hope is that a lively month-long discussion will become its own kind of response to the Hoard, and we intend to archive the threaded comments on the Material Collective website. Authors may also incorporate suggestions into individual essays before final publication of the volume in summer of 2016.”
If you are interested in the Staffordshire Hoard, feel free to contribute, even if you are not a traditional academic. This special issue follows postmedieval’s efforts to redefine academia and include all interested parties, no matter your education level or scholarly discipline.
A hiker in Haukeli, Norway has discovered a Viking Age sword. The grip has decomposed, but the sword otherwise remains in fantastic condition. A future excavations is planned at the site. As reported by thelocal.no:
“Jostein Aksdal, an archeologist with Hordaland County said the sword was in such good condition that if it was given a new grip and a polish, it could be used today.
‘The sword was found in very good condition. It is very special to get into a sword that is merely lacking its grip,’ he said.
‘When the snow has gone in spring, we will check the place where the sword was found. If we find several objects, or a tomb, perhaps we can find the story behind the sword,’ he said.
He said that judging by the sword’s 77cm length, it appeared to come from 750-800AD.”
The sword is to be sent to the University Museum of Bergen, where the artifact will be preserved.
Off the southeastern coast of Sweden is a small island once known as Blåkulla (Swedish ‘blue hill’). Today the island is known as Blå Jungfrun (Swedish ‘blue maiden/blue virgin’) and is home to a Swedish National Park. In Swedish folklore, the island has had an association with witchcraft since at least the mid-16th century, yet the island may have had a particular folk associations of peculiar danger long prior (a location called “Blaakulla” is referenced in such a manner in 1410—for more on this, see, for example, Stephen Mitchell’s 1997 “Blåkulla and its Antecedents: Transvection and Conventicles in Nordic Witchcraft” in Alvíssmál 7 pp. 81-100).
With that background in mind, a team of archaeologists that have been excavating the site since 2014 have made some interesting assessments of the site, including that the site may have attracted particular religious activity during the Stone Age. According to a recent Livescience article on the topic:
“The results are astonishing and reveal extensive human activities on the island in the Mesolithic Stone Age,” the archaeologists wrote.
People who travelled to the island may have practiced various rituals inside the two caves, archaeologists say. One cave contains what may be an altar where offerings could have been made to deities. Meanwhile another cave has an area that could have been used like a "theater" or "stage."
"In two caves, distinct ritual features were identified," wrote the team members, who hail from Kalmar County Museum and Linnaeus University, both in Sweden.
The National Museum of Denmark has announced that a team of archaeologists has discovered a large of golden spirals—nearly 2,000—dating from the Nordic Bronze Age in Boeslunde, Denmark. The purpose of the Boeslunde Spirals are unknown. According to the National Museum of Denmark:
[Archaeologists] do not know what they've been used for, and they have never seen them before in Denmark. The archaeologists at the Museum Zealand and the National Museum of Denmark are facing a little mystery, when they consider what they have just excavated.
Maybe the spirals have been attached to cords which have served as a small fringe on a hat or a parasol. Perhaps they have been braided into the hair or been embroidered on the suit. The fact is that we do not know, but I tend to believe they were part of a priest king’s costume or headwear, says [curator at the National Museum of Denmark] Flemming Kaul about the strange spirals.
The spirals were discovered in what is now a field in the small town of Boeslunde, located not far from the western coast of Zealand, Denmark. The objects were clustered together in what was once a leather-lined box (since decayed). This is not the first time the field has been excavated. According to the National Museum of Denmark's press release, "a couple years ago" amateur archaeologists discovered two large golden rings ("oath rings"—a practice that appears to have continued in the area until Christianization). Subsequently, the Museum Vestsjælland returned to the site for further excavations, resulting in the yield of golden spirals.
The area is rich in similar gold finds. As a result, archaeologists interpret the area as having been a holy location in the Bronze Age in Nordic Bronze Age religion, and subsequently the items found in the vicinity were probably votive offerings to beings—perhaps gods—in Nordic Bronze Age religion, forebear to North Germanic religion.
Outside of the National Museum of Denmark's rich Nordic Bronze Age exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark, the museum hosts a variety of original articles about Nordic Bronze Age finds on their website, which readers can browse here.
* "Guldspiraler er en gåde for arkæologerne" — Original Press Release from the National Museum of Denmark (in Danish)
* "Gold spirals are a mystery to archaeologists" — English Language Press Release from the National Museum of Denmark
The Langeid Sword, a unique Late Viking Age sword discovered in 2011 in Langeid, Norway is on display to the public for the first time at the Historical Museum in Oslo, Norway. The sword is dated to the end of the Viking Age and bears a variety of curious symbols: a mixture of Latin (or Latin-inspired) characters, spirals, and cross-like ornaments. A battle-ax and a variety of coins, including a coin from England, were found at the burial site.
The burial site in which the sword and axe were found is also notable, both of which may have their origin in England. Post holes make it clear that the grave was sheltered with a roof, a construction apparently displaying status. While the grave is evidently pagan due to the presence of grave goods, the oldest runestone known in Norway to refer to Christianity was discovered relatively nearby. (which, notably, refers to Cnut, who ruled over England and much of Scandinavia). As a result, the grave may present an archaeological snapshot of pagan burial practices directly before Christianization in the region.
Archaeologists in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, have had a number of exciting new finds on their hands as of late. Most notably for the purposes of Mimisbrunnr.info, one of these major new finds is a longhouse from the Viking Age unearthed in central Reykjavik. The longhouse was in use from the 10th the 13th centuries and was 20 meters (about 65.6 feet) in length. It featured a fire pit over 5 meters (about 16.5 feet) long.
Various objects were found at the site of the longhouse, including a silver ring and weaving tools. The site is to be the site of a new Íslandshótel hotel, where the longhouse remains will feature in an exhibition.
The oldest longhouse discovered in Iceland (dating from the 9th century) was also found in Reykjavik in 2001 and is now a part of the Reykjavík 871±2 exhibit, open to the public.
* "Viking-age hut found in Reykjavik" at mbl.is
* "Two historic discoveries in Reykjavik" at mbl.is
A previously unknown great burial mound and a Vendel Period gold pendant have recently been discovered at Gamla Uppsala. The project behind the latter two discoveries, Gamla Uppsala – the emergence of a mythical centre (GUAM), maintains a blog covering the team's ongoing excavations, which readers can follow here. The blog is full of interesting information about GUAM's excavations in the area. GUAM is a collaboration between Uppsala University, the Uppland Museum, the National Heritage Board, and Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis (SAU).
Gamla Uppsala (Swedish ‘Old Uppsala’) is a particularly notable location in ancient Germanic studies. According to several sources from the medieval period, the site was once the location of a major North Germanic pagan religious temple, the Temple at Uppsala. Unlike, say, the columns of Classical ruins, today there is no visible sign of any such temple, but imposing mounds still stand at the site. By the 12th century, Gamla Uppsala was the site of Sweden’s first Archbishopric.
Given the significance of the site, it’s no surprise that that the site has seen a significant amount of scholarly attention, ranging from archaeological digs to discussion among scholars (often perplexing given the complex nature of Germanic holy spaces). In 2013, for example, a long row of post holes was found, reaching 1.5 km (nearly 1 mile) in length. The purpose of this dramatic row remains unclear.