Potential Viking Age Site Washed Away by Flood in Southern Iceland

The volcano Hekla as depicted in a 16th century illustration from Olaus Magnus's Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus. From Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft Feature on Grapevine.is

Icelandic news and culture website Grapevine.is has published a feature on the the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft (Icelandic Strandagaldur). The feature provides history on this unique and fascination institution, as well as photographs of the site, and an some discussion with museum manager Sigurður Atlason.

According to Grapevine.is:

In Icelandic folklore and history, the Strandir region has forever been associated with sorcery and witchcraft, with records showing that alleged sorcerers were being burnt at the stake in nearby Trékyllisvík as late as the 17th century. This reputation served as inspiration for the museum, which offers visitors a chance to learn about Iceland’s folklore and witchcraft, and the various strange runes and contraptions with which it was performed.

The Vegvísir, a symbol from the mid-19th century Huld manuscript. The manuscript says that the bearer of the symbol will "one will never lose one's way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known" (Flowers 1989 trans.). File via Wikimedia Commons.

This quote refers to material derived from, for example, the magical staves of Icelandic grimoires such as the Galdrabók  (17th century) and the museum also appears to draw exhibition source material from Icelandic medieval material, such as the Old Norse saga corpus.

The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft is located in Hólmavík, a small town in northwestern Iceland. The museum opened its doors in 2000. Since then, the museum has become a destination popular particularly with tourists.

* "In Strandir: Sorcery and Tourism" at Grapevine.is
* The Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft Official Website

An Eventful March: Bald's Leechbook and MRSA, Anglo-Saxon England and Genetics, and Modern Folk Belief and the Huldufólk in Iceland

I. Bald's Leechbook and MRSA
In an interesting development for Old English scholars, numerous Western outlets report that an Old English remedy for an eye-sty recorded in Bald's Leechbook (compiled in the 9th century and surviving in a single manuscript) has shown to be effective in treating Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), bacterium that have become immune to beta-lactam antibiotics. NewScientist.com reports:

"The medieval medics might have been on to something. A modern-day recreation of this remedy seems to alleviate infections caused by the bacteria that are usually responsible for styes. The work might ultimately help create drugs for hard-to-treat skin infections.

The project was born when Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, got talking to Christina Lee, an Anglo-Saxon scholar. They decided to test a recipe from an Old English medical compendium called Bald's Leechbook, housed in the British Library.

Some of the ingredients, such as copper from the brass vessel, kill bacteria grown in a dish – but it was unknown if they would work on a real infection or how they would combine."

This particular remedy has been tested before but with negative results by Brennessel, Drout, and Gravel in 2005 (see their results here). Michael Drout has subsequently responded to Harrison's and Lee's 2015 results on Drout's blog here.

II. Anglo-Saxon England and Genetics
A genetic study out of the University of Oxford published in March in Nature has received media attention from outlets such as the BBC and The Guardian. The study has implications on what we know about Anglo-Saxon England, the Migration Period, the Celtic peoples as an ethnic group, and subsequent migrations in the era. Peter Donnelly comments:

"According to Prof Peter Donnelly who co-led the study, the results show that although there is not a single Celtic group, there is a genetic basis for regional identities in the UK.

'Many of the genetic clusters we see in the west and north are similar to the tribal groupings and kingdoms around, and just after, the time of the Saxon invasion, suggesting these kingdoms maintained a regional identity for many years,' he told BBC News."

III. Modern Folk Belief and the Huldufólk in Iceland
A feature on the influence of modern Icelandic folk belief in the huldufólk ('hidden people') in Iceland was recently published in The Guardian (and definitely look at the fascinating accompanying pictorial!). A sample from the article:

"Road-builders are used to seeing their plans scuppered by the protected habitats of bats and newts, or sites of special scientific interest and outstanding natural beauty. But in Iceland, there is another hindrance: the world of the huldufólk, as they call them, the hidden people.

The rock, known as Ófeigskirkja, has been at the centre of an eight-year battle to stop a road being built through this 8,000-year-old landscape, a spectacularly barren and evocative terrain a little to the north of Reykjavík, which some believe is a site of supernatural forces. In a country of such desolate stony expanses, haunted by howling winds, bubbling geysers and fiery eruptions, it’s not hard to see why more than half of the population entertains the possibility that a parallel community of elves, dwarves and ghosts might exist – a statistic repeated in tourist brochures since a landmark 1975 survey. But few, like Jónsdóttir, claim to have a direct line to them, allowing her to hear their cries for help ..."

While modern Icelandic folklore is an area which I intend to delve further into he future, readers may be interested in similar folk beliefs surrounding the Landdísir recorded in 18th and 19th century Iceland (but probably reaching back into at least the Old Norse period).

Ásatrúarfélagið Temple at Reykjavík Construction to Begin in February

Reykjavík, Iceland: The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (Ríkisútvarpið; RÚV) reports that Iceland's Ásatrúarfélagið, the largest Germanic neopagan organization in Iceland, will begin construction of its first structure for worship, a modern temple (or, less ambiguously, a modern hof), in February in Reykjavík.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, allsherjargoði of the Ásatrúarfélagið, says that the erection of such a temple is a historic event because no such temple has been erected in Northern Europe since the Temple at Uppsala in 1070 ("Í Norður-Evrópu hefur ekki staðið hof síðan hofið í Uppsölum í Svíþjóð var byggt 1070, þannig að þetta er heimssögulegur viðburður").