National Geographic and Slavery in the Viking Age

In late December, US publication National Geographic published an article on the topic of slavery in the Viking Age, specifically commenting on "attempts to soften the raiders' reputation". The article claims that not enough focus has been placed on the role of slavery in Viking Age society and that that slavery was "vital to the Viking way of life". A quote from the article:

A 1908 illustration by W. G. Collingwood from the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, in which the enigmatic god Heimsdallr visits an elderly man and woman. After he sleeps between them, the elderly woman is pregnant with the embodiment of a social class, Þræll ('slave, serf, thrall'). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

"The ancient reputation of Vikings as bloodthirsty raiders on cold northern seas has undergone a radical change in recent decades. A kinder, gentler, and more fashionable Viking emerged. ...

But our view of the Norse may be about to alter course again as scholars turn their gaze to a segment of Viking society that has long remained in the shadows."

Although aims to be as objective as possible, the reader benefits from some commentary on some of these claims. Last I was aware, these comments regarding a 'kinder, gentler Viking Age' were in response to the monastery-derived image of vikings as a mindless "pagans", carrying the torch of earlier material, such as saint hagiographies, that portrayed Christianization as a sort of light bringer of culture to non-Christian peoples. The article also lacks discussion about how the notion and function of slavery differed from the modern era and how widespread slavery was during the period beyond Germanic Europe, particularly in Arabic society (in light of the mention of Ahmad ibn Fadlan).

In addition, the article makes rather speculative comments regarding polygamy during the Viking Age, for which there is no clear evidence.

Still, the article is worth a read, particularly regarding the discussion on grooved teeth that have been discovered in sites such as around what is now Lund, Sweden. For more, albeit brief, discussing regarding slavery during the Viking Age, see this National Museum of Denmark article.

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.

Viking Age Sword Found by Hiker in Norway

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

A 19th century illustration by Johannes Gehrts depicts a scene from the Old Norse Völsunga cycle, in which the god Odin plunges a fateful sword into the tree Barnstokkr. The Völsung family and their guests are shocked by the sight. From Wikimedia Commons.

“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.

Archaeologists Discover Remains of Viking Age Longhouse in Reykjavik, Iceland

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, 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
"Two historic discoveries in Reykjavik" at


Lair Spindle Whorl: Younger Futhark Runes, Ogham, or Abstract Symbols?

A team from the Glenshee Archaeology Project has found a potential spindle whorl (5 CM in diameter) near a Viking Age longhouse excavation site in Lair, in Glenshee, Scotland. The object appears to be decorated. The team is waiting for specialists to analyze the object for potential Younger Futhark or Ogham inscriptions:

"David Strachan of Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust explained the possible significance of the find.

'Through the ages spindle whorls have often been decorated – and the spinning action would bring life to these shapes, much like the old spinning top toy,' he said.

'While we certainly have abstract shapes on this example, some of the symbols look like they could be writing, perhaps Viking runes or Ogham inscription, a form of early medieval Irish script.'"

(From: Cryptic symbols may hold key to Glenshee’s Viking-age past on

Notably, another spindle whorl—dubbed the Saltfleetby Spindle Whorl—featuring an inscription containing a very rare mention of the enigmatic god Heimdallr (along with the name of the widely attested god Odin and the rather mysterious figure of Þjálfiwas found in 2010 in Saltfleetby, England.

BBC and Carnival Films Announce "The Last Kingdom"

Per, a new eight-episode television drama from the BBC and Carnival Films set in the 9th century and focusing on interactions between the Anglo-Saxons and their Viking Age Scandinavian cousins is on its way:

The BBC and “Downton Abbey” producer Carnival Films have teamed up to produce historical drama series, “The Last Kingdom,” BBC America announced Wednesday.


Set in the year 872, when many of the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England have fallen to the invading Vikings, the great kingdom of Wessex has been left standing alone and defiant under the command of King Alfred the Great. Against this turbulent backdrop lives “The Last Kingdom’s” hero, Uhtred. Born the son of a Saxon nobleman, he is orphaned by the Vikings and then kidnapped and raised as one of their own. Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, his loyalties are ever tested. What is he — Saxon or Viking? On a quest to claim his birthright, Uhtred must tread a dangerous path between both sides if he is to play his part in the birth of a new nation and, ultimately, seek to recapture his ancestral lands.


Much like History Channel’s “Vikings,” “The Last Kingdom” will combine real historical figures and events with fiction, exploring themes like religion, politics, warfare and the quest for identity.

"Fibula, Fabula, Fact - The Viking Age in Finland" by Joonas Ahola & Frog with Clive Tolley

"Fibula, Fabula, Fact - The Viking Age in Finland" by Joonas Ahola & Frog with Clive Tolley is now available via the Finnish Literary Society's online bookshop. Per the publisher's description:

'Were there Vikings in Finland?’ Fibula, Fabula, Fact – The Viking Age in Finland is intended to provide essential foundations for approaching the Viking Age in Finland. The volume consists of a general introduction followed by nineteen chapters and a closing discussion. The nineteen chapters are oriented to provide introductions to the sources, methods and perspectives of diverse disciplines. Discussions are presented from fields including archaeology, folklore studies, genetics, geopolitics, historiography, language history, linguistics, palaeobotany, semiotics and toponymy. Each chapter is intended to help open the resources and the history of discourse of the particular discipline in a way that will be accessible to specialists from other fields, specialists from outside Finland, and also to non-specialist readers and students who may be more generally interested in the topic.

Looking Back at 2014: Additions to the Viking Age Archaeological Record

In 2014, at least a handful of articles were published on Viking Age archaeological discoveries. These articles included such finds as:

* Near Køge, Denmark: An apparently 10th century ring fortress was discovered; "the first discovery of its kind in Denmark in over 60 years".

* Vadstena, Sweden: A "major Viking hall" around 50 meters in length has been detected with ground penetrating radar; "archaeologists have now revealed that [a mound at the site] is a foundation platform for a long building, most likely dating from the Viking Period".

* Arctic Canada: 2014 saw reports on new Viking Age finds in this region, which "may be the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in North America to the north of what is now Mexico."

* Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland: The Dumfriesshire Hoard was unearthed, consisting of "more than 100 gold and silver objects from the Viking Age".

I employ "at least" because these articles, by way of social media and word of mouth, are what trickled down to me during the course of the year of 2014. There may well have been more (an issue that I hope that this site will assist in addressing). Over the next few months, I will look back at 2014 and provide posts covering relevant topics that readers may have missed during the year.