Archaeologist to delve into Viking presence in Spain

Archaeologist to delve into Viking presence in Spain

Many people do not realize how far and wide the Vikings of the 8 th to 11 th centuries ranged. They voyaged from their homelands in Scandinavia, north and west to Iceland and Vinland and south down the Atlantic Coast and into the Mediterranean and Black Sea and up into Eastern Europe and Russia.

Unusually, the Vikings’ presence in one particular place that they landed and stayed a while, northern Galicia in Spain, has not been studied. Locals take pride in Viking heritage and point to some people’s blue eyes and ginger hair. Maybe some Vikings of that time and place were known as Erico el Rojo instead of Erik the Red.

Map of Viking expansion in Europe ( Wikimedia Commons )

However, the lack of information about Viking activities in Spain is about to change with a new study planned by Irene García Losquiño of the University of Aberdeen’s Center for Scandinavian Studies. She expressed surprise about how little is known about the Vikings’ activities in Spain.

“There are written accounts of Viking raids in northern Spain but, archaeologically, absolutely nothing has been done on an academic scale,” she told The University of Aberdeen’s research news website . “Internationally, there is only a vague knowledge that the Vikings went there. They visited the area from around 840 until the 11th century but there is no realization that there is this vast thing to be explored. Most of the studies focus on their activities in other countries such as Britain and Ireland.

She visited the region in March 2014 when storms caused Viking anchors to wash ashore. She saw a mound on the beach near the anchors. Locals assumed the mound was a motte-and-bailey structure, or a castle-type structure with a wall on a raised area. But tomography showed it to be a longphort, or shore-side fort similar to where Vikings wintered in Britain after taking over a harbor.

A Viking anchor (9th century) discovered in Loire Atlantique, France ( Wikimedia Commons )

Written sources say during one visit Vikings came in the fjord at Santiago and stayed three years in the fields. García Losquiño said no one knows where they stayed or what they did while there. She will study these things. Some of the sites are in marshes, which are good for preserving archaeological evidence, she said.

She is applying for funding to do a more complete study of the Viking presence in Galicia and Seville, which the locals are very interested in. The professor intends to reach out and educate the local people about their Viking heritage by inviting them to digs and to contribute to exhibitions where the researchers will share their findings.

Some people in the region have blue eyes and red hair, and they speculate Vikings stayed there and intermarried. In some places Spanish people of today share traditions with Scandinavian cultures--not Spanish or Celtic, but Viking, she said.

“It is hugely important to share any information that we find with the local community, so they can relate their history to the interaction with the Vikings,” García Losquiño said. “They are proud of this link to the Vikings. In some towns there are festivals and pilgrimages that pay homage to these roots. But there is a lack of facts and data about when they were here, where they went, and how long for. I hope to be able to fill in some of these blanks and share it with the whole community. It is such a local thing, in some cases only a Spaniard, and in some cases someone who can speak the local language can have access to – so I am very fortunate!”

She is preparing a dig in the spring. She and her team will examine with metal detectors sites that are unusually shaped. She has also been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with recent satellite images and sees that some sites are like Viking camps found elsewhere.

The professor is also trying to raise money to produce a documentary video about Vikings in Galicia. She has two videos about Vikings already at a website she calls Viking Iberia .

Featured image: Excerpt from folio 47v of Harley MS 2278. The scene depicts Hinguar and Hubba setting out to avenge their father, Lothbrok. ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller

Expand your knowledge of the Russian Revolution with guest lecturer William Thayer

Turn your gaze to the past and delve into the history of Russia&rsquos early twentieth century as G uest Lecturer William Thayer presents &ldquoThe Russian Revolution.&rdquo I n this episode, he t race s the circumstances that passed political control from the Duma &mdashwhich was the Lower House of the Russian legislative assembly&mdash to a democratic government and, finally, to the Bolsheviks , which was renamed the Communist Party in 1917 . Go deeper into this important event as William engages in a question and answer session during the livestream.

Turn your gaze to the past and delve into the history of Russia&rsquos early twentieth century as G uest Lecturer William Thayer presents &ldquoThe Russian Revolution.&rdquo I n this episode, he t race s the circumstances that passed political control from the Duma &mdashwhich was the Lower House of the Russian legislative assembly&mdash to a democratic government and, finally, to the Bolsheviks , which was renamed the Communist Party in 1917 . Go deeper into this important event as William engages in a question and answer session during the livestream.

Secrets of the Spanish Vikings

Vikings have a fearsome reputation in northern Europe, but surprisingly little is known about their more southerly exploits. So when a number of Viking anchors washed up on the beaches of Galicia, Northern Spain, during a spring storm earlier this year, Irene – a Scottish-based archaeologist – set off to uncover their secrets.

Dr Irene García Losquiño, herself from Galicia, working with the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Scandinavian Studies, says she was surprised by how little is known, even in academic circles, about the Vikings’ movements in Spain.

“Internationally, there is only a vague knowledge that the Vikings went there. They visited the area from around 840 until the 11th century, but most studies focus on their activities in other countries such as Britain and Ireland.”

“When I read that these anchors had washed up, I dropped everything and went to investigate for myself.”

With the help of Dr Jan Henrik Fallgren, from University of Aberdeen, and Ylva Backstrom, from University of Lund, the local heritage society and the town mayors, Irene and her colleagues set off on a five day tour.

“It was the best five days of my life – mind-blowing!”

On the beach where the anchors were found, there was a big mound which locals thought might have been a motte-and-bailey construction of a type later used by Vikings in France.

But with the help of a geographer using tomography, Irene says they now think the mound is a longphort – a Viking construction only found in Ireland during the early Viking age, and very similar to English Viking camps, where they would winter, after taking over the harbour.

Written sources indicate that the Vikings first attacked Spain in 844 AD, but were met with strong resistance. They returned with another fleet in 860 AD and again in 968 AD.

As yet, there has been no comprehensive archaeological study of Vikings in the region and Irene plans to find out more about their time in the region when she returns to dig in spring. “We have been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with up-to-date satellite images and [there are several unusually shaped sites that] look exactly like Viking camps that have been found elsewhere. We want to find something datable and trace their movements, through where they established camps”.

So, did they settle here? Written chronicles do state that some of the Vikings stayed behind, and were offered the chance to integrate into society. In addition, says Irene, there is an identity within the current population of the region, that is not Celtic and not Spanish, but Viking, and some locals believe that is why there are far more people with ginger hair and blue eyes here than in other parts of Spain.

“In some towns there are festivals and pilgrimages that pay homage to these roots. But there is a lack of facts and data about when they were here, where they went, and how long for. I hope to be able to fill in some of these blanks and share it with the whole community. It is such a local thing, in some cases only a Spaniard, and in some cases someone who can speak the local language can have access to – so I am very fortunate!”

Dr García Losquiño is planning to produce a documentary on Vikings in Galicia. This will be made available in her Viking Iberia project.

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Fascinated by archaeology? DigVentures runs excavations that anyone can be part of. From Roman ruins and medieval castles, to Bronze Age monuments and industrial heritage, you can choose to dig alongside our team, help out in the Finds Room, take an online course, or become a Subscriber for even more ways to enjoy archaeology with our team.

The Medieval Norse on Baffin Island

THANKS to the sagas, it has long been known that Vikings reached the North American continent about 1000 AD. But not until the 1960s did archaeological evidence emerge in Newfoundland, Canada to corroborate the written accounts. Until recently, that site provided the only archeological substantiation of the Viking presence, apart from a few Norse artifacts obtained from scattered Eskimo and Indian excavations. (ILLUSTRATION: Christian Krohg, Leiv Eriksson oppdager Amerika (Leif Eriksson Discovers America), 1893)

But in October 2012, after 13 years of field research, Canadian archaeologist Patricia Sutherland, 63, presented findings at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology in St. John’s, Canada suggesting the presence of a second Viking outpost, on Baffin Island, part of a former Norse region known as Helluland.

Scandinavian Expansions

Prior to 1945, Scandinavia experienced three large population expansions resulting in major out-migrations.

The first caused the Goth migration from Sweden to Germany in the last century BC and the first two centuries AD. The subsequent fall of Rome relieved population pressures throughout the Teutonic world.

A second baby boom led to the spectacular Viking expansions of 800-1100 AD, almost unimaginable in terms of their geographic scope. Exploration, piracy, plunder, warfare, trade, conquest, and settlement were all integral to this vast out-migration.

Swedes, known as East Vikings, Varangians, and Rus, sailed east across the Baltic and the great continental network of Russian rivers to the Caspian and Black Seas, which they also crossed. They established the first Russian states, Novgorod and Kiev, and commanded and staffed the Eastern Roman Empire’s Varangian Guard, described by William Pierce as “an elite military unit composed entirely of Vikings, the Schutzstaffel [SS] of its day.”

Danes swept across England and south over the European continent, including France, the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and Asia Minor. As in Russia, the shallow draft of their ships, the most sophisticated seagoing vessels of the day, enabled them to penetrate far inland — in France, as far as Paris.

To the north and west, Norwegians traveled to the limits of the known world, high above the Arctic Circle from the White Sea in Russia to the edge of the great ice, to Iceland and, on a different continent, Greenland and Canada.

Such was the general directional thrust, though in reality it was more complex.

For example, King Harald’s Saga, part of Icelandic chronicler Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (1230), narrated a legendary Norwegian, not Swedish, leader’s expedition to the East, his marriage to a Rus princess, command of the Varangian Guard, brilliant exploits in Constantinople, Syria, and Sicily, his skaldic achievements as a poet, and his battles in England against Harold Godwinson. The saga king fell at Stamford Bridge in 1066, just a few days before Godwinson himself died at the Battle of Hastings in an attempt to fend off another warrior of Viking descent, William the Conqueror.

Finally, between 1815 and 1939 Scandinavian overpopulation created a net outflow of 2.75 million Norse to the New World — 1.25 million Swedes, 850,000 Norwegians, 350,000 Danes, and 250,000 Finns. Relative to size, Norway’s contribution was the largest.

Iceland and Greenland

Iceland, a small island just south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic, was settled by the Norse c. 850-875 AD. It lies 570 miles west of Norway, but only 155 miles southeast of Greenland, which in turn is adjacent to Canada.

Until recently the population of Iceland was extremely homogeneous, being almost entirely of Scandinavian and Celtic descent. The Icelandic language remains nearer to the Old Norse of Iceland’s original Viking settlers than it does to other Scandinavian languages. Old Norse literature attained its greatest flowering in Iceland between 1000 and 1350 AD.

The medieval Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) describes in considerable detail the settlement of Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.

Greenland, the largest island in the world, lies mostly north of the Arctic Circle and is separated from Canada on the west by Davis Strait and Baffin Bay and Iceland on the east by the Denmark Strait. There are numerous islands along its coast, which is deeply indented by fjords. Eighty-five percent of its total area is ice cap.

The island was discovered and settled about 982 AD by outlaw Norwegian chieftain Eric the Red, father of famed Icelandic-born explorer Leif Ericsson. Greenland was uninhabited at the time of the Norwegians’ arrival — the Eskimos did not migrate to the island until more than 200 years later, c. 1200 AD.

In the 1200s the island fell under Norwegian and, subsequently Danish, rule. The colonists mysteriously disappeared around 1435, possibly due to a climate change known as the Little Ice Age. Archaeological remains and written records indicate malnourishment among the dwindling number of white inhabitants. The last written records of the Norse Greenlanders pertain to a 1408 wedding in Hvalsey Church, today the best-preserved Norse ruins in Greenland.

Grœnlendinga Saga and Eiríks Saga are the primary written accounts of the discovery and settlement of Greenland and, in North America, Helluland (“Flat Stone Land” — Baffin Island), Markland (“Woodland” — Labrador), and Vinland (“Wineland” — Newfoundland), all in present-day Canada.

Iceland, Greenland, Helluland, Markland, Vinland

The Vikings in North America

In North America the Norsemen encountered a race they called “skraelings.” The sagas describe them as “short people with threatening features and tangled hair on their heads . . . large eyes and broad cheeks.” The Smithsonian Institution states that although the exact meaning of “skraeling” is unclear, “it was certainly a derogatory term.”

In fact, the Norse encountered not only different tribes but, in all probability, both Eskimos (Inuit) and Indians, though the records provide only a single name for all these groups.

In the 1960s a Norwegian husband and wife team, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated a Viking base camp at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, the first archaeologically confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. It pre-dated the voyages of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot by 500 years. Dated to between 989 and 1020 AD, the camp boasted three Viking halls and an assortment of huts for weaving, iron-working, and ship repair.

L’Anse aux Meadows was not Vinland, but rather situated within a land called Vinland extending south from L’Anse aux Meadows to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick. The outpost served as a winter camp and base for expeditions.

In the 50 years since the discovery of the thousand-year-old settlement, archaeologists and amateur historians have unsuccessfully combed North America’s east coast searching for further traces of Viking visitors.

Finally, in October and November 2012, it was reported that archaeologist Patricia Sutherland, adjunct professor of archeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, had announced new archaeological evidence strongly supporting the presence of a second Viking outpost on Baffin Island.

Sutherland was alerted to the possibility of a Norse camp in 1999, when she discovered two unusual pieces of cord excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, where she worked.

Rather than consisting of twisted animal sinew, the cords were expertly woven Viking yarn identical to yarn produced by Viking women in Greenland in the 14th century.

Sutherland scoured other museums, finding more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear including wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions and dozens of Viking whetstones.

The specimens derived from four sites located across a thousand miles of territory extending from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador. The sites belonged to the Dorset culture, an extinct Paleo-Eskimo people.

From the artifacts at Dorset sites, Sutherland conjectured the Eskimos had traded with Vikings, which of course may be true. But, as archeologist Lawrence H. Keeley has impudently pointed out, items found in this manner can just as easily represent the spoils of war.

The archaeologist focused on the most promising of the four sites, Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. There, in the 1960s, a US archaeologist named Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building which he described as “very difficult to interpret.” She believed the site might have been occupied by different cultures at different times, raising the possibility that the enigmatic stone ruins, which bear a striking resemblance to Viking buildings in Greenland, were European.

Since 2001, Sutherland’s team has been carefully excavating the site, where they have discovered a wide range of artifacts pointing to the presence of European seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by European stone masons and more Viking yarn and whetstones.

Using energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones, detecting microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron — evidence of European metallurgy.

After 13 years of careful research, the weight of the evidence placed European traders on Baffin Island sometime between 1000–1300 AD.

“The Norse were here over a long period of time,” Sutherland said. “There were Europeans on the site, no question about that. I think we’ve only just begun to delve into what the Norse were doing there, and we’ve just got the beginning of the story.”

Archeologist Pat Sutherland on Baffin Island

Viking Project “Derailed”

Besides her teaching jobs, Dr. Sutherland had been associated with the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec for 28 years. Twelve years ago she was hired to run the Helluland archeology project. Recently she served as the Museum’s curator of Arctic Archeology.

The Museum is a major institution — Canada’s largest national museum, a significant research establishment, and one of North America’s oldest cultural organizations. It is situated on the Ottawa River across from the Canadian Parliament.

In 1910 Jewish anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir was appointed the first anthropologist in its newly formed anthropology division upon the recommendation of American German-Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas.

Until 1986 the Museum was known as the Museum of Man, but after Left-wing elites denounced the name as “gender biased,” it was changed to the Museum of Civilization. It will soon change again to the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

In the spring of 2012, Dr. Patricia Sutherland was dismissed from her position with the Museum. Simultaneously, Museum officials stripped her husband, prominent Canadian archaeologist Robert McGhee, of the emeritus status he’d enjoyed since his retirement from the Museum in 2008.

No one involved will say why this happened. Two off-the-record sources told the Ottawa Citizen that the firings followed a year-long external investigation into allegations of “bullying and harassment,” although who was allegedly bullied and harassed, or who did the bullying, was not reported.

Dr. Sutherland is contesting the dismissal through her union, which is treating the case as a wrongful dismissal. It is currently before an arbitrator. Meanwhile, the Helluland Project has been suspended.

Some of the artifacts Sutherland had assembled were on loan from other institutions, and within days of her dismissal, they were sent back to museums in Newfoundland and Greenland.

Sutherland intended to co-publish her findings with 15 international collaborators, but her dismissal dashed those plans. She also wanted to work with the community of Kimmirut to get national historic site designation for the Nanook site.

The book cannot go forward unless she regains access to her research materials.

“I’m very confident that what we have is an indication of a Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic that we weren’t aware of before, that it was over a longer period of time, and that the interactions with the aboriginal people were more complex and extensive than we thought before.”

Because it was only a two-day sail to Norse outposts in Greenland, “One could reasonably argue that the travels to the east coast of Canada, to the Arctic, was over a period of four centuries,” she adds.

Addendum: Sutherland’s Wikipedia biography hints at some possible reason’s for her dismissal, saying: “It has been speculated, including by the CBC program The Fifth Estate, that she was let go because her research no longer fit with the changed focus of the museum on Canadian history, and some have suggested that the political motivation extends to a fear that her research will undermine Canadian sovereignty claims in the high Arctic. Other speculation points to her having been one of six staff of the museum who wrote a letter objecting on moral grounds to its acquisition of a collection of artifacts taken from the wreck of RMS Empress of Ireland. The museum itself stated in December 2014 that the reason was harassment of former colleagues. When Sutherland was fired, her access to her research materials was cut off and many were dispersed. There has been a petition for her to be allowed to resume her research.”

Canadian Broadcasting Corp., “The Norse: An Arctic Mystery,” The Nature of Things, November 22, 2012. Executive Producer: Gordon Henderson. Produced, written and directed by Andrew Gregg. A 45-minute Canadian television documentary about Patricia Sutherland’s Baffin Island discoveries. Viewable online only in Canada.

Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland (New York: Checkmark Books, 2001)

PBS Television, “The Lost Vikings,” Secrets of the Dead, May 16, 2000. 55 mins. Narrated by Roy Scheider. Archaeologists and forensic anthropologists investigate the disappearance of the Greenland Vikings. Full episode available online.

The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America(London: Penguin Books, 2004 1st ed. 1965), trans. by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson. English translation of Graenlendinga Saga and Eirik’s Saga, both of which are short and easily read. Devoted as much to the settlement of Greenland and the family of Erik the Red as to the discovery of the New World.

Trace the Pacific Northwest’s history with Viking Resident Historian Robert K. Sutton, PhD

Broaden your understanding of North American history as Viking Resident Historian Robert K. Sutton, PhD , presents an i conic l ecture about the &ldquoIndigenous People of the Pacific Northwest.&rdquo Dr. Sutton retired in 2016 as the National Park Service&rsquos chief historian he has written numerous books on American history . During his lecture , he e xplore s the art, culture and history of the Pacific Northwest&rsquos indigenous people s , from their earliest settlements to their life in present -day America and Canada . Delve deeper into this fascinating topic as Dr. Sutton shares his expert insights during a question and answer session.

Broaden your understanding of North American history as Viking Resident Historian Robert K. Sutton, PhD , presents an i conic l ecture about the &ldquoIndigenous People of the Pacific Northwest.&rdquo Dr. Sutton retired in 2016 as the National Park Service&rsquos chief historian he has written numerous books on American history . During his lecture , he e xplore s the art, culture and history of the Pacific Northwest&rsquos indigenous people s , from their earliest settlements to their life in present -day America and Canada . Delve deeper into this fascinating topic as Dr. Sutton shares his expert insights during a question and answer session.

Heritage from Home – February

As we find ourselves back in lockdown, the vast quantity of resources available online seems more valuable than ever. Amy Brunskill has put together a selection of some of the many ways you can get involved in archaeology, history, and heritage from home, to help you explore the past until museums and heritage sites are able to open once more.

Virtual Visits

Enjoy a wide range of resources from museums and heritage sites that allow you to explore collections at your leisure, take virtual tours of places around the world, and delve into online exhibitions covering subjects from ancient burial mounds in Japan to a World Heritage Site in India.

  • German Historical Museum, Berlin, Germany– Take a virtual trip to the German Historical Museum and explore online exhibits covering topics like ‘Colonial Histories’ and ‘Images of Migration’, or simply walk around using Google Street View.
  • Searching for Shakespeare – Explore the archaeological discoveries shedding light on the life of William Shakespeare in this new virtual exhibition, which showcases the artefacts found at the site of his family home.
  • Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution – Enjoy an online tour of the British Museum’s recent Tantra exhibition, led by the curator, Imma Ramos, and find out more about this revolutionary philosophy.
  • Museum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds, Gyoda, Japan – Learn more about the ancient burial mounds of the Sakitama Kofun Cluster, with online exhibitions displaying artefacts found during excavations and a virtual tour of the museum.
  • Tenement Museum, New York, USA – Find a range of digital exhibitions and virtual events on the Tenement Museum’s website exploring the history of immigrants, refugees, and immigration to New York.
  • Archaeological and Ethnological Museum of Córdoba, Spain – Enjoy several online exhibits introducing the artefacts in the museum’s collection, covering themes including home and private life, funerary rituals, and prehistoric Córdoba.
  • Gjellestad, Norway – Enjoy this digital reconstruction, which takes you on a journey through the story of human activity at the site of Gjellestad, where a Viking ship burial has been discovered.
  • Sights of Wonder – Delve into this selection of photographs of ancient landmarks taken by Francis Bedford during the 1862 Royal Tour.
  • Antonine Wall, Scotland – Travel across the Antonine Wall and find out more about the forts, camps, and other sites along the Roman frontier in Scotland with this interactive map.
  • Bagan, Myanmar – Find out how digital conservation is being used to preserve the ancient city’s temples, which were damaged during an earthquake in 2016.
  • Toffee Hammer Listings, United Kingdom – Discover more than 40 sites that witnessed acts of protest and sabotage by the suffragettes in this online exhibition of images from the Historic England Archive.
  • Olympia, Greece – Explore the ancient Greek ruins of buildings like the Stadium, Gymnasium, and Temples of Zeus and Hera, and learn more about the myths surrounding this celebrated ceremonial and sporting site. – Take a tour of the monuments that make up the complex of Mahabalipuram with this exploration of the ancient Indian architecture and sculptures of the World Heritage Site.

Learning in Lockdown

Here’s another selection of archaeology- and heritage-related resources that you can access from the comfort of your sofa, from an online Viking festival, to podcasts about museums and history, and blogs, videos, and Twitter threads on a wide range of subjects.

  • That JORVIK Viking Thing – Get involved in this online festival hosted by JORVIK Viking Centre, with live-streamed events, saga-telling, a virtual tour around the Centre, and more, between 15 and 20 February.
  • Roman Life: Gladiators – Enjoy this talk from Richard Bale at the Colchester Archaeological Trust, looking at the reasons why gladiators were both admired and despised by the Romans.
  • Homeschool History – Discover more about historical topics from Pocahontas to the Battle of Hastings in this show from Greg Jenner of Horrible Histories, with accompanying online resources.
  • MyLearning – Find an array of learning resources from heritage organisations across the UK, ranging from a guide to Egyptian mummification to the stories of Victorian coal miners.
  • Playing in the Past – Explore how past worlds are represented and experienced digitally. In 2021, this broadcast will focus on the video game Assassin’s Creed: Origins, set in ancient Egypt.
  • Lynn Museum – Find online events from this Norfolk museum, including ‘Quiz a Character’ Zoom webinars.
  • Revolutionary Women – Find out more about the female warriors, scientists, and visionaries who changed the world, from Dido of Carthage to Christina of Sweden, in this series of episodes from The Forum.
  • People. Change. Museums – Discover this new podcast, which looks at the relationship between museums and technology, and the challenges they are currently facing.
  • When in Rome – Delve into a podcast that explores place and space in the Roman Empire, visiting sites across the Roman world.
  • Museum Secrets – This new podcast from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, offers an insight into the life of the museum and objects in its collections.
  • Sawbones – While more recent instalments mostly focus on the current COVID-19 situation, there is a large back catalogue of episodes to take you on a fascinating tour of medical history over time.
  • We are History – Enjoy this light-hearted history podcast, which looks at interesting and quirky stories from the past, ranging from East German nudism to ‘tulip fever’ in 17th-century Amsterdam.
  • Crash Course World History – View a series of fun, educational history videos on YouTube.
  • Black Country Museum – These short videos from the living museum in Dudley, UK, bring Britain’s early manufacturing history vividly to life.
  • DigVentures – Find out about DigVentures’ most exciting archaeological discoveries with this blogpost, which lists the highlights and the best finds of 2020.
  • Egyptology in Lockdown – Curator Dr Campbell Price returns with more weekly videos exploring objects from the Egyptology collection of the Manchester Museum. You can watch live on Periscope, or catch up on the website.
  • #MysteryObjectMonday – Use Twitter to discover a wealth of weird and wonderful artefacts from museums and collections around the world.
  • Ancient City Travel Guide: Persepolis, 500 BC – Take a trip back to ancient Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Achaemenid empire, in this post on the British Museum’s blog.

Family fun

Find a selection of online games, downloadable colouring sheets, craft instructions, apps, and more, or choose from a variety of TV shows, films, and mini-series. Whether you are interested in constructing a Pictish chariot, building your own virtual museum, or finding out more about the art of ancient Iran, you’re sure to find something for the whole family below.

  • Acropolis Museum Kids – Discover a selection of ancient Greek-themed games, videos, and activities challenge your memory or join an archaeological space mission trying to save the memory of ancient monuments.
  • Cultural Crosswords – Try your hand at online crosswords whose clues are related to culture, art, and history in this Google Arts & Culture experiment.
  • Birmingham Museums and Gallery for Kids – Choose from a variety of games and activities relating to different historical periods, from ancient Egypt to the Second World War
  • How to Cook a Medieval Feast – Create a medieval feast at home with these 11 recipes from the Middle Ages, ranging from mixed pickles and mushroom pasties to lamb stew and cream custard tart.
  • History in Your Hands – Find more instructions and ideas for historical activities from the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, including pottery decoration, arrowhead keychains, and underwater archaeology.
  • Historic Environment Scotland: Medieval Fun for Families – Get the whole family to try out activities linked to a range of medieval jobs, from castle-building stonemasons and jousting knights to monks and nuns.
  • The Dig – Enjoy this new film based on the novel by John Preston, which tells a reimagined version of the story of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo. Available now on Netflix.
  • Lucy Worsley’s Royal Palace Secrets – Go behind the doors of three of England’s royal palaces to find out how each building influenced the monarchy and changed the course of British history.
  • Egypt’s Great Mummies: Unwrapped – Join Bettany Hughes as she explores the stories contained in ten of Egypt’s most intriguing mummies.
  • African Renaissance: When Art Meets Power – Explore the histories of Ethiopia, Senegal, and Kenya in this three-part documentary series which examines the art, music, and culture of these countries on their own terms.
  • Walking Hadrian’s Wall with Robson Green – Travel the length of Hadrian’s Wall through a series in which Robson Green makes the 84-mile journey from Wallsend on the east coast of England to Bowness in the west.
  • Victorian Sensations – Discover the science and technology that transformed society in the 1890s and find out more about this decade of rapid change.

You might be interested in

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Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard

Excavating the CA archive: Surrey

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Latest news from our sister site,

In the largest study of north-western Arabia’s mustatil to date, archaeologists have recorded more than 1,000 of the enigmatic rectangular structures across 200,000km2 of land, shedding light on one of the oldest widespread monument-building traditions. These prehistoric structures take their name from the Arabic word for ‘rectangle’, and while they were first recorded in the 1970s, the recent survey, carried out by a team led by Hugh Thomas from the University of Western Australia and funded by the Royal Commission for AlUla, found there were nearly twice as many mustatil as previously thought. As well as documenting sites from the

This dramatic work has been acquired by the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it is now on view. Artemisia trained with her father Orazio Gentileschi, and her Lucretia joins two of his works in the Getty collection.

A 38cm-long bronze finger has rejoined the hand of Constantine the Great in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The ancient digit, once part of a 12m-high statue of Constantine of which several sizeable fragments survive, was acquired by the Louvre from the Italian collector Giampietro Campana in 1863 but, in 1913, was catalogued as a Roman toe. Research in 2018 identified that this was not a toe, but an index finger, and that its size would be a good fit for a 12m-tall emperor. In preparation for the 2018 exhibition A Dream of Italy: the collection of the Marquis Campana,

Medieval Norse Trappers On Baffin Island

Icelandic sagas and a single archaeological site in Newfoundland document a Viking Period presence of Norse people in the Americas. Now National Geographic's November issue has a piece (here and here) on new work in the field, lab and museum collections by Dr. Patricia Sutherland. It deals with a group of additional and somewhat later sites that may expand that evidence. Dr. Sutherland, of the Memorial University in Newfoundland, kindly answered some questions of mine via e-mail.

The best site is near Cape Tanfield on the south coast of Baffin Island. Dr. Sutherland emphasises the following evidence as suggesting the presence of people with life-ways set apart from the local Inuit-speaking Dorset culture.

  • Cordage spun from of hare and fox fur, not the locally common sinew.
  • Textile woven from such animal-fur cordage.
  • Whetstones with traces of iron and copper alloy on them.
  • Wooden tally sticks.
  • Remains of Old World rats.
  • Wooden building details with nail holes.
  • Cut building stone.
  • Foundations of unusually large and sturdy stone-and-turf buildings.

Note that while NatGeo's writer calls the Tanfield settlers "Vikings", Dr. Sutherland wisely calls them "Norse". The sites are post-Viking Period, and even during the Viking Period, most people were never Vikings. That was a part-time men-only occupation, not an ethnicity.

To me, the absence of woollen textiles among the finds suggests that these sites were the permanent homes of Norse-speaking colonists, not temporary hunting stations in continual contact with the colonies on Greenland or Iceland. But the sites also have typical Dorset culture phases, and there is no reason to believe that the two groups avoided each others' company.

As for the possibility of sourcing the spun cordage using stable isotopes, she says,

Dr. Sutherland describes the situation for radiocarbon dating as rather tricky due to factors ranging from destructive earlier fieldwork to the marine reservoir effect. But she appears quite certain that all the foreign influences are High Medieval and centuries later than the one Viking Period site mentioned above – Jellyfish Bay, L'Anse aux meduses, L'Anse aux Meadows.

So what we have here is High Medieval Christian Norse-speakers gone native in Arctic north-east Canada. Interesting stuff! But as so often – don't believe the headlines.

Update same evening: Dr. Sutherland wrote me some corrections and clarifications, and she also kindly gave me permission to put a 2009 paper of hers on-line for anyone who wants to delve deeper into her work.

Update 7 November: Serendipitously, today I found an article in Populär Arkeologi 2004 about this very matter, animal fur cordage and all. So it's not really news. The news is that NatGeo has featured it.

Localizado em Calçoene, no interior do Amapá, encontra-se o "Stonehenge brasileiro" , ou "Stonehenge do Brasil", como é chamado. A local tem o nome de Parque Arqueológico do Solstício, onde abriga o monumento Observatório Astronômico de Calçoene.

Todo mundo conhece o famoso Stonehenge localizado no Reino Unido, certo? Mas o que pouquíssimos brasileiros sabem é que existe um monumento comparável aquele do sul da Inglaterra, mas a diferença é que ele se encontra aqui mesmo, em nosso país.

A estrutura é circular, feita por blocos de granito de aproximadamente 30 metros de diâmetro, e era o local de cerimônias indígenas há cerca de 1.100 anos. Segundo os pesquisadores, essas cerimônias aconteciam entre os dias 21 e 22, durante o solstício, quando a configuração das pedras permitem observar o percurso do Sol. Além disso, o local era usado para enterrar grandes personalidades da tribo. Os arqueólogos também encontraram artefatos como vasos, pratos e tigelas de cerâmicas no local.

As técnicas utilizadas na construção do "Stonhenge do Brasil" são desconhecidas, assim como aquelas utilizadas na construção de outros monumentos parecidos, espalhados ao redor do mundo.

As primeiras observações arqueológicas no Stonehenge brasileiro foram feitas no fim do século 19, mas o sítio acabou ficando esquecido com o tempo. Somente em 2005 que ele começou a ser explorado novamente, e hoje, o órgão responsável pela preservação do local é o IEPA (instituto de Pesquisas Científicas e Tecnológicas do estado do Amapá).

Mas infelizmente, o fato mais curioso de todos não é nem a construção em si, mas sim o fato que pouquíssimas pessoas sabem sobre a existência desse monumento. Futuramente o governo deseja transformar o local em um Parque Arqueológico aberto para visitação.

Why Christmas is held on 25th December

According to popular tradition, Christmas is celebrated on 25th December to honour the birth of Jesus. However, no records exist in the Bible or elsewhere to suggest that Jesus was actually born on this date, which raises the important question – why is Christmas celebrated on 25th December? In fact, the selection of this date has its root in both Persian and pagan traditions.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia admits "there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth" (Catholic Encyclopaedia). There are, however, a number of reasons to suggest that Jesus was probably not born in December. Firstly, Luke 2:8 states that on the night of Jesus' birth "there were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks." Many scholars agree that this would have been unlikely in December, as shepherds would have been keeping their flock under cover during the cold winter months.

Some scholars have stated that shepherds would not watch their flock overnight in December, but would keep them under cover. ‘The Good Shepherd’ from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 CE). (Wikimedia Commons)

Secondly, it is written in the Bible that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4). However, such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition.

Pagan celebrations

Since it appears unlikely that Jesus was born on 25th December, it raises the logical question of why Christmas is celebrated on this date. The answer points back to the Romans' pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Two celebrations in particular took place around December 25 - the Saturnalia, and the birthday of the Sun God, Mithra (Catholic Encyclopedia). The Saturnalia festival began on 17th December and later expanded with festivities through to the 25th December. It paid tribute to Saturn, the agricultural God of Sowing and Husbandry, and was associated with the renewal of light and the coming of the new year. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice in the Temple of Saturn, a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere

The pagan celebration of Saturnalia

Followers of the cult of Mithras, which became popular among the military in the Roman Empire from the 1st to 4th centuries AD, are believed to have celebrated his birthday on 25th December, which was the most holy day of the year for many Romans. The worship of the Sun God, Mithra (proto-Indo-Iranian ‘Mitra’), has its origin in Persia, from around the 6th century BC, and was later adapted into Greek as ‘Mithras’. The most popular hypothesis is that Roman soldiers encountered this religion during military excursions to Persia.

While it is widely accepted that the Mithraic New Year and the birthday of Mithras was on 25 December and was celebrated on this day as part of the Roman Natalis Invicti festival, others have argued that the Natalis Invicti was a general festival of the sun, and was not specific to the Mysteries of Mithras. Nevertheless, it is clear that 25 December was an important day for the Romans and revolved around a celebration of the sun.

Mithra divinity statue in Vatican library, old illustration. By unidentified author, published on Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1840. Source: BigStockPhoto

When King Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he had quite a challenge ahead of him with regard to converting an empire full of pagans. It was therefore decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a date that was already sacred according to pagan traditions. So as a compromise with paganism and in an attempt to give the pagan holidays Christian significance, it was simply decided that the birthday of the Sun God would also be the birthday of the Son of God. The Catholic Encyclopaedia quotes an early Christian with saying, "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born. Christ should be born".

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