Friday, December 04, 2009

Re-creation and the Olympic torch -- from The Big Picture

Top: Priestesses at Olympia light the torch.
Then: Vikings keep it burning at L'Anse aux Meadows.

Too cool.

More here.
Or click on the pics.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

A big Viking hoard may rewrite the history books

This post from the Independent (UK) has two very interesting points. First, the discovery is being called the "largest and most important" Viking hoard found in Britain since 1840, which is a long time. Second, responsible metal detectorists found and properly handled the discovery. Hooray!

As for rewriting the history books:
Some of the coins shed new light on the period – parts of Britain such as Staffordshire and Yorkshire were already believed lost by the Vikings and under Anglo-Saxon dominion, yet there are coins which show the Vikings were still creating their own currency in these regions. One such coin, with the word "Rorivacastr" on it, is believed to have originated from Roceter, in 10th-century Staffordshire, on the border of Viking and Anglo Saxon control.

Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins and Viking expert at the British Museum, said this particular coin revealed that the region may still have been under Viking control, despite Anglo Saxon spin that it was under their rule. He added that it was a truly remarkable find, with a vast array of coins from as far afield as Scandinavia, continental Europe, Tashkent and Afghanistan.

"There's been nothing like it for over 150 years. The size and range of material gives us an insight into the political history, the cultural diversity of the Viking world and the range of cultural and economic contact at that time," he said. Priceless lessons in history would further be revealed in four years time after careful study, he added.

Image: a small part of the hoard.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foteviken open air Viking Museum

Randy and Ann Asplund have been visiting southern Sweden, including this open air museum in Foteviken. They took some great pictures!

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques, by William R. Short

A personal recommendation by Jeff Sypeck at Quid Plura. I haven't heard any reaction from re-creators or re-enactors yet.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Feeling insecure? Blame the Vikings!

Ever wonder how historical images and reputations get propagated, reworked, and repropagated?

Magistra et Mater,
a real medieval historian, was struck by a UK press denunciation of supposed efforts to supposedly minimize Viking rape and pillage. She asked:

I want instead to ask another question: why is it so necessary to modern Britain that the Vikings were violent? This can’t simply just be put down to right-wing prejudices about immigration (although this crops up in the Daily Mail): Simon Schama had pretty much the same attitude to Vikings in his History of Britain (BTW, the best takedown of Schama’s TV history style I’ve yet seen is here).

There is a very interesting contrast here with an earlier British attitude. If you look at some of the classic popular histories from the first half of the twentieth century, such as Our Island Story or 1066 and All That, then the Danes (not yet the Vikings) are simply one among many violent attackers of early Britain. There is nothing that particularly distinguishes their violence from that of Romans, Saxons or Normans. The same attitude is still shown by Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories. But generally in Britain, it is now the Vikings alone whose violent reputation must be defended or revised: no-one outside history facilities really cares how violent the Saxons were or whether Hengist was coarser than Horsa. Why does Viking violence now spark the imagination in a way it didn’t 100 years ago? There’s been the discovery and display of much more material culture (as in Jorvik), but we’ve got more Saxon stuff as well.

It’s also not a reflection of modern politics in the normal sense: there are no significant anti-Scandinavian prejudices here. If you’re going to demonise the EU via the past, then Normans as proto-French and Saxons as proto-Germans are a better bet. But if you look at which aspects of the Vikings are remembered, you get the clue. It’s not Canute/Cnut or even the Danelaw which strike the modern imagination, and King Alfred is surprisingly absent. It’s the raids, from Lindisfarne in 793 onwards. What this country remembers about the Vikings is the sudden alarm of longboats appearing at a ‘peaceful settlement’ (this was the main trope in Simon Schama). It’s not the threat of invasion and conquest (Britain being ‘overrun with fire and the sword’) that sends a thrill of terror up British spines now. It’s the small-scale, unprovoked, seemingly random and meaningless violence that does that: the Vikings as the first terrorists.

So there you have it, cherry-picking of useful images once again...

Re-enactors at the Dublin Viking Festival.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Prehistoric burial mounds in southern Sweden

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Need something to read?

Been abandoned by your regular bloggers?

I've saved up two posts I liked just for this occasion.

The first is Karl Steel posting his final exam for an undergraduate course in medieval romance literature. I am fascinated by the format and wonder if I should revisit what I habitually do. My students, past and present, are welcome to chime in on this issue.

Then there is a "material culture" contribution from Darrell Markewitz on "How widespread were blacksmithing skills in the Viking Age?" Lots of fun in the grubby details.

Image: "Viking Smith," a photo by Wolfgang Arnold.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark

Darrell Markewitz, ironmonger and Iron Age re-enactor extraordinaire, made a research trip to Denmark in Spring 2008. Now he has packaged hundreds of pictures of sites, museums, and artifacts on a jewelcased DVD, which also includes his extensive commentaries. It is available here now!

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Viking-era celebrations might have looked like this

But this is actually the 2008 Up Helly Aa celebration in Shetland, an annual celebration vikingized in 1878.

This is one picture from installment one of the Big Picture's "best of 2008" collection. Here is an astonishing Aussie contribution that has nothing to do with war or natural disaster.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Viking shield discovered in Denmark

Reenactors and re-creationists of all sorts will be happy to hear this news: a Viking era shield found in Denmark, reported here from Yahoo news.

It will be some time before such data as original weight and construction will be available. The reason the shield is still around, long after all the others have been beaten to flinders, is that it was found waterlogged in wet soil. Much effort will have to be put into removing and preserving it.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Viking-era glass bead making

Here is a detailed discussion of one of the activities at the SCA event at my property this past weekend.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The problems of really serious historical reenactment

Darrell Markewitz was involved in the design of the Viking living history site at L'Anse aux Meadows, and now he hears news that they are trying some ambitious projects there. I am sure he is intrigued, but the most interesting thing about this blog post is his fear that the site is tackling more than it can handle.

Darrell will be on my property on Labor Day weekend taking part in an SCA re-creation event. Last I heard there will be on-site glass bead making. If you come, come dressed in medieval fashion, as best you can do.

Image: see the post.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sea Stallion from Glendalough

Friday, April 25, 2008

More on Viking ship burial

Not so long ago, the bodies of two women were found buried at the famous Oseberg ship burial site. Here's the most recent news out of Norway.

Thanks to Dave for this tip.

Image: the discovery of the Oseberg ship in 1904. That guy on the left looks like he's about to start the Russian Revolution.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Viking burials in the news

I'd guess many of my readers have already heard about this, but I have to remark on the fact that Viking burials made the international news twice on September 10th. When was the last time that happened.

Students in Medieval England may be interested in the ship found under a pub car park (or a pub patio according to other accounts) in Merseyside in NW England. How it got there is still uncertain; so far archaeologists don't think it was put there as part of a funeral rite, as in some other cases. But the find is exciting anyway, because the ship is buried in bacteria-free blue clay and the wooden hull is well preserved. An interesting twist on the story is that is the second time this ship's been found. Back in the 30s there was digging going on in the pub basement and the workers discovered the ship. Their boss kept the find a secret to keep the archaeologists from getting in his way. It was the son of that builder who recently let the cat out of the bag.

You'll be hearing more about this over the next few years as the slow processes of investigation and preservation play out. I wonder how this will affect business at the Railway Inn?

The second burial is not a new one. In fact the story's about the exhumation of two women's bodies from the famous Oseberg ship in Norway. These bodies were found a long time ago (19th century) and reburied in an aluminum casket in 1948 to wait for future forensic technology. Now we are in the era of CSI, and scientists are seeing what they can learn. One point of particular interest is whether the older and younger women buried there were related. Some speculate that the younger woman may have been a slave killed to accompany her mistress to the other side. Such things are documented from pagan Viking times.

Image: The Gokstad ship as restored in Oslo.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Archaeology" in my backyard

Martin Rundqvist of Aardvarchaeology has challenged bloggers with appropriate interests to take and post pictures of their nearest archaeological site.

I'm not sure this qualifies but I think someone, somewhere, maybe New Mexico, maybe Yakutia, will be interested in this.

Every Labour Day long weekend for over a decade I've had a crowd of people camping in my back field for an event under the auspices of the Society for Creative Anachronism. A lot of the usual SCA things happen there, but because we've got a lot of space, a fair amount of time (long weekend) and something like a guarantee that the site will be available for a number of years, some more than usually ambitious and serious projects have been launched.

The archaeological connection is illustrated by the first two pictures. Darrell Markewitz, historical re-creationist, metalworker, and independent scholar, is fascinated by the process of making metals, especially the documented-only-by-archaeology methods used by the Vikings and other northern Europeans in the "Dark Ages" (you know, before they turned on the lights). Darrell knows the L'Anse aux Meadows site in Newfoundland well, and has for a long time been thinking about the smelting of iron that apparently took place at this small, temporary settlement. When he first camped here lo these many years ago, he dug a basement or "booth" like the one found at the real site, to see what the postulate metal workshop may have been like. Then, last year, with a host of collaborators, some long-term and dedicated, plus many more who willing to do a bit of hard labor for a laugh, he made a great big lump of decent-quality iron using no electricity to stoke the fire, just human muscle power and a double bellows he'd designed himself.

(Any errors in this summary are mine.)

So here is the booth or depression where the work was done. Real booths have superstructures, tents or huts.

Here's a closer shot showing the clay furnace after use (picture from today, in fact), propped up by some stones. The hole on the front is where the bellows was inserted.

A couple of other pieces of "above ground archaeology" on the same site. A monument to the local ravens, carved by a gentleman named "Foote," some years back, and painted by me last year.
And here's the biggest project, though it remains unfinished, a "meadhall" made of pieces from an old barn, recreating roughly imported English vernacular wood architecture as found at Jamestown, Va.
I hope Martin agrees that this is an appropriate entry for the "archaeological site nearest you."
Can't get much nearer, and if it's not old enough, only time can help that.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Vikings are back

Not the movie, but a crew who have reconstructed a longship and intend to sail it from Denmark to Ireland. The ship is called the Sea Stallion and it will be launched tomorrow. The Sea Stallion has an attractive website which you can use, among other things, for following its progress.

Question: Vikings could be either merchants or pirates, and usually both. This applies to just about every sailor of ancient or medieval times. Very little "Law of the Sea" back then. Is there a good book about this?

Image: The Sea Stallion's first launching, 2004.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Vikings (1958)

I just re-viewed this movie for the first time in a very long time. I first saw it when the major American networks started showing recent releases in prime time. I loved it then, but now I'm a medieval historian! Would it be a groaner or a joke?

Well, it's still a fun movie, and more. Though the plot and the characterizations are in the authentic Hollywood tradition, it's got many virtues rare in big budget semi-historical movies. The landscapes and the Viking ships, village, meadhall, equipment and clothing are either good or excellent. (The English stuff is more uneven, a mixture of the 9th and 14th centuries.) There are many scenes that are simply beautiful. (For instance: the preparation of the Viking ship burial.) Even the big battle is more believable than, say, the Battle of Helm's Deep or the recent assault on Troy.

All in all, a movie where the guy in charge really cared about doing it right. That guy was the star, Kirk Douglas.

Two other points: yet another medieval movie where the Bayeux Tapestry stands in for another period. (Others include Mel Gibson's version of Hamlet and El Cid, where noble ladies in Denmark and Castile embroider it in their spare time.) Will there ever be a feature film on the Norman Conquest?

Second, another movie where Tony Curtis wears short, short tunics.

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