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The Odinian Wanderer December 2012 The Odinian Wanderer

December 2012

In the Footsteps of Explorers ________________________________________________________________ 0

The Odinian Wanderer

December 2012

What is the Odinian Wanderer? Extremely thorough, yet easy to read, the Odinian Wanderer is a magazine for anyone who loves Vikings, travel, or the medieval world. The articles found within tell the travels, trials, and triumph of the Vikings, focusing on sights that you, the reader, can go see. Covering a variety of locations in both time and space, we guarantee that there is an article just for you. Just like the figure our magazine was named after, we are in a constant search for knowledge. From sailing with Swedes, to visiting the Vinlandians, we love it all. The real question is: Where do you want to go?

Who are the Wanderers? The Odinian Wanderer houses a number of talented, young writers who live, breath, and dream about Vikings and their travels. You will not find a more agog staff who wants to share their experiences with the Vikings.

Jennifer Clow Senior Stone Monument Editor Our resident rock lover, Jennifer focuses her writing on Viking monumental (and very pretty in her opinion) carved stones that litter the British Isles. Photo From:

Mercedes Hoelke Senior North Atlantic Editor Surveyor of all things cold, Mercedes mostly writes about the Vikings in the North Atlantic islands.

Patrick Jolicoeur Editor of the West Enjoying the out-of-the-way locations, Patrick will whisk you away with stories of grandeur about the westernmost Norse settlements.

Kim Kuffner Senior Archaeology Editor Lover of all dead things, Kim likes to examine the clues left behind by the Vikings and what they tell us about our favourite barbarian horde.

Hilary Wood-McDonnell Museum Editor Much like Indiana Jones, Hilary loves museums and the artifacts they hold. Be sure to read her Museum of the Month article to see what has caught her eye this issue.

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A side view of the real Gokstad Ship! This is how the Vikings travelled to the afterlife. Photo From:

December 2012




There and Back Again


Come explore Leif’s Eden and learn about the cause, function, and fate of Viking Vinland.

Uncover the monumental stone traditions in Viking Britain.

By Patrick Jolicoeur

By Jennifer Clow

Sailing to Valhalla


Revisit the tremendous Gokstad ship burial in utmost detail.


The Stones Remember

By Kim Kuffner

Museum of the Month

Exploring Mosefell Rediscover the oft-forgotten microcosm that is Mosefell, Iceland.


By Mercedes Hoelke

The Back Issue

Frolic alongside real fake Vikings in this interesting village of yore.

Come listen to a fiery debate about European discovery of North America.

By Hilary Wood-McDonnell

By Patrick Jolicoeur

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There and Back Again: Leif’s Eden and the Viking Voyages By Patrick Jolicoeur Ever wonder why the Vikings even came to North America? Join Patrick as he attempts to shed some light on the cause, function, and eventual fate of Vinland.

Leif Erikson Discovers Vinland (1893) – by Christian Krogh Photo From:

The Norse Voyages to North America almost 500 years before Columbus is one of the most interesting historical facts you could spurt out during a party. However, I feel that much of the cause and fate of Vinland, the Norse term for eastern North America, is generally shrouded in mystery. Why did these tremendous travelers decide to come to North America? Perhaps more importantly, why did they leave? Much of the non-archaeological information we know concerning Vinland is from literary sources (Langmoen 2005, p.1078). The

historical story of Vinland has two main portions, the Greenlanders’ Saga and Eirik’s Saga (Wallace 2003, p.209). While both tell a similar tale, there are a number of differences between the two texts (Wallace 2003, p.209). However, both sources mention that the discovery of Vinland was an accidental one. Traveling westward from their Greenland home, Leif Eriksson bumped into a large piece of land that we now call North America. Following this initial discovery, there were a number of other expeditions. Perhaps most important to our investigation, the sagas mention the main goal

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of the Vinlandian expeditions was for economic gain (Wallace 2003, p.209). In other words, the Norseman hoped to use Vinland as a source of food, lumber, and other goods for their more permanent home in Greenland. According to the sagas, Leif Eriksson named the land “Vinland” due to its abundance of wild grapes. What’s more, the description Leif gives of this newly found land is almost Edenic (Barnes 2011). As you will see, perhaps Vinland is an Eden in more ways than just one. For the most part, the archaeological evidence left behind by these intrepid Vikings tells a somewhat similar story. Unfortunately, the only major site that has definite evidence of Vikings in North America is L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. By analyzing the artifacts at the location, Wallace (2003) has determined that L’Anse aux Meadows was built for year round occupation for the Vinland Vikings, highly unusual given its geographical location. However, Wallace (2003) also notes that L’Anse aux Meadows was likely a gateway, or trading port.

A modern day Viking gazes upon his home at L’Anse aux Meadows. Photo From:

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The climate of northern Newfoundland does not match Leif Eriksson’s descriptions of a land teeming with wild grapes, grain, and snowless winters (Barnes 2011). In fact, none of those Edenic qualities are even possible in the Newfoundland climate. Interestingly, the researching archaeologists found evidence of butternut wood at the Newfoundland site (Wallace 2009, p.118). Initially, this may seem like a non-event, but Wallace (2009) states that butternut trees have never grown in Newfoundland. In fact, they predominantly grow in warmer climates. Thus the butternut wood indicates that the Vikings living at the site travelled much further south than simply L’Anse aux Meadows. Perhaps even more amazing was that butternut trees grow in the same climate as wild grapes (Wallace 2009). Maybe we can then assume that Leif’s Eden is real after all, and a place that the Vikings exploited heavily? Unfortunately, the archaeology of L’Anse aux Meadows argues a much different story. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Norse actually came into contact with the North American indigenous (McGhee 1984). It is important to understand that the majority of all the evidence is isolated Norse artifacts found at various indigenous sites in the north of Canada. As you would expect, pieces of smelted iron and a bronze balance are some of the examples of Norse-indigenous contact (McGhee 1984, p.17). Perhaps most interesting is an indigenous carved wooden figure thought to be depicting a person with European style clothing (McGhee 1984, p.17). This may vary on your interpretation of what counts as “European

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clothing” but it is an interesting find nevertheless.

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have many desirable resources except for lumber. Second, the areas that did contain grapes, grain, and other food sources were densely populated by competitive indigenous groups (Wallace 2003, p.233). Finally, according to the sagas, the presence of hostile non-European groups severely deterred the Vikings from colonizing further into Vinland. In simpler terms, the costs outweighed the benefits. In the end, Leif’s Eden was perhaps just as untouchable as Eden itself.

Illustration of a Thule figurine thought to be showing European clothing. Image From: McGhee 1984, p.16.

So if the Vikings of Vinland had such easy trade relations with the indigenous and an abundance of resources not found in Greenland, then why did they not stay for good? As it turns out, the short experiment that was Vinland, at least according to the archaeological material, finally ended for a number of reasons. First, large portions of what is considered Vinland did not

While their stay was but a moment in history, the Vikings in North America left behind a lasting legacy. While no single line of evidence shows us the answer, combining both the archaeological and historical sources, we can get a better picture of what the first European presence in North America looked like. Perhaps the most impressive feather in the Vikings’ metaphorical hat is that this type of voyage would not be successfully executed again until Columbus and his three ships set sail in 1492. •

A re-enactment of the Norse Landing at L’Anse aux Meadows Picture From:

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Sailing to Valhalla: Revisiting the Gokstad Ship Burial By: Kim Kuffner Explore the story behind the Gokstad ship burial - from sacrifices to skeletons, you'll not want to miss this month's archaeology site feature!

Side view of the Gokstad ship now housed in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo Photo from:

The ship is a trademark icon of the Vikings. A necessity for travel and trade, the ship was central to Viking life. Without sailing technology, what we know and love about the Vikings may not have even existed. But what happens when we find a ship out of water? By this, of course, I am talking about ship burials. As Viking enthusiasts, as it is presumed you are, you probably know of at least one other ship burial that took place during the course of the Viking Age. The most well-known is the famous Oseberg ship burial in Norway. However, there was another ship burial, excavated even before

the discovery of Oseberg. This burial, of course, is the Gokstad ship burial. The site of the Gokstad ship burial is located on the Gokstad farm in Sandar, Vestfold on the western side of the Fiord of Oslo (Bonde & Christensen, 1993, p.575; Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d). Excavated in 1880 by Nicolay Nicolsayson, the Gokstad ship was very well preserved and has been dated to the late ninth or early tenth century by dendrochronological dating techniques (Bonde & Christensen, 1993, p.582). The ship is constructed of oak, is 24 meters long by approximately 5 meters wide at its broadest, and had sixteen pairs of oars

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making it one of the largest, most seaworthy ships of the Viking Age (Bonde & Christensen, 1993, p.577; Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d.). It is thought that the ship could have reached a speed of approximately 12 knots (Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d.). Much of the ships original contents had been looted or destroyed, probably in the late Viking Age shortly after burial (Bill & Daly, 2012, pp. 816-18). The large mound in which the ship was found is called the "King's Mound" because it was said that a king had been buried there (Nicolayson, 1882, p.2). These stories led the sons that lived on the farm which contained the mound to begin to dig into the it (Nicholayson, 1882, p.2). While digging, signs of worked wood became apparent; this led to the full excavation of the site (Nicholayson. 1882, p.3).

The Gokstad ship during excavations in 1880 Photo from:

Now, for the good stuff; what was in the grave? The short answer: sentiments, sacrifices and a skeleton. The long answer is

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a slightly more complex one. Among the smaller finds within this burial are high quality harness and bridal mounts, game pieces, fragments of textiles weaved from gold thread, a bronze ornament of a horseman (Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d.; Shenk, 2002, p.44). Other, larger finds include ornamented animal head bedposts, fragments of a sledge, and three intentionally damaged smaller boats (Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d.; Shenk, 2002, p.44). The skeleton, which was badly damaged, has been identified as a fifty to sixty year old man of robust stature, possibly a chieftain or king (Holk, 2009; Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d.; Shenk, 2002, p.44). Some have connected him to Olaf Geirstaรฐaรกlfr, an early king of Norway; this, however, has been debated due to issues with dating (Shenk, 2002, p.44). The most interesting feature of this burial however, are the remains of twelve horses, six dogs, and a peacock; the horses and dogs were placed outside of the ship and the peacock was found inside (Shenk, 2002, p.44). Due to the blows evident on the front of the skulls, it appears that the horses in this burial, which still have some hair and skin attached, were sacrificed (Shenk, 2002, p.44). The inclusion of a peacock, which would have had to be imported into Norway, furthers the assumption that this burial was for a man of high status (Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d.).

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What does it all mean? It has been suggested that ship burials, like Gokstad, represent "religious, or magical-religious symbols that relate to memory" (Kobyliński, 1995, p.12). With this in mind, it can be suggested that perhaps the Gokstad ship, complete with its material wealth and the small boat and animal sacrifices, was perhaps a ship meant to carry the dead man into the afterlife (Shenk, 2002, p.45; Kobyliński, 1995, p.15). Or, perhaps, the burial was meant simply to represent the status and wealth the individual had in life. Although we can never know for certain, these are interesting theories to consider. •

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language, located in Oslo, Norway, is a must see stop on any Viking-lover's travels. Open the majority of the year, this museum houses three Viking ships from Gokstad, Oseberg, and Tune, as well as displaying some of the finds from within these ships. For more information about this museum, including entrance fees, visit their website: dex_eng.html, or to contact directly: Contact: Telephone:(+47)22135280 Fax:(+47)22135281 E-mail:

Did you know…?

View of the Gokstad ship from the front Photo from:

The Viking Ship Museum The Viking Ship Museum, or Vikingskipshuset if you are keen on the local

There have been several reconstructions of the Gokstad ship? One notable example, the Viking, was constructed in 1892 in Sandefjord, Norway for the purposes of participating in the celebrations surrounding Columbus' 400th anniversary of reaching North America (ABC, 2003). The ship sailed from Norway to Newfoundland in 1893, and eventually to the World Fair in Chicago; it did not receive much attention at the Columbus themed fair due to the fact that mention was made of the fact that Leif Ericsson had actually reached America first (ABC, 2003). A second reconstruction, the Viking ship Gaia, was completed in 1990 in the village of Bjørkedalen on the west coast of Norway (Gaia, n.d. a). In 1991, Gaia sailed to North America from Norway to "celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Liev Erikssons voyage to Vinland" (Gaia, n.d. a). These types of reconstructions show the seaworthiness of the Gokstad ship; not bad for tenth century ship design!

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Museum of the Month: A Very Viking Village By Hilary Wood-McDonnell 25 kilometres south of Malmo, Sweden lies the gateway to another time. Step through this gateway and you enter the year 1134 AD. “In the Viking Reserve of Foteviken the Viking Age always applies. The present does not exist; it is the year of our Lord 1134” (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.).

Byalaget is a maritime town so boating is an important part of daily life. Photo From:

The Fotevikens Museum is a reconstructed Viking village inhabited year round by Viking enthusiasts and re-enactors. It was originally constructed in the 1990’s as an open-air museum displaying the essence of life in a maritime Viking trade town around 1134 AD (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). In 2001 it was populated with re-enactors and grew into a Viking community called Byalaget. There are at least 23 permanent structures on the site, each lovingly

reconstructed based on archaeological and historical evidence (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.) making the site not only a museum but also a giant, living, experimental archaeology project. Outside the earthen defensive boundary of the town proper are several buildings including those for housing weavers, visitors on pilgrimage, the blacksmith, and the avian residents. There is also space for

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temporary structures, such as tents for volunteers (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). Within the defensive earthworks a large street runs parallel to the nearby coast. Along this Commonage Street is the smokehouse for smoking fish and meat, the archer’s house, and the Norseman’s house. Tingholl Lane runs off Commonage Street and is home to the House of Sven the Juror, Peter the Scribe, and the Tingholl: the great meeting hall of the village. Another street leading off of Commonage Street is home to Per the Jarl, and the State Demense (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). The buildings on the site are constructed using many different techniques based on archaeological and historical evidence and are (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). This allows the visitor to see and experience the many different living and working quarters of the Viking world. From the pit house construction of the weavers hut to the South-Geatish house/barn style that the State Demense is constructed in good old wattle and daub (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). Visitors can explore and immerse

The interior of a Viking home. Photo From: nloadItem&g2_itemId=3494&g2_serialNumber=2

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themselves in Viking structures when “home” was one room with no electric lights and no big screen TVs. Nearly every moment of life in Foteviken is an exercise in experimental archaeology. The inhabitants of the village live as much like traditional Vikings as possible. These people are not playing or pretending but are being Vikings. Many of the villagers live in Byalaget year round with their families and their own set of laws, and rules for visitors (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). Nearly every moment of life in Foteviken is an exercise in experimental archaeology. From making clothes to cooking lunch, all these tasks are done in the traditional Viking way and any improvements the villagers may make are improvements the original Vikings may have thought of too. Therefore we are able to learn about Viking life not just through texts and archaeology but also through the Viking lives of the inhabitants of Byalaget. Rigid Viking age accuracy is maintained throughout the day but slightly relaxed once the village is closed to the public. Tooth brushing and modern bathing are permitted and any modern cooking required is restricted to a nearby modern building. Modern conveniences are also allowed for sleeping but all traces of modernity must be hidden during opening hours (Foteviken Museum, n.d.). Each summer several special events take place at the village including Viking Week in June. During Viking week a Viking market takes place attended by hundreds of reenactors and thousands of visitors (Halewood & Hannam, 2006, p. 20). Viking week also includes a reenactment of the Battle of Foteviken. Villagers go on sailing

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journeys to other markets in local Cog ships during the summer and in the off-season talks and courses are held at the museum (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). Artisans create goods for sale and trade at the museum and during the summer markets (Halewood & Hannam, 2001, p. 572) and expert crafters are invited to stay in the village to experiment with their craft and bring new techniques to Byalaget. These crafters have included a sewed boat builder and Erik the Red, a rune stone carver who erected a beautiful carved stone in 1997 commemorating the battle of Foteviken, fought in 1134. (Petersson, 2009, p.74). Visitors are welcome to wander the village on self-guided tours or to participate in 30 minute guided tours if in larger bus tour groups. Entrance fees are reasonable ranging from 30 SEK (3.5 Euros) for children aged 6-15 up to 200SEK (23 Euros) for families of four (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). The Handelsboden shop serves as both a museum shop selling replicas and souvenirs, local goods and books, and a café serving lunch and coffee to hungry visitors. Credit cards are not currently accepted at the museum so remember to bring cash or goods for barter. The administration building also houses Höllviken Art Gallery and Skåne Craft Institute, which includes a forge and workshops (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). The more enthusiastic Viking fanatic can volunteer to live in or just outside of the village and gradually become an integral member of the community of Byalaget (Fotevikens, n.d.). One must become a member of SVEG and apply to live in

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Byalaget. Upon arrival in the village volunteers are placed with a Viking family as a thrall and taught how to be a Viking in Byalaget. Once the Viking family thinks a thrall is ready, he or she will be promoted to bryte status allowing them to begin journeyman training in a trade and giving more status than a thrall but still less than a freeman or freewoman. Eventually a bryte may apply to become a freeman or freewoman with full, high-ranking membership in the community.

Interactive learning for the whole family Photo From: loadItem&g2_itemId=3438&g2_serialNumber=2

After exploring the Foteviken museum why not take a quick jaunt up to Malmö to see the Cog ships? The Malmö Cog ships are another experimental project Foteviken has contributed to and continues to support and participate in (Fotevikens Museum, n.d.). Foteviken displays the life of a coastal, sea trading Viking and any visit to that museum will be wonderfully complemented by a trip

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to see the ships that traded with villages just like Foteviken in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The ships were reconstructed based on two wrecks, one discovered 30 km from Malmö and the other in a Dutch city called Almere, along with textual evidence and a bit of experimentation (Koggmuseet, n.d.). For a

nominal fee you can tour the docked ships or take a sailing tour to really experience the marine element of Viking and Medieval life. Like Foteviken, the Malmö Cog ships have a volunteer program for those who want a more in depth experience (Koggmuseet, n.d.). •

Fotevikens Museum Museivägen 24 S-236 91 Höllviken Reception: +46 (0) 40 330 800 Fax: +46 (0) 40 330 819 E-post:

Volunteers Camp during the summer Photo From:

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The Stones Remember: Monumental Stone Traditions in Viking Britain by Jennifer Clow Planning a trip to the British Isles? Be sure to check out these stones! If you are planning a trip to the British Isles, and you wish to explore the fascinating world of Viking monumental stone structures, there a two very unique traditions of monumental stonework that you should be sure to include on your “Must See” list: the Manx Crosses on the Isle of Man, and the Hogback Stones of York and Northern Great Britain. A green, picturesque island nestled between Scotland, Northern England, Wales, and Ireland, The Isle of Man would have been a convenient mooring location for Viking boats and longships travelling in the Irish Sea. The Norse travellers would have found an island with a rich ecclesiastical history. As Viking settlements on the Isle of Man were established, a new monumental stone tradition began to emerge. The Manx Runestone tradition appears to have arisen as a hybridization of two existing memorial stone styles from two different cultures: the Celtic high cross tradition, and the Norse memorial runestone tradition (Wilson 2008). Intricate and stylized Celtic high crosses were popular in early medieval Ireland and Britain, and it is possible that these designs made a deep and lasting impression on the hearts of the Viking raiders and settlers who travelled through the Irish Sea. One of the most interesting examples of stonework among the Manx runestones is the

monument known as Thorwald’s Cross, currently located in Andreas Church on the Isle of Man. Thorwald’s Cross is a stone slab featuring a large cross inscribed in the center, and depicts images from Old Norse religion and from Christianity on either side of the cross. On the Norse side of the cross, Odin is shown being swallowed by the wolf Fenris. Odin points his spear, Gungner, towards the wolf, and one of Odin’s ravens (either Huginn or Muninn) is near Odin’s shoulder. On the Christian side of the cross, a man (possibly Jesus) is shown holding a cross in one hand and a book in the other. He is stepping on snakes, possibly to depict Christianity triumphing over paganism. A fish, which is often used to symbolically represent Christianity, is shown near the human figure. There is a Norse runic inscription that reads, “Thorwald raised this cross” (Vannin 2010).

Fragments of Thorwald’s Cross, from the Isle of Man Picture From:;185A,_Andreas.jpg

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In the example of Thorwald’s Cross, and in other Viking monumental stones on the Isle of Man, we can see the effects of two cultures that were influencing and shaping each other. The one result of this British and Norse contact and coexistence is a monumental stone art style that is new to this location. However, if you’re in the British Isles and you’re looking for a truly unique style of freestanding monumental stonework, look no further than the Hogback Stones. The Hogback stone tradition originated quite suddenly in the Viking settlement at York around 920 A.D. and from there the style spread to other areas of northern England, Scotland, and even as far as Ireland (Lang 1971, 155-156). These monuments take the appearance of an oblong ridge, and are often decorated with carvings that resemble roof shingles. This unusual shape is supposedly modeled after a Scandinavian longhouse style that was popular in the Viking Age, and the monuments are possibly meant to represent houses for the dead. The ends Hogback monuments are often decorated with symbols, and with images of animals such as bears or horses (Lang 1972). Some prominent examples of the Hogback monument style can be found in Govan, Scotland and five of the remaining Hogback stones of Govan are now located in the Govan Old Parish Church. Local conservation efforts have sparked public interest in these unique memorial stones from the Viking Age, and there are regular walking tours and educational events associated with them (The Govan Stones,

Cast of a Hogback monument in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow Picture From:,_Kelvingrov e_Museum,_Glasgow_-_DSC06243.JPG

Long after the Vikings who settled and died in the British Isles have gone, these impressive stone monuments remain. What did these memorial stones say about the men and women they were commissioned for? Were the Vikings on the Isle of Man the adopting local stonework styles in an attempt to assimilate with the local population, or were they adding their own little pieces of Norse “flair” to their elaborate crosses in order to stand out and proclaim their Scandinavian identity? Why did the Hogback stone tradition develop so uniquely and so suddenly in York, and why did it spread? Were the Vikings homesick for the longhouses of their homeland? If only we could ask the Vikings! Whether the Vikings were evoking cultural ties of their ancestral country, or forming new connections to the local populations in a new and strange land, the Vikings forever changed the visual landscape of the British Isles with their innovative take on monumental stonework. •

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December 2012

Exploring Mosefell: Archaeology of the Hrísbrú Farmstead in Iceland By Mercedes Hoelke “. . . when he’d come West as far as Breidafjord, he threw his highseat pillars overboard. They had an image of Thor carved on them. Thorolf declared that Thor would come ashore where he wanted Thorolf to make his home.” (Chapter 8, p. 45 from the ‘Landnámabók’ Saga in Wellendorf 2010, p. 6).

The Mosefell Valley – view from Mt. Esja Photo From:

Iceland. The very name probably brings to mind images of a billowing volcano or pristine snow covered valleys. Or Björk. For anyone with an interest in Viking-Age history however, this Northern Island holds particular interest. Free from heavy tourism and with a relatively untouched landscape, the Mosefell Valley in Western Iceland deserves special consideration for the modern day Viking explorer. Situated just outside of Reykjavik in the Southwestern part of Iceland, this remarkable valley contains

a web of archaeological findings that date back to Iceland’s settlement in the 9th century. Over the last decade, the Mosefell Archaeology project, in collaboration with the National Museum of Iceland, has involved multidisciplinary efforts to uncover ‘Hrísbrú’, a high-status farmstead that includes the remains of a pagan cremation site, a cemetery, and a traditional Viking longhouse (Byock et al. 2005, p. 196).

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Map of Iceland Photo taken from

The Icelandic sagas, written in the 12th and 13th centuries by Christian historians, provide insight into the Viking-settlement of the region and its subsequent Christianization. While the historical validity of these tales is intertwined with mythology and narrative, archaeologists have been able to corroborate site findings with many of the stories contained in the sagas. It is estimated that around 50,000 people from the British Isles and Scandinavia were part of this first wave of settlement in the 9th century (Hoof and Dijken 2007, p. 1023). Ingolf Arnarsson is named as the first Norseman on the island, who went on to settle in Reykjavik in the 870’s, not far from the Mosefell Valley (Winroth 2012, p. 54). Quite understandably, most settlement seems to have concentrated

around the coastal and valley regions; volcanoes, glaciers, a rolling hills have made it difficult for wide-spread settlement, which we can see even today (Hoof and Dijken 2007 p. 1023). In Saga references to the Mosefell region, there are descriptions of the valley and to the ‘Leivvogur’ (port) that connected Mosefell to outside trading networks and incoming ships (Byock et al. 2005 p. 200). In Egil’s saga, there are references to Egil’s body being moved from a pagan site to a newer church, which could be a direct reference to the Pagan/Church part of the Hrísbrú site (Byock et al. 2005, p 208). While its cold temperatures and subarctic ecology without a doubt made Iceland a very

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difficult place to settle, these same factors have had positive effects on the archaeological record. As the Mosefell Valley is low-lying, erosion has not had a great impact on the Hrísbrú site, nor has there been a problem with extensive farming or disturbing of the soil (Byock et al. 2005 p. 201). Sedimentary analysis has revealed that up until the excavation, the valley surrounding Hrísbrú existed mostly as a marsh (Byock et al. 2005 p. 198). It is this sedimentary analysis of organic material that has gone a long way in helping archaeologists to examine the house and building structures of the Hrísbrú site. When you visit the site, you will most likely be struck by how barren the landscape looks. There is a lot of green but there is also a noticeable lack of trees. Slow-

growth trees like Juniper and willow would have existed in small patches, but these sources would have been quickly exhausted by the growing population of settlers (Bathurst et al., 2010 p. 2920). How did the Vikings build houses here? How did they even survive? If we consider that Iceland’s climate is maritime subarctic, and that rain, snow, and cool winds would have been a constant factor for settlers (Hoof and Dijken 2007 p. 1025), the idea of housing becomes even more urgent! An understanding of how Iceland’s settlers may have built the Hrísbrú farmstead so that they were protected from the elements can help us better understand how they thrived in such an intimidating environment.

Driving to the Valley Photo taken from

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Reconstructed Icelandic Turf House Photo taken from

Since Iceland’s settlement, turf has been one of the main materials used in the construction of Viking homes and longhouses (Hoof and Dijken 2007 p. 1023). The material can be taken from the top, silty layer of marshlands or from the top of dry grassland (called ‘sod’); it is allowed to dry and harden and ends up acting as an insulating barrier against the cold and rain (Hoof and Dijken p. 1026). While reconstructed turf houses can be found throughout all of Scandinavia and in Iceland, the longhouse remains at Hrísbrú were buried beneath other layers of sediment and reveal construction techniques specific to Iceland. Diatoms, which are defined as “unicellular phytoplankton … (existing) in colonies on wet or submerged surfaces” (Bathurst, Zori, Byock 2009, p. 2920), have been used in conjunction with metal analysis to identify what kinds of structures and materials are actually present at the Hrísbrú farmstead.

The first part of the Hrísbrú site that we will look at is the longhouse. Measuring almost 30 meters in length, this is one of the largest structures of its kind to ever be excavated on Iceland; while comparatively larger houses have been found on mainland Scandinavia, it’s relative size to Iceland’s other Viking-era houses suggests that its chieftain inhabitants were of fairly ‘high-status’ in early Icelandic society (Warmlander et al. 2010, p. 2285). In addition to its remarkable size, the longhouse remains also contain an array of glass beads. This suggests that the Hrísbrú farmstead was actually connected to wider Viking trade routes outside of Iceland, as so far, no glass-producing sites have ever been unearthed on the island itself (Warmlander et. al. 2010, p. 2288). Using diatomic analysis, sediment samples were taken from both the farmstead site and the surrounding land areas, to act as a control

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sample in which turf was not expected to be present. The roof, floor and wall remains of the longhouse yielded the highest amount of turf diatoms, along with remnants of charcoal and bone fragments (Bathurst et al., 2009, p. 2925). These findings are supported by the obvious geographical evidence we have for the region in terms of a lack of building materials. In lieu of tree wood, it appears that Iceland’s settlers used turf and peat out of necessity in their longhouse construction (Hoof and Dijken 2007, p. 1026). Even if the longhouse may have belonged to a relatively wealthy chieftain, he still would have faced the same building and insulation challenges as other Icelanders in the 9th century.

connected farmstead, both within Iceland and to the outside trade routes on mainland Scandinavia and the British Isles. In many ways, the valley was in an ideal position for both forms of trade, connecting both the Western and Southern parts of the island (Byock et al. 2005, p. 204).The fact that both a Pagan cremation site and a Christian church site were found so closely together also indicate that Hrísbrú existed near the time of the Iceland Conversion to Christianity, around 1000 AD (Winthroth 2012, p. 155). Iceland was already being opened up to more settlement, trade, and integration into mainland Europe, and we see this in the close chronology of the Pagan and Christian sites at Hrísbrú.

Moving on from the longhouse, the remains of the cemetery and Pagan cremation site also provide clues about the survival and prosperity of the Hrísbrú inhabitants. Iron nails and clench bolts have been recovered from the cemetery site that are identical to the kinds of bolts used on sailing ships of the same time period (Warmlander et al. 2010, p. 2286). Perhaps we are seeing a form of early metal recycling? Certainly this has been shown in other Christian burial sites, such as in the Sebburrsund site in Denmark (Warmlander, et al. 2010 p. 2286). Reflecting on the natural geography of Iceland, we know that that in the same way the Icelanders lacked raw wooden materials for house construction, they also had to make do with a lack of naturally occurring metal deposits. Other than naturally occurring bog iron (Warmlander et al. 2010, p. 2289), how do we explain the excavation of tools and materials made of tin-alloy bronze? Again we return to the idea of Hrísbrú as a high-status, well-

For those with an interest in archaeology or Viking-age history, the farmstead of Hrísbrú in the Mosefell Valley provides a unique glimpse into the first centuries of Iceland’s settlement. Besides being a “, cultural, geographical, and environmental microcosm” (Byock et al. 2005, p. 204), the Hrísbrú site is part of an amazing valley landscape, and just a short bus ride from Reykjavik! •

Church in Mosefell Valley, Iceland Photo From:

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Back Issue: European Discovery of North America and Vinland By Patrick Jolicoeur In this month’s debate, Patrick tackles the issue of North American discovery. Just don’t mention Columbus around him.

Could the Vinland Map be a fake, or is it evidence of the first Europeans in North American? Photo From:

As you can probably tell from reading this magazine, we, the editors, are absolutely in love with the Vikings. Personally, I am impressed with their ingenuity in both colonization of faraway lands and the means they used to survive in such harsh landscapes. As you can also guess, my blood begins to boil when I hear the old rhetoric: “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” In reality, there is nothing factually wrong about that statement. However, it both

implies and is used in the context of teaching school children who discovered North America (Sweeny 1993, pg. 26). This assumption is flawed on multiple levels. First, and probably most importantly, Columbus did not “discover” North America. No single or group of Europeans discovered North America. If discovery of a continent is an honour that can even be given, then that would undoubtedly be awarded to the multiple indigenous groups that had inhabited the continent thousands of years

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before Rome was even an empire. Secondly, that silly educational rhetoric seems to bypass the fact that Norse explorers actually landed on the continent 500 years before Christopher Columbus and his band of disease carrying pioneers. To be fair, it can be argued that the Norse presence in North America was so minor that it can hardly be considered “European discovery.” I couldn’t disagree more. I, and many others, would argue that Norse presence in North America extends far beyond the oft-cited L’Anse aux Meadows. As read earlier in this month’s issue (Pg. 3), the Norse had some contact with the indigenous North Americans. In fact, they could have been one of the main reasons for the failure of the Vinland settlement (McGhee 1984). Moreover, the presence of butternut wood at L’Anse aux Meadows clearly suggests that the North American Norse gathered resources at a much lower latitude than the archaeological sites we have found (Wallace 2009). Additionally, there

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are plenty of literary sources that show a significant Norse presence, at least in the minds of Europeans, in North America. Perhaps most importantly, is the AD 1073 papal letter that first made reference to Vinland, Viking North America (Langmoen 2005, p.1079). Finally, the often debated “Vinland Map” does show some of the first cartographical evidence of North America (Olin 2003). While the age of the ink is still debated, the parchment the map was printed on was radiocarbon dated to the midfifteenth century, roughly 50 years before Columbus set sail (Olin 2003, p.6747). Their stay might not have been long, but looking at the relative wealth of archaeological, historical, and cartographical evidence, it is hard to say that the Vikings were not the first Europeans to have landed on North America. We do not teach that the world is flat anymore, and so should we not teach that the heroic Columbus was the first European to “discover” North America. As what can be seen, nothing is further from the truth. •

Just as the sunsets over L’Anse aux Meadows, so marks the end of this month’s issue. See you soon! Picture From:

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Koggmuseet, n.d. Medieval Cog Ships in Malmo. [online] Available at <> [Accessed 10 November 2012]. Kulturhistorisk Museum, n.d. The Gokstad ship. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 November 2012]. Lang, J., 1971. The Castlemont hogback. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 101(2), pp.154-58. Lang, J., 1972. Hogback monuments in Scotland. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 105, pp.206–35. Langmoen, I., 2005. The Norse discovery of America. Neurosurgery, 57(6), pp.1076-87. McGhee, R., 1984. Contact between Native North Americans and the Medieval Norse: a review of the evidence. American Antiquity, 49(1), pp.4-26. Nicolaysen, N., 1882. Langskipet fra Gokstad ved Sandefjord: the Viking ship from Gokstad. Christiania: Alb. Cammermeyer. Olin, J.S., 2003. Evidence that the Vinland Map is Medieval. Analytical Chemistry, 75(23), pp.6745-47. Petersson, B., 2009. Travels to Identity: Viking Rune Carvers of Today. Lund Archaeological Review, 15, pp.71–86. Shenk, P., 2002. To Valhalla by horseback? Horse burial in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. MA. University of Oslo. Sweeney, M., 1993. Columbus, a hero? Rethinking Columbus in an elementary classroom. The Radical Teacher, 43, pp.25-9. Van Hoof, J. and Van Dijken, F., 2007. The historical turf farms of Iceland: architecture, building technology and the indoor environment. Building and Environment, 43, pp.1023-30. Vannin, E., 2010. British Broadcasting Corporation: The Viking Thorwald’s Cross in the Isle of Man. online Available at: < 50.stm> [Accessed 1 December 2012]. Wallace, B., 2003. L’Anse aux Meadows and Vinland: An Abandoned Experiment. In: J. Barrett, ed. 2003. Contact, Continuity, and Collapse. Brepols: Turnhout. pp. 207-38. Wallace, B., 2009. L’Anse aux Meadows, Leif Eriksson’s Home in Vinland. Journal of the North Atlantic, 2, pp.114-29.

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Warmlander, S.K.T.S., Zori, D., Byock, J., and Scott, D.A., 2010. Metallurgical findings from a Viking-age chieftainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s farm in Iceland. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37, pp.2284-90. Wellendorf, J., 2010. The interplay of Pagan and Christian traditions in Icelandic settlement myths. Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 109(1), pp.1-21. Wilson, D., 2008. The Vikings in the Isle of Man. Oakville: Aarhus University Press. Winroth, A., 2012. The conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, merchants, and missionaries in the remaking of Northern Europe. London and New Haven: Yale University Press.

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