Monday, April 30, 2018

Danish Archaeologists Strongly Disagree About Viking Colors

Thor News

Was this how the royal hall in Lejre was painted? (Photo: Sagnlandet Lejre)

 Recently, Danish archaeologists attended the seminar “Farverige Vikinger” (Colorful Vikings) discussing the colors on a reconstructed royal hall dating back to the Viking Age. The outcome was colorful disagreement and frustration.

In 2009, archaeologist excavated a royal hall in Lejre, Denmark, which turned out to be one of the largest Viking Age buildings ever discovered.

Now, the 60 meters long and oval-shaped longhouse made of oak is under reconstruction and no one with certainty can tell if it was painted, and if so, in which colors.

Although there are found a number of painted Viking Age wooden objects that might reveal the color fashion of the time period, you never can be absolutely certain, says chemist Mads Christian Christensen at the National Museum of Denmark to Danish research portal

Whitewashed Theory
Some archaeologists who participated in the seminar put forward a completely different theory when it came to Viking Age colors: The wooden houses, at least the royal halls, were gleaming white.

The rationale is that there are found traces of white chalk in the remains of the royal halls of Tissø and Lejre, and consequently it is likely that Viking houses were whitewashed.

The archaeologist who promoted the theory said that white houses are visible from a long distance, functional as both a status symbol and landmark.

Moreover, indoor and outdoor chalking would both serve as efficient insulation and provide a better indoor climate.

It was also argued that white chalking would provide more light in the dark months of the year.

The theory has some weaknesses, partly because a white-painted house in winter, in a dark and snowy Scandinavia, would “totally disappear”.

Strong Colors

There are numerous references from both archaeological findings and the Norse sagas documenting the Vikings’ use of strong colors:

Both shields, ships, sails and other equipment were painted in strong colors. Blue in particular, but also red and yellow (gold) were popular among the Norsemen.

Copy of glass beads found in Viking burial mounds. (Photo: / Viking Jewelry)

The discoveries made in the Oseberg and Gokstad burial mounds documents the use on several wooden objects, clothes and tapestries.

During the 1904 Oseberg ship excavation, extremely good preservation conditions made the archaeologists able to see the colors clearly, but sadly, they quickly faded being exposed to light and air.

The Oseberg burial chamber was decorated with colorful tapestries showing dramatic scenes and many of the beautiful wooden objects were painted.

The Vestfold County Municipality in Norway writes about the famous Gokstad ship and Viking Age colors on their homepage:

On the Gokstad ship, shields were attached to the sides. These alternated between yellow and black, first one, then the other.

The same colors were evident on the tent poles found aboard ship. Remains of painted shields also have been in a ship grave at Ballateare on the Isle of Man and Grimstrup in Denmark, and both the Oseberg and Bayeux tapestries depict colored shields.

The three upper strakes of the Ladby Ship also were painted, two of them blue with the middle one in yellow. The Grønhaug ship on Karmøy had triangular areas carved into it, painted black.

There are also found a number of variegated and strong colored glass beads from the time-period – something that should convince archaeologists that the Vikings were colorful people.

 Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Research: Wealthy Vikings Did Wear Blue Linen Underwear

Thor News

Colorful Vikings: It is known that Vikings did wear colorful clothing of wool, hemp and nettle – but what kind of underwear did they use? (Photo: Tufte Photography /

It is hard to imagine Eric Bloodaxe and other feared Viking kings and chieftains wearing blue linen underwear. However, if the research carried out at the University of Bergen is correct, we should get used to the idea.

Textile fragments from Viking graves in the counties of Rogaland, Sogn og Fjordane and Hordaland in Western Norway have now been analyzed.

Research carried out by textile conservator Hana Lukešová and professor of nanophysics Bodil Holst at the University of Bergen has produced remarkable results: Vikings did use linen underwear, often dyed blue.

The Vikings also used hemp to produce textiles. But in Western Norway, they mostly used linen for clothes, Professor Bodil Holst said to the University of Bergen Independent newspaper På Høyden.

Professor Holst and textile conservator Lukešová have identified plant fibers from textiles found in forty five Viking graves mainly dating back to the 900s.

The two researchers examined tiny fragments from over a hundred different objects with a polarization microscope, something that has provided new and surprising knowledge.

The fact that plant fibers easily dissolve has made the research work extremely challenging.

Clothing worn in direct contact with the skin is very rarely preserved. Outer clothing made of wool, hemp and nettle are more resistant to being buried underground for hundreds of years.

 Blue Underwear

In the Viking Age, the flax plant (used to produce linen), hemp and nettle were used for production of clothes while other types of textiles not yet had been introduced in Scandinavia.

The Vikings extracted colors from roots, plants and insects. In addition, there were imported some dyes from Constantinople and other trade hubs. (Photo:

Wealthy Vikings had access to imported silk, but silk fabric was so exclusive that it often was cut into ribbons and used for decoration.

In graves containing textile fragments, loom weights are often found. This is telling us that it is not unlikely that the linen underwear is produced by the Vikings themselves.

Some of the examined linen textiles were dyed blue. The color was obtained from woad plants containing a mixture of blue indigo dye (or indigotin) and smaller quantities of other dyes including the reddish dye indirubin.

According to textile conservator Lukešová, the fabrics may have been woven and dyed locally in Western Norway.

All the textile fragments were found in graves containing wealthy Vikings. What kind of underwear (if any) common people did use the researchers have no answer to. Nor can they tell if blue linen fabric was used for underwear for both men and women.

Lukešová and Holst’s research results have been published in the Journal of Archeological Science:

“Identifying plant fiber textiles from Norwegian Merovingian Period and Viking Age graves: The Late Iron Age Collection of the University Museum of Bergen”.

Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Head of an Emperor, the Shrine of a God: Two Contrasting Finds at the Egyptian Sites of Luxor and Aswan

Ancient Origins

Recent discoveries at two of the major ancient sites in Egypt emphasize the diversity of culture and power that existed in the region over time. In Aswan, the head of a marble statue of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was uncovered, while at the Karnak Temple site of Luxor, a Late Period shrine to the god Osiris was found.

An Out of Place Shrine
In an announcement yesterday, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities told of the two recent finds. At the Luxor site, researchers with the Archaeological Egyptian Mission from the Ministry of Antiquities working at the southern part of Karnak Temples’ 10th pylon uncovered ‘architectural elements’ of a shrine or chapel of god Osiris (or Osiris-Ptah-Neb). This was a surprise discovery, as other Osiris compartments have only been found in the northern or eastern parts of temples.

The Ministry of Antiquities announcement records Dr Ayman Ashmawy, Head of Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector as highlighting the importance of the shrine at this location.

According to Dr Ashmawy, “the shrine is one of the most important shrines to be constructed for god Osiris inside the temples of Karnak during the Late Period, because it is located at the southern side of god Amun-Re Temple and not to the east or north side as known in the ancient Egyptian belief.”

Panorama of the Osiris shrine that has be uncovered in Luxor. (Image: Ministry of Antiquities)

Dedicated to the Dead
 Osiris was a prominent god in the Egyptian pantheon . He was born of Geb and Nut, along with his siblings; Set, Isis, and Nephthys. He is believed to have been the first ruler of Egypt but was murdered by his brother, Set, and eventually became the god of the Underworld.

The exact location of the shrine is to the south of the 10th pylon of god Amun-Re temple, in the area between the temples of Amun and Mut, to the east of the Avenue of Sphinxes. According to Essam Nagy, Head of the Mission, the shrine dates back to the late 25 th Dynasty which might help explain its unconventional location. In this period, the god appears to have had important links to the Avenue of the Sphinxes and Mut Temple.

The announcement includes photos of the shrine ruins, showing the architectural elements that were found. These are an entrance building, foundations including those of a third room, the remains of columns, and paving stones from the shrine floor.

Collection of pottery found at the shrine site. (Image: Ministry of Antiquities)

Nagy also mentions some of the artifacts that have been found include a collection of pottery, the lower part of a statue, and part of a stone relief which depicts an offering table along with a ram and a goose and a winged sun-disk. The ram and the goose are symbols of the god Amun who is the master of the Karnak temples.

Stone tablet found at the Karnak site depicting offering table, ram, goose and winged sun-disk. (Image: Ministry of Antiquities)

The site at Karnak is made up of many temples and was the most important religious site in ancient Egypt. Many consider it to continue to be Egypt’s most significant ancient site.

The shrine can be fairly confidently dated, as it depicts the names of Kings Taharka and Tanout Amun, the last king of the 25th Dynasty (the Nubian Dynasty), in the 7th century BC.

 Head of an Emperor

The second noted find, that occurred in Aswan, was the marble head of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, a rare find in the area, according to Dr Ashmawy. The head could once have been part of a statue or a bust and shows the emperor, as he is represented in many other statues, with wavy hair and a beard. As is so often the case, the nose is now absent.

The find was made at the Temple of Kom Ombo as a result of work being carried out to protect the site from groundwater damage. This complex was constructed in the Ptolemaic Dynasty and additions were made in the Roman period.

The Head of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius that was found in the Temple of Kom Ombo, Aswan. (Image: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)

Marcus Aurelius was the 16 th emperor of Rome and reigned from 161 AD until 180 AD. This was over two centuries into the Roman rule of Egypt, which began after the death of Queen Cleopatra VII in 30 BC.

Although discovered in different spots and with around a millennium and several changes of power separating them, the contrast of these finds provides a good example of how this territory was contested and ruled by many differing empires during this period in its history.

Top image: Head of Marcus Aurelius found at Aswan/Site of the newly discovered shrine at Luxor, Source: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

By Gary Manners

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Weird, Wonderful and Wicked Beings in Scandinavian Folklore

Ancient Origins

In Scandinavian folklore, there are numerous races of beings, the best-known of which (apart from human beings) are the gods and the jötnar, their nemesis. In rather simplistic terms, these may be said to represent the forces of good and evil. Between these two groups of beings are a range of creatures that come in all shapes and sizes. Some are believed to be benevolent towards human beings, whilst others less so.

 Some of the beings from Scandinavian folklore are well-known, and have been used in modern works of fiction, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Others, however, are much less renowned, and perhaps only familiar amongst enthusiasts of this field. This article will look at some of the well-known and lesser-known beings in Scandinavian folklore.

The Dwarves and the Elves
It is fair to say that two of the best-known groups of Scandinavian mythical creatures are the dwarves and the elves. According to Norse mythology, dwarves are master blacksmiths who live in underground cities. They are also characterised by their short physical stature, with the males of this race almost always sporting long beards. Originally, however, they were thought to have been pale and ghastly in appearance. One hypothesis is that the idea of dwarves evolved from a form of Indo-European ancestor worship.

Unlike the dwarves, the elves are believed to be graceful, ethereal beings. According to Nordic folklore, elves live in meadows and forests. Although generally depicted as peaceful creatures (and often portrayed as good in modern media), there are some Scandinavian tales in which elves are the perpetrators of wicked deeds.

"To make my small elves coats." Illustrations to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham ( public domain )

The Scandinavian Troll
Another creature from Scandinavian folklore that many would be familiar with is the troll. Whilst the physical appearance of the troll may differ from one tale to another, it is generally agreed that they are huge and ugly. Their great size, however, is not matched by their intellectual capacity, and they are often seen as slow and stupid.

Whilst trolls are often portrayed as antagonists in modern media, they are said to be able to show kindness if one does a favor for them. It may be interesting to point out that when Christianity arrived in Scandinavia, trolls were ‘given’ the ability to smell the blood of a Christian man. This was a symbolic gesture to personify the old, pagan ways, which the new religion condemned.

Scandinavian trolls by John Bauer ( public domain )

The Seductive Huldra T
he influence of Christianity on Nordic folklore may also be seen in a being known as the Huldra, who is described as a beautiful, seductive creature who lives in the forest. Huldra looks like a normal woman, though with one major exception – her long tail. This creature would lure mortal men into her forest den in order to steal their souls.

When Christianity arrived, this story was given a twist. If the Huldra was able to convince a man to marry her in a church, her tail would fall off, and she would become human. She would also, however, lose the beauty she is so famous for. Another story about Huldra that came with Christianity is that she was a daughter of Adam and Eve. One day, as Eve was bathing her children, God came to visit. As not all the children were clean, Eve hid the dirty ones. Having seen the children, God asked if there were any more, to which Eve replied ‘no’. God declared ‘Then let all that is hidden, remain hidden’, and the hidden children became ‘De Underjordiske’ (meaning ‘The Ones Living Underground’), Huldra being one of them.

The seductive huldra ( public domain )

The Many Faces of Scandinavian Folklore
There are many other beings in Scandinavian folklore, some of which will be briefly mentioned here. The oceans, for instance, are said to be home to such creatures as the Kraken, the Trolual, and the Draugen. Whilst the first two are said to be giant sea creatures, the third is believed to be the spirit of spirit of someone who died at sea.

Little folk can also be found in Scandinavian folklore, and these include the Tusser, who are mischievous underground goblins, and the Nissen, who are pranksters living in barns, though they may be easily befriended, and play the role of Santa Claus during Christmas.

Lastly, such terrifying creatures as Pesta (the personification of disease and plague), the Night Raven (an enormous bird linked with death and calamity), and the Nokken (a water creature notorious for killing its victims by drowning them) are also mentioned in Scandinavian folklore.

Top image: Painting by John Bauer of two trolls with a human child they have raised
( public domain )

By Wu Mingren

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Colossal Hand of Hercules, So Where is the Rest of Him?

Ancient Origins

The Hand of Hercules is the name given to a massive fragment of an ancient statue that was unearthed by archaeologists in Amman, the capital of Jordan. This fragment is believed to have once been a part of a colossal marble statue of the demi-god Hercules, as it was found at the site of the Roman Temple of Hercules. Apart from this hand (or more accurately, three fingers of a hand), the only other piece of the statue that has remained is its elbow. The statue’s hand and its elbow can be seen by those visiting the remains of Amman’s Temple of Hercules today.

Monumental Statues Filled the Ancient City of Amman
During the 1 st century B.C., the area of modern day Jordan came under Roman rule. At that time, Amman was one of the Ten Cities of the Decapolis, and was known by its Greek name as Philadelphia. During the period of Roman rule, which lasted for about four centuries, many public monuments were built in Amman. Some of these, like the Roman Theatre and Roman Odeon can still be seen in the city today.

Temple of Hercules
 Another building, the Temple of Hercules, was also built during this time, though it has not been as well preserved as the other two aforementioned structures. Like the Roman Theatre and the Roman Odeon, the Temple of Hercules was constructed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. It has been suggested that the temple was never completed, as only a part of the structure was adorned with columns, whilst the rest was left bare.

Ruins of the Temple of Hercules in Amman ( CC by 3.0 )

Still, the parts of the temple that have survived through the ages have provided scholars with some information about the monument. For instance, the part of the temple where the columns had been erected is the portico. These columns, six in total, would have originally stood at a height of about 10 m. The columns had fallen over the centuries, and were re-erected in 1993. In addition, the area covered by the temple has been measured. With these pieces of information, a model of the temple has been made, and is today displayed in the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman.

A model of the temple of Hercules. Credit: ACOR, Jordan

A Site More Ancient than Ancient!
It has been suggested that the Temple of Hercules was built on the site of an older temple dedicated to a native god. Within the area where the temple’s inner sanctum would have been, there is a bare patch of rock that has been left exposed. It has been postulated that this may have been the sacred rock that was the centrepiece of the 9 th century B.C. Ammonite Temple of Milcom (known also as Moloch or Molech).

Where is the Rest of Hercules?
Apart from the hand and the elbow of the statue, little more was found at the site – just a scattering of coins – which leaves open the question, where is the rest of Hercules? And can we be certain that it even was a statue of Hercules? Even the experts themselves are not entirely certain if the temple in Amman was indeed dedicated to Hercules. Nevertheless, given that a large number of coins bearing the image of Hercules have been found in the city below, it has been speculated that the temple was probably dedicated to him, and the hand most likely was part of a statue of the demi-god.

 One of the Largest Known Marble Sculptures
Based on the remaining three fingers and elbow, it has been estimated that the complete statue of Hercules would have stood at a height of 43 feet (13 meters), which would make it one of the largest marble statues to have been sculpted in history. It has been suggested that the statue of Hercules eventually collapsed as a result of a catastrophic earthquake, which would strike the area from time to time. The statue would have probably been fragmented, and the pieces reused by locals for other purposes. Thus, all that remains today of this colossal statue are its three fingers and one of its elbows.

Could the Statue of Hercules in Amman looked like this statue of Hercules currently housed in the Met Museum ?

Top image: A photo of the Hand of Hercules. (CC by SA 3.0 )

By Wu Mingren

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

‘Very Angry Badger’ Wreaks Havoc at Historic Castle in Scotland

Ancient Origins

A 16th century Scottish castle survived decades of battles, attacks, civil war and treason but has been forced to close due to one very angry badger, which has taken up residence in Cellar Tunnel.

Sturdy Construction
Craignethan Castle is an early artillery fortification in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, built around 1530 AD by the influential Hamilton family. While much of it is in ruins, an impressive tower and fortifications have stood the test of time, and thousands of visitors enjoy the castle and its picturesque grounds every year.

Badger in the Basement
However, part of the castle was forced to close to the public on 12 April after a new invader took control of the cellar tunnel – a “very angry badger”, The Independent reports.

Historic Scotland didn’t elaborate on why the badger is so angry, but it has been wreaking havoc in the tunnel, digging through loose soil in the stonework and turning some of the areas into rubble. Staff have been unsuccessfully trying to lure it out with cat food and honey, but the badger was having none of it. Clean-Up Historic Scotland confirmed via Twitter that the castle’s most recent invader has now vacated the premises and they are “doing a little housekeeping” following its visit. “While our furry friend left the building over the weekend, we can confirm the #CraignethanCastle cellar tunnel remains closed this week,” Historic Scotland tweeted. “Our work team on-site need to repair some of the stone masonry the badger damaged. The rest of the castle is open for visitors.”

The original tower house, Craignethan Castle. Image: CC BY-SA 2.0

Castle History
Craignethan Castle was built by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, once head of the second most powerful family in Scotland. He was one of the richest landowners in southern Scotland but was executed by King James V in 1540, after the king became convinced he was plotting against him, an accusation that is believed to be untrue.

In its heyday, the castle hosted many important visitors including Mary, Queen of Scots, who was sheltered there prior to her defeat at the Battle of Langside in 1568.

The castle was attacked in 1579 and given up without a siege. Its defences were demolished and the castle passed to the Hays family and remained with them until placed in State care in 1949. Today it is looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.

Top image: Craignethan Castle. Source: CC BY 3.0

By April Holloway

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bluetooth Treasure: Metal Detector Dings on Silver of the Danish King in Germany

Ancient Origins

Over one thousand years ago, Danish King Harald Bluetooth had to flee his homeland. He would have taken whatever treasured possessions he could as he sought safety in distant lands. Fast forward to January 2018, when a man and a boy armed with metal detectors decided to take a chance at treasure hunting on an eastern German island in the Baltic Sea. What they found was so significant the location of their discovery was kept under wraps.

 Amateur archaeologist René Schön and his 13 year old student Luca Malaschnitschenko are the discoverers of 600 coins - 100 minted during Bluetooth’s reign and 500 other chipped pieces which range from a 714 Damascus dirham to a 983 penny.

 DW reports the two treasure hunters also found jewelry - such as braided necklaces, rings, brooches, and pearls - as well as a Thor’s hammer (an amulet for protection and power, linked to the famous Norse god, Thor ).

Part of the silver Bluetooth treasure found in Germany. ( YouTube Screenshot )

And it all began with a metal detector on the island of Rügen dinging on what the metal detectorists first thought was a “worthless piece of aluminum”, according to The Guardian . After cleaning the artifact up, it was found to actually be a piece of silver…and more was on the way.

The Guardian reports the treasure trove “may have belonged to the Danish king Harald Bluetooth.” Harald Bluetooth was the 10th century king who unified Denmark and promoted Christianity to his subjects. Today, Harald Blåtand (‘Bluetooth’) is a household name thanks to the wireless technology standard which bears a combination of the runes of his initials.

Harald's initials in runes and his Bluetooth nickname. ( haraldgormssonbluetooth)

The location of the Bluetooth treasure was found in January, but it was kept secret until the professionals, joined by Schön and Malaschnitschenko, were able to excavate land 400 sq. meters (4,300 sq. ft) around the site of the original discovery. It was probably hard for the discoverers to keep the secret to themselves, “This was the (biggest) discovery of my life,”

The Guardian reports Schön told the German news agency DPA. The Guardian reports lead archaeologist on the dig, Michael Schirren also told DPA “This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance.”

One of the coins found at the site. ( YouTube Screenshot )

But DW says the discovery is not the first example of a Bluetooth artifact found in the region. In the 1870s, someone unearthed gold jewelry also linked to the Danish king on the island of Hiddensee, next to Rügen.

A relief showing Harald Bluetooth being baptized by Poppo the monk. ( CC BY 3.0 )

Archaeologist Detlef Jantzen suggests the artifacts provide physical evidence for Bluetooth’s flight to Pomerania in the late 980s, stating “We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources.”

Top Image: A selection of silver jewelry from the Bluetooth treasure. Source: YouTube Screenshot

By Alicia McDermott

Monday, April 23, 2018

Did Ancient Warriors Really Go to Battle Wearing Winged Helmets?

Ancient Origins

The winged helmet is a type of helmet that is found in mythology as well as history. In the realm of mythology, such helmets are associated with the Greek god Hermes (known also as Mercury by the Romans), as well as the Norse gods. Historically, the winged helmet is often associated with the Celts and Vikings, though erroneously so. Variations of the winged helmet were also used by different peoples during various periods of history.

 Greek and Roman Winged Helmet
In mythology, the winged helmet is perhaps most famously associated with the Greek god Hermes, and his Roman counterpart Mercury. The Greeks and Romans believed that this was the emissary and messenger of the gods. In this role, Hermes is required to travel swiftly from one place to another. Thus, to aid him in this, Hermes has a pair of winged sandals, which is said to have been made by Hephaestus using imperishable gold. Hermes’ status as a traveller is further enhanced by the hat said to be worn by him, either a broad-brimmed traveller’s hat, known as a petasos, or a winged cap.

Hermes carrying Pandora down from Mount Olympus wearing traveller hat. (A medal based on a design by John Flaxman). ( Public Domain )

Winged Helmets of the Norse Gods
Apart from Hermes and Mercury, the Norse gods are also depicted as wearing winged helmets. Such gods as Odin and Thor are often portrayed with such helmets. Additionally, the Valkyries (beings who chose, and brought those slain on the field of battle to Valhalla) are also commonly shown with winged helmets. It may be said, however, that the depiction of Norse mythological figures with winged helmets may be traced back to the artists of the Romantic Movement.

The vivid imagination of these Romantic artists not only influenced the artistic portrayal of the Norse gods , but also that of actual, historical Viking warriors. Today, it is common for people to imagine that the Vikings wore winged helmets (horned helmets are another popular, though equally erroneous, motif). This misconception is extended also to the Celts, the cartoon character Asterix being its most famous example. In a way, the winged helmet has become a symbol of the ‘barbarians of the north’.

hors Helmet at the Marvel booth at San Diego Comic-Con. ( CC BY-ND 2.0 )

Were Winged Helmets Actually Used?
Despite these representations in art, there is a dearth of archaeological evidence to support the imaginings of the Romantic artists. For instance, there has been no discovery so far of actual winged helmets, as we would imagine, from either the Viking or the Celtic realms. It has been suggested that the notion of northern barbarians wearing winged helmets comes from ancient Greek and Roman texts. The priests of the Celts, for instance, are said to have used winged helmets during certain religious ceremonies. Still, such headgear would not have been used by warriors in battle, as they would have been cumbersome, and would be more of a liability than an asset.

A 3 rd century B.C. Celtic winged helmet from Romania. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Be that as it may, there is at least one example of a winged helmet from the world of the ancient Celts. This helmet was found in Romania, and has been dated to the 3 rd century BC. This ‘winged helmet’ is in fact a typical Montefortino helmet with a bird, possibly an eagle or a raven, mounted on the top as a crest. The ingenious design allowed the wings of the bird to flap up and down as the wearer moved. It is unclear, however, if this helmet was worn on the battlefield, or was used in a non-military context, i.e. as a status symbol, or for certain ceremonies. Another example of a winged helmet is a 4 th century Attic helmet from southern Italy, which has two small wings on the sides. This helmet is believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes.

Greek helmet made in South Italy, 350-300 BC. Bronze. The elaborate decoration on this helmet suggests that it was strictly ceremonial and not intended to be worn into battle. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Finally, it may be said that the winged helmet belonged not only to the ancient worlds but is also thought to be found in the Medieval world, in particular in the Teutonic realm. The knights of the Teutonic Order are known to have used a type of helmet known as the great helm, and popular imagination has added either horns or wings to this form of headgear. Like the ancients, it is unlikely that such helmets were used in battle. An example of a medieval great helm with wings is that belonging to the von Pranckh family of Austria, and serves as a ‘funeral helmet’.

Great helmet with decoration of Albert of Prankh, Austria, 14th century (Replica) ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top image: Illustration of a winged helmet. Credit: Game of Thrones Ascent Wiki

By: Wu Mingren

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Two Wolves Entwined: What did this Viking Ring Symbolize?

Ancient Origins

By ThorNews

In the autumn of 2015, a unique Viking Age spiral ring with two wolf heads was found in Goa in Randaberg, Western Norway. Does the ring show Odin’s two wolves, Geri and Freki – or is it the Fenris Wolf, symbolizing Ragnarok and the end of the world?

 Bjørn Tjelta, a member of Rygene Metal Detector Club, found the gilded silver ring in a field buried only 10 centimeters (4 in) down in the ground. It dates back to the period from year 900 to 1000 AD, measuring about 23 millimeters (0.9 in) in diameter.

The ring weighs 5.4 grams (0.2 oz) and has similarities with arm rings from the Viking Age and finger rings from the Middle Ages.

Similar to many people today, the Vikings feared wolves because they represented a real threat to people and livestock. The beast has thus been designated mythical attributes and plays a central role in Norse mythology.

Odin’s Two Wolves
Odin has several animals: a horse, two ravens, a pig and two wolves.

Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir is the fastest of all horses, and it can run on land, on water, through the mountains and in the air. On each shoulder, Odin has his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn (“Thought” and “Memory”). They can see every movement down on earth and hear every sound. Nothing can be kept secret from Huginn and Muninn.

Silver figurine from Gammel Lejre: Odin on his high seat with his ravens and his wolves (Photo: National Museum of Denmark)

He also owns the pig Sæhrímnir providing food for all in Vallhalla. The pig is killed and eaten every night, and then resurrects the next day.

Odin’s two wolves, Geri (“Greedy”) and Freki (“Ferocious”) are, according to Norse mythology, lying at Odin’s feet and help him in war. If Odin is served food, he immediately sends it on to the wolves.

In 2009, a silver figurine was discovered during the excavation of Old Lejre in Denmark. The figurine is dated to about the year 900 AD and shows Odin sitting on his high seat Hlidskjalf surrounded by his ravens Huginn and Muninn. The decoration on the throne’s back displays the wolves Geri and Freki.

Was it a Viking warrior who wore the ring from Goa displaying Odin’s two wolfs, and could the ring provide magical protection in battle?

The Fenris Wolf
In Norse mythology, Fenris (Old Norse: Fenrisúlfr or Fenrir) is a monster wolf, son of Loki and Angrboða, “the one who brings grief”. It has two siblings, Hel and the Midgard Serpent, and two half-siblings, Nari and Váli.

Angerboda’s and Loki’s offspring: The Fenris Wolf, the Midgard Serpent and Hel – all having a central role during the events of Ragnarok. (Illustration: Willy Pogany, 1920).

In both the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, the Fenris Wolf kills Odin during the Ragnarok, but is in the end killed by Odin’s son, Víðarr.

Does the ring from Goa symbolize the Fenris Wolf and Ragnarok, and that that the end of the world is near?

The answer to the question has unfortunately disappeared together with one of history’s most fascinating cultures.

Top image: What did this ring with two wolf heads symbolize to the Viking who wore it? (Photo: Lars Søgaard Sørensen, Rogaland County Municipality)

 The article, ‘ The Wolf Ring From Goa’ was originally published on ThorNews and has been republished with permission.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Like Something Out of The Walking Dead: Medieval Warrior Found with Knife Hand Prosthesis

Ancient Origins

In the American post-apocalyptic horror television series The Walking Dead , redneck hunter Merle Dixon fashions a knife attachment onto the stump where his hand used to be. While the storyline is nothing more than fictional horror, one Medieval warrior had come up with the same frightening idea.

In a paper just published in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences , Italian archaeologists have revealed the discovery of a Medieval warrior in the Longobard necropolis in Verona with a well-healed amputated forearm, a buckle and a knife, providing strong evidence that he wore the knife in place of his hand.

A Cemetery of Warriors
The Longobard necropolis of Povegliano Veronese in Veneto, Italy, consists of more than 160 tombs containing the remains of over 200 Longobards (or Lombards), a Germanic people, originally from Northeast Europe, who ruled most of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774. Following the devastation of the long Gothic War (535-554) between the Byzantine Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom, the Lombards had been able to invade Italy with little opposition. They established a Lombard Kingdom in central and north Italy, which was eventually conquered by Frankish King Charlemagne in 774 AD and integrated into his Empire.

While the cemetery contained the remains of men, women and children, most of the male burials contained skeletons with weapons at their sides. Many of them showed signs of cranial trauma, and shields found at the burial site exhibit damage patterns similar to the trauma found on the skulls, indicating they were warriors who most likely died in battle.

Longobard Necropolis, 7th century AD. Teaching and historical re-enactment, at the only necropolis preserved in situ and visible in Italy, located near the Civic Archaeological Museum
(CC by SA 3.0 ).

The Warrior with an Amputated Arm
The male skeleton with the amputation comes from a tomb labelled T US 380. Analyses on his remains suggest he was around 47 years old and died some time in the last thirty years of the 6 th century AD. Bone testing revealed that he was most likely purposely amputated.

“There are several reasons why a forearm from this cultural period might be amputated,” the study authors Micarelli et al., 2018 report . “One possibility is that the limb was amputated for medical reasons; perhaps the forelimb was broken due to an accidental fall or some other means, resulting in an unhealable fracture. The formation of bone necrosis might have led to a surgical intervention to remove the dead tissue from the healthy part of the limb… Still, given the warrior-specific culture of the Longobard people, a loss due to fighting is also possible.”

“A third consideration for why the limb was amputated would be loss due to judicial punishment,” the report states. “This form of punishment did occasionally occur among the Longobard people.”

The warrior had been placed in a single pit grave like the one shown here in a Longobard necrópolis ( CC by SA 4.0 / Marco Tessaro )

Evidence Suggests Warrior Had a Knife-Hand Prosthesis
Warrior T US 380 had been placed in a single pit without a coffin. In addition to his skeleton, archaeologists found a buckle, an iron knife, and non-human organic material (probably leather), close to the end of the amputated right forearm.

The round shaped callous at the end of his amputated forearm suggests there was a biomechanical force placed on the stump, adding to the evidence that the knife and buckle were part of a knife-hand prosthesis worn by the warrior.

“From the archaeological evidence provided, we suggest that a prosthesis might have taken the form of a cap with a modified blade weapon attached to it,” the researchers report.

Warrior T US 380: The orientation of the right arm, the position of the buckle, and the location of the knife, suggest he wore a knife-hand prosthesis. Credit: Micarelli et al. 2018

The Origins of Prosthetics
Last year, archaeologists in Gloucestershire, England, made a similar discovery. A Medieval grave with bones was found to contain an iron strap and a buckle , which researchers later determined were parts of a device that supported a prosthetic leg.

But prosthetics date back much further than Medieval times. The oldest known prosthesis is a big toe made of wood and leather, which was attached to the almost 3000 year old mummy of an Egyptian noblewoman. Numerous other prosthetic devices have been found on Egyptian mummies, including feet, legs, noses, and even penises – all necessary parts for a pleasant afterlife.

Centuries later, during the zenith of the Roman Empire, iron was introduced as a material for prosthetics. Despite these early advances in prosthetics, there was not much development in this area in the millennia that followed. It was not until the evolution of technology in the 20 th century, that there was a great leap in prosthetic technologies. In addition to lighter, patient-moulded devices, the advent of microprocessors, computer chips and robotics in today's devices are designed to return amputees to the lifestyle they were accustomed to, rather than to simply provide basic functionality or a more pleasing appearance.

False toe on mummy found near Luxor. Egyptian Museum

Top image: YouTube Screenshot from The Walking Dead Role Play Weapons by ThinkGeek

 By April Holloway

Friday, April 20, 2018

An Altered Past: Modified Dice Tells Tales of Medieval Gambling in Norway

Ancient Origins

Is it true cheaters never prosper? Archaeologists believe that a 600-year-old wooden dice found in Norway was used in Medieval gambling. It was apparently a prized possession of a shifty player, who may have had to toss his “lucky charm” as people caught on to his unfair advantage in their game.

The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) reports the dice had the unusual feature of two fours and two fives, but no one or two. The wooden artifact was not only crooked, but also slanted. It measures 2.1 cm (0.83 inches) high and wide in the top, but 2.2 cm (0.87 inches) in the bottom. The piece weighed a somewhat heavy 16.7 grams.

The dice was probably used by a cheater in Medieval gambling. ( Angela Weigand, UIB )

Archaeologist Ingrid Rekkavik writes that gambling was rather widespread in Bergen in the Medieval period. The problem was severe enough that the practice was eventually banned by the authorities. Rekkavik explains that there was even a city law in 1276 which allowed the King’s Ombudsmen to seize any money from the betting table and fine the gamblers about 107 grams of silver for breaking the law.

The kings throw dice. "Olav the Sacred Saga" by Snorri Sturlason, King Saga, Kristiania 1899. ( Nasjonalmuseet)

 The location where the dice was found was filled with inns and pubs in the Middle Ages, so project manager Per Christian Underhaug is not surprised that it could have been used in gambling. It was unearthed by a wooden street which dates back to the 1400s.

 How did the altered dice end up in the street? Underhaug says it is equally likely to have been intentionally discarded as lost.

Rekkavik has created a couple of possible scenarios for how the dice made its way to the street. She suggests the person trying to cheat at the game was either suspected or caught in the act. One of his fuming opponents may have thrown the dice into the street or the cheater could have dropped the wooden piece when he noted people looking at him suspiciously.

The excavation. The dice was found during an excavation inside this concrete frame in Øvre Korskirkeallmenning in Bergen. ( NIKU)

Live Science reports archaeologists are uncertain how the dice could have worked in betting, but it seems probable that the game saw the roll of a one or two as unlucky and four or five as good.

Although most signs suggest the Medieval dice was a gambler’s tool, there is also the possibility that the artifact was used in some unknown game which didn’t include the numbers one or two.

NIKU writes the object is rare because of its alterations, but it isn’t the only time Medieval dice have been found in Bergen – more than 30 have been recovered so far.

A February 2018 study shows that there are several instances of people attempting to cheat at dice in the ancient past. It says,

“In Roman times, many dice were visibly lopsided, unlike today's perfect cubes. And in early medieval times, dice were often “unbalanced” in the arrangement of numbers, where 1 appears opposite 2, 3 opposite 4, and 5 opposite 6 […] Gamblers may have seen dice throws as no longer determined by fate, but instead as randomizing objects governed by chance.”

Selection of Roman era dice and jetons (tokens). ( CC0)

Top Image: This Medieval dice has two 4's and two 5's but no 1 or 2. Archaeologists believe that it was likely used to cheat while gambling. This photo shows the two 5's. Source: Angela Weigand/UiB

By Alicia McDermott

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The History Of Mead And The Lindisfarne Mead


If you’ve read mythology, you’ve undoubtedly run across mead, this drink of heroes, gods, lovers and kings.

The god Odin gave an eye to drink mead and gain wisdom. The hero Beowulf drank it and bragged about his valiant deeds. It was drunk in Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe, where spiced mead was a favourite of the English kings.

Lindisfarne – The Holy Island

Mead is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks, a drink brewed from honey, water and yeast and quite appropriate for a God, or even your best friend. That’s right, mead is still made today by St Aidan’s Winery. Its name is Lindisfarne Mead and is a great, unique gift for a favourite family member or even newlyweds.

You might be scratching your head right now, wondering why newlyweds would want mead. In pre-Christian Europe, mead was one of the traditional wedding gifts. When a couple was married family and friends would supply them with enough mead for a month to ensure that they would be happy and fertile through their marriage. Hence, we still call the first month after marriage Honeymoon even though few newlyweds nowadays drink mead.

Many people mistakenly believe that mead is a historical myth or that the recipe and skill to make it has been long lost, but the magical elixir is ready for order from this unusual winery on Holy Island in Northumberland.

St Aidan’s Winery offers a wide variety of ales, fruit wines and spirits and – of course – mead, and also serves as an outlet for Celtic jewellery and other local crafts.

You may wonder how an island called Holy Island could possibly be the home to liquor or mead. The answer is simple: in Medieval times mead was usually made by monks as they were the ones to keep bees on a large scale. They also believed that mead was a cure for many illnesses and restored their body while God watched their soul.

Lindisfarne’s monks are long gone, but their recipe for mead has been preserved on the island and is still used to produce the delightful pale-gold beverage in the same fashion as they did in yesteryear. Therefore, you get the same good taste that Friar Tuck might have enjoyed.

Lindisfarne Mead is available directly on the island from the winery shop – where you can taste before you buy – but can also be bought online. Alongside full-size and half bottles, St Aidan’s Winery also offer a Mead Miniature Bottle that holds just 5 centilitres.

This is for those who want to test the mead before committing to buy a large size, or those who just want a conversation piece to set on the shelf. The prices are very reasonable, so you can afford to try the largest available without breaking the bank. Imagine your next get together where, instead of champagne you break out the mead, for medicinal purposes, of course.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Megalithic Examination Explains Why Stonehenge was Built on Salisbury Plain

Ancient Origins

The ability to excavate at the world-famous Stonehenge archaeological site is a privilege. Not everyone has gained special access to explore the megaliths with the closest detail. Thus, those who have had the chance to dig into the mystery of Stonehenge have the ear of others when they tell of their discoveries. Now, an archaeologist named Mike Pitts has decided to provide his explanation why the Stonehenge location was chosen.

 The answer, Pitts explained in a special Stonehenge edition of the journal British Archaeology, is evident through the analysis of two stones. A thorough examination of the Heel Stone and Stone 16 and the area around these two megaliths shows oft-overlooked aspects – simplicity and pits.

Stonehenge Heel Stone. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

These two stones stand apart from others because they have not been modified – no carving or shaping is apparent on the huge rocks. Pitts told The Times ,

“The assumption used to be that all the sarsens at Stonehenge had come from the Marlborough Downs more than 20 miles away. The idea has since been growing that some may be local and the heel stone came out of that big pit. If you are going to move something that large you would dress it before you move it, to get rid of some of the bulk. That suggests it has not been moved very far. It makes sense that the heel stone has always been more or less where it is now, half-buried.”

Pitts wrote that two big holes have been found beside the megaliths. The archaeologist believes that the pits are the remnants of where the stones were laying before builders decided to stand them up. For example, the 6 meters (20 feet) in diameter hole near the Heel Stone would have been big enough to have contained the megalith. Other explanations for the holes by these two stones have not satisfied Pitts.

Moreover, Science Alert reports that when the Heel Stone and Stone 16 (and their corresponding holes) are lined up, the two stones mark the horizon “where the Sun rises on the summer solstice, and sets on the winter solstice.”

And Pitts believes that is a key part of why the Stonehenge building site was chosen. According to the archaeologist , the earliest prehistoric builders of Stonehenge may have noticed the coincidental alignment of the two stones and decided the site was important. He says , “The two largest natural sarsens on the plain aligned with the rising midsummer and the setting midwinter Sun” are probably what caught their attention.

The sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning of the Summer Solstice (June 21, 2005). (Andrew Dunn/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

 From there, others set about lugging more stones to the site – both from other locally sourced sarsen sandstones and more distantly obtained bluestones - and the fascinating location known today as Stonehenge was born.

The Cuckoo Stone, another large sarsen stone which lies in the field immediately west of Woodhenge. ( Stonehenge News and Information )

 Finally, Pitts reflected on the significance of discoveries at the site, writing,

“Continued radiocarbon dating may reveal further clusters of middle neolithic ritual features. But for now, the combination of a little henge, large cattle bones … and perhaps the two largest natural sarsens on the plain aligned with the rising midsummer and the setting midwinter Sun, make the site locally unique. It all suggests that Stonehenge didn't so much burst into view shortly after 3000 BCE, as grow slowly over a long time before.”

Stonehenge. ( Public Domain )

Top Image: Stonehenge. Source: CC BY SA 3.0

By Alicia McDermott