V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito)

News and stories from the world of Archaeology and its related disciplines

Lost Viking settlement found in Ireland

From Science:

The Vikings, the famed Scandinavian warriors, started raiding Ireland in 795 and plundered it for decades, before establishing two Irish outposts, according to the Annals of Ulster, a 15th century account of medieval Ireland. One outpost, Dúbh Linn, became Dublin, the other, Linn Duchaill, was lost in time. Perhaps until now. A team of archaeologists announced on Friday that it has found the lost Viking settlement near the village of Annagassan, 70 kilometers north of Dublin. “We are unbelievably delighted,” said archaeologist and team leader, Mark Clinton, an independent archaeological consultant.

The Annagassan locals have long believed they lived near an ancient Viking town or fort. The stories of Viking raids were told to local children by schoolteachers, and there were also occasional finds that underscored this story. For example, a few years ago, a set of handcuffs once used to shackle Viking slaves was found by a farmer ploughing land. The modern search for Linn Duchaill began 5 years ago when a local filmmaker named Ruth Cassidy, a member of the Annagassan and District Historical Society, enlisted the help of Clinton, a family friend, to find the lost Viking town. They searched through 2005, 2006, and 2007 and were on the point of despair when they came across a flat area—ideal for lifting boats out of the water for shipbuilding and repairs—a couple of kilometers up the River Glyde. They managed to secure funding to pay for a geophysicist, John Nicholls, to survey the site. Nicholls found a series of defensive ditches about 4 meters deep, running in lines. The pattern of ditches does not seem compatible with the typical Irish structure of the period, a ring fort, and no evidence of a Norman settlement, such as moat or castle remains, was found. That left just one other option: Vikings.

Despite this evidence, the researchers struggled to secure funding for excavation work. But the local Louth County Museum eventually offered funds to excavate at three locations. The team found 200 objects in 3 weeks, convincing them that they had found a major Viking shipbuilding town. There is evidence of impressive engineering, with an artificial island constructed out of the landscape to offer protection from attacks by the indigenous Irish. There is evidence of carpentry, smelting, and ship repair, with ship rivets dotted around the site. These features alone would make the site significant as few Viking longphorts—or shipbuilding towns—have been excavated. The team also found hacked coins, which Clinton says were a typical “calling card” of the Vikings, but there is also a total absence of pottery—the Vikings used wooden bowls. There are “high status” early Christian objects, too, probably stolen from the Irish.

Other Viking experts are cautiously optimistic that the long-lost Viking outpost has been found but emphasize the settlement needs to be solidly dated before the case is closed. “If the settlement found can be identified as Linn Duchaill, its value for linking archaeology to the written sources is very important,” says Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. “In addition, it appears that the site is almost untouched by later activity, unlike those of Dublin—some longphorts developed into urban settlements—and thus it might provide important knowledge of this particular type of settlement.”

“It’s really, really exciting,” adds Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, an expert in Viking studies of Ireland and Britain. “I’m looking forward to hearing about the finds and the dating of the finds. It’s a really important step in thinking about the westward expansion of the Vikings, and the importance that Ireland had for the Viking world is something that hasn’t been recognized. Ireland in the Viking age is of strategic importance.”

One lingering question is why Linn Duchaill was abandoned while Dublin thrived. One theory is that because Dublin has better 24-hour access to the sea, it meant that the Vikings there could take to their ships and head out when they were under attack. At Linn Duchaill, tidal fluctuations would cut off access for several hours a day.

From Science


Filed under: Archaeology, Historia, , , , , , , , ,

Ancient Arabian treasure trove unearthed in Germany

From The National.

Archaeologists in northern Germany have unearthed a treasure of Arabian silver dirhams dating back to the first half of the seventh century in a spectacular find that proves brisk trade between the Middle East and northern Europe already existed more than 1,200 years ago.

Some of the silver dirhams found by archaeologists in Germany bear the King of Persia’s portrait (Stefan Sauer/EPA)

A total of 82 coins were found in a field near the town of Anklam, a few kilometres from the Baltic Sea coast, in excavations completed on September 2. They come from regions that are now Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and northern Africa. The oldest coins, about an inch in diameter, were minted around 610 AD and bear the portrait of Khosrau II, the 22nd Sassanid King of Persia who ruled from 590 to 628 AD.

Other coins in the trove were minted around 820 AD and have inscriptions in Arabic. “They are little works of art with delicately engraved writing on them,” Fred Ruchhöft, an archaeologist and historian at the nearby University of Greifswald who has analysed the find, said in an interview. “It’s good silver. It just needs a clean and then it’s like new.”

Archaeologists using metal detectors discovered the coins together with a silver bracelet and three small bars of silver scattered over an area 20 by 30 metres while examining the site of a former Slavic settlement from around 800 AD. They believe the treasure had been buried underground in a ceramic pot by a wealthy trader or craftsman. They also found remnants of the pot.

Centuries of ploughing had disturbed the soil, broken the pot and scattered the treasure through the earth.

“Viking raids there were common at the time, which may be one reason why the treasure was hidden,” Mr Ruchhöft said. “It may be that the owner was killed before he could retrieve it.”

This part of north-eastern Germany near the border with Poland has suffered from depopulation and economic decline in recent decades, but it was a boom region in the early Middle Ages because of its proximity to a 6,000km trading route.

The route led across the Caspian Sea, up the Volga, north-west across Russia towards what is now St Petersburg, and along the Baltic coast towards Scandinavia and northern Germany.

The traders were Slavs, Vikings and Arabs, and the goods were mainly transported by river and sea. Viking longboats could navigate both seas and rivers because they had a shallow draught which allowed them to sail in waters just one metre deep.

“Fur, amber and slaves from here were traded for pearls, rock crystals and silver from the Orient,” Mr Ruchhöft said. The dirhams were not legal tender in Europe but their intrinsic silver value made them a common means of exchange. That explains why most of the coins from the Anklam find had been cut in half or into quarters. Only seven dirhams were found intact.

“The find shows how global trade was already going on 1,200 years ago,” Mr Ruchhöft said. “It’s unclear if deals took place face to face with Arab merchants. There is no concrete indication that traders travelled the entire length of the route.

The trade is more likely to have taken place in stages at market towns along the way.”

The silver bracelet found at Anklam was made in the Volga river region of Russia, which supports the theory of interim trading stations because it suggests that a trade took place at some point along the Volga.

Michael Schirren, of the regional department of archaeology, said: “Coin finds from this era are extremely rare and this one is really significant because of the volume.”
Arab coins have been found as far north as Sweden and as far west as the British Isles.

The coins, bracelet and silver bars together weigh some 200 grams and were worth four oxen, or one horse plus one ox plus one young slave, Mr Ruchhöft said. “One dirham was worth around 75 daily rations of wheat or one pearl.”

From The National.

Filed under: Archaeology, Historia, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Points of interest