Vikings raided cos they were desperate single men?

When the Vikings landed at the holy island of Lindisfarne in 793AD, it marked the beginning of hundreds of years of terrifying raids, which would earn the Norsemen a fearsome reputation as murderers and pillagers throughout Europe.

But the reason why groups took to the seas in the first place continues to divide historians, some blaming over-population in Scandinavia, and others seeing it as a preemptive strike against the seemingly unstoppable march of Christianity.

Now a new theory suggests that the Vikings actually had matters of the heart on their minds.

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9th-century ‘Doomsday stone’ found at Lindisfarne

 

Dr Mark Collard, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen and currently the Canada Research Chair at the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, along with colleague Ben Raffield and Neil Price, Professor of Archaeology at Uppsala University , believes that changes in society had led to a desperate shortage of marriage partners.

The growth of polygamy and social inequality in the late Iron Age meant that richer men took many wives, or concubines, causing an inbalance in the male-female sex ratio.

Suddenly young poor men had little chance of securing a wife unless they became rich and well-known quickly, says Prof Collard. And raiding was a shortcut to heroism and treasure, he believes.

“What is clear is that the sex ratio would have been substantially biased and increasing through time, and even small amounts of bias can have a big effect,” he said.

“In a population where just a few powerful older men are able to have multiple concubines you end up with a large number of young single men quite rapidly.  Some men would have two to three wives, but the Norse sagas say that some princes had limitless numbers.

“So raiding was away to build up wealth and power. Men could gain a place in society, and the chance for wives if they took part in raids and proved their masculinity and came back wealthy.

“Because polygynous marriage increases male-male competition by creating a pool of unmarried men, it increases risky status-elevating behaviour.”

Surprisingly the idea was first put forward by the Norman historian Dudo of Saint Quentin who argued in his 10th century work, The History of The Normans, that the Viking raids were sparked by an excess of unmarried young men.

Similarly the English antiquarian William Camden in his 1610 work Britannia suggested that the ‘Wikings’ were selected from areas of overpopulation after they “multiply’d themselves to a burdensome community”.

Vikings disembarking in England during the second wave of migration (vellum)
Vikings disembarking in England, from a 10th-century Scandinavian manuscript

But in recent years the theory has lost support from historians with many believing that raids were a quest for retaliation against Charlemagne’s bloody campaign to force Scandinavian pagans to convert to Christianity – killing those who would not be baptised.

However Prof Collard believes new research into psychology, and other ethnographic studies of tribes, now make the new theory more plausible.

Recent studies found that aggression rises when there is a shift in the male-female sex ratio and where the percentage of unmarried men is greater, the rates of rape, murder, assault, theft and fraud also rise.

New research has also shown that Yanomamo tribes in South America resort to inter-village raiding for polygamous marriages.

Norse sagas such as The Saga of the People of Laxardal and the Saga of Harald suggest that by the time of the raids polygamous behaviour was normal in Scandinavia while the Saga of the People of Vatnsdal speaks of concubines.

And the archaeological evidence of the graves of Viking raiding parties also suggests that  sailors were young males, rather than seasoned soldiers.

“Acquiring portable wealth seems to have been the major objective of raiding groups. Undefended monasteries away from settled areas would have been ideal targets,” added Prof Collard.

“By the end of the 8th century a number of regional polities and petty kingdoms had developed in Scandanavia.

“It is possible that the combined effects of polygyny, concubinage and social stratification simply reached a tipping point that led to a surge in raiding.

“With elite men monopolising an increasing percentage of women, many low-status men would have found it difficult to marry unless they were willing to engage in risky activites to improve wealth and status.”

The new paper was published in the journal Evolution & Human Behaviour.

Source.

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Scotland’s oldest pub

From Daily record:

A historic site’s true purpose may have been revealed – as an Iron Age boozer.

Experts believe that 4600 years ago, thirsty natives may have been enjoying a pie and pint at Jarlshof in Shetland.

They say the layout of the stone settlement near Sumburgh Head suggests it may be the oldest pub ever found in Britain.

And a dozen or so quernstones – for grinding barley – indicate it may have served as both a drinking den and a bakery.

Jarlshof, described as “one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles” was first revealed after a storm in 1890.

It contains remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century.

Experts including Shetland regional archaeologist Val Turner are in no doubt that – pub or not – there was beer being brewed at Jarlshof in the Iron Age.

Dr Noel Fojut, author of Prehistoric And Viking Shetland, said: “We know communal feasting, and probably drinking, was a feature of Iron Age life. Providing lavish hospitality seems to have been an important means of establishing social status.

“It’s difficult, however, to distinguish an inn or pub – where people paid – from a communal dining/drinking house.

“It’s an attractive idea that there may have a welcoming ‘howff’ at Shetland’s southern landfall and perfectly possible.

“But it’s much more likely any hospitality would have been offered by a local family, rather than by a commercial landlord as we’d imagine one today.”

The building has a house next door which has a large souterrain – which was the equivalent of a Iron Age refrigerator used for storing smoked or salted meats.

And during the early Iron Age, the site at Jarlshof was surrounded by crops of barley and emmer, a kind of wheat.

The mystery of bog bodies

From USAtoday:

Scholars have long tried to make sense out of one of the oddities of the archaeological world —bodies pulled from ignominious burials in cold water bogs everywhere from Ireland to Russia.

Hundreds of these bog bodies have been found over the past two centuries. But who were they and why were they dispatched to the great beyond in mucky swamps? The theories range from executed deserters, to witches to everyday people.

The Irish Countess of Moira back in 1783 launched scholarly explorations by suggesting that bog bodies were victims of Druid ceremonies. Others, citing the ancient Roman writerTacitus, quickly saw them most likely as executed deserters. Arguments over individual finds have continued ever since the first look that year by the Countess at the Northern Ireland “Drumkeeragh” bog body, a woman dressed in wool clothes.

“Unfortunately the focus has been almost exclusively on the most spectacular finds, the mummified bodies,” says archaeologist Moten Ravn of Denmark’s Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, writing in the current Acta Archaeologica journal. Rather than arguing from just one body, Ravn suggests a survey of all the bodies might offer better clues to how they ended up buried in bogs.

What is a bog and how does it preserve anything? Cold-weather swamps, basically, where mosses turn waters brown. Roughly 560 bog bodies have turned up in Denmark alone, Ravn notes, usually discovered when farmers try to turn wetlands into farmland. His survey focuses on 145 bog bodies dating to the early Iron and late Bronze Age, roughly 500 BC to 100 BC, the pre-Roman era in northern Europe.

Acids found in bog waters have mummified some of the bodies, or more accurately tanned them into leather. Mosses release chemicals that leach calcium from the bodies, “which means that the bones of the bog bodies take on the consistency of rubber,” Ravn writes. Other bogs rich in lime have preserved other bodies only as bones.

Scholars have raced up and down the human pecking order in ascribing identities to the bodies. The historian Niels Petersen in 1835 decided that the “Haraldskaer” woman’s body found at the site of a copper factory belonged to the Norwegian Queen Gunhilde, drowned by King Harald Blatund (Bluetooth) in the Ninth Century. By 1907, archaeologist Johanna Mestorf became convinced they were all executed criminals, noting many of the bodies were bound and naked.

Shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazi archaeologists dominated bog body research starting in the 1930’s until the end of the Third Reich, Ravn notes, “interested in proving that the so-called Nordic race were direct descendants of the proto-Germanic race,” dating back to the Bronze Age.

All of these ideas have problems, starting with Queen Gunhilde, who was unlikely to have been buried in leather scraps, as she was found. Also a 2004 Journal of Archaeological Science study notes that carbon dating finds the “Haraldskaer” bog body was actually 2,500 years old, not in King Bluetooth’s reign.

As for executed criminals, Ravn notes there are only 21 Danish cases where the bodies have demonstrably been restrained, which, “may be a general protection against ghosts and not something reserved for criminals,” he writes. About 34% of the Bronze and Iron Age bodies in his sample are clothed, and clothing may not endure in bogs as well as flesh does, explaining its absence. A 2009 study, also in the Journal of Archaeological Science led by Ulla Mannering of the University of Copenhagen, reports 44 instances of bog bodies found with clothes in Denmark, most dating to the Roman era.

The Nazi theory is just crackers, of course, with even their own archaeologists pointing out bog bodies turned up in Ireland and elsewhere, even as far south as Crete, far outside any “proto-Germanic” home.

Instead, “most archaeologists today support the sacrifice theory,” Ravn writes. Proposed in the 1950’s, the basic idea is that bog bodies were mostly offerings to the Nordic gods Odin or Nerthus (“Mother Earth”), with the rest either murder or accident victims. People were mostly cremated in the era, a point which suggests a bog burial must have been a special event.

An alternative is the idea proposed in 2002 by historian Allen Lund that the bog bodies belonged to witches. Ancient people knew about the preserving nature of bogs and sought to suspend their supernatural foes in a state between life and death to forestall being haunted by them.

Ravn proposes a new theory to explain some of the bog bodies — maybe they were just people who died of natural causes and were sent to their burial in the bogs by their relatives. There is nothing special about the range of 145 people in his survey, men, women, young and old. Some were clearly placed in excavated holes lined with bark and cotton, buried with glass beads or gold jewelry in their mouths, a Roman custom. In Celtic myths, bogs and lakes were places of healing, Ravn suggests. “Is it possible that there was a wish to pass on these healing characteristics of the bog to a person who died a natural death so that the deceased could arrive healthy in the realm of the dead,” he asks.

Overall, bog bodies are “not so easy to explain,” Ravn says. The oldest one, the Koelbjerg woman, dates to 10,000 years ago. Others date to modern times, such as Johann Spieker, a hawker (person who used trained falcons to hunt), who died in 1828. “The reason that people were given their final resting place in the bog was not because of any one single tradition or one single ritual,” Ravn concludes. “Some were due to accidents and others to murder. Some may have been sacrificed and others may have died of natural causes and were buried in the bog.”

From USAtoday.

 

St.Kilda World Heritage Site faces danger

St-Kilda-001One of Britain’s most prized world heritage sites, the remote islands of St Kilda, will be threatened by vandalism, storm damage and alien species if a missile testing base is closed down, a leading heritage charity has warned.

The National Trust for Scotland said it was dismayed by proposals from the Ministry of Defence to withdraw all 12 staff from its small base on the main island of St Kilda as part of cuts at a missile testing range based in the Outer Hebrides.

Largely uninhabited since the islands’ last 36 residents were evacuated in 1930, after centuries of continuous occupation, St Kilda is now Britain’s only place to have two world heritage site designations from Unesco, for its archaeology dating back to the iron age, and its birdlife.

The NTS said the MoD personnel, who are stationed on the main island of Hirta to monitor missile tests from Benbecula 41 miles away on the Western Isles, played a crucial role in deterring visits from uninvited ships, monitoring storm damage or spotting alien species that could damage its very vulnerable ground-nesting birds.

St Kilda was involved in a significant scare in February 2008 after a trawler ran aground in heavy storms, potentially allowing rats to colonise the islands. The NTS sent over specialist rat catchers to ensure its gannets, fulmars, puffins and guillemot were safe. No rats were found.

The islands, which include dramatic cliffs and sea stacks, are regarded as north-eastern Europe’s most important seabird colony: about half a million birds nest there, including the world’s largest northern gannet population, as well as Manx shearwater, storm petrel and Leach’s petrel.

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If the MoD base is left unmanned, the NTS, now faced with its most severe financial crisis in its history, would have to employ a full-time keeper for the island.

Kate Mavor, the trust’s chief executive, urged the MoD to reconsider its plans. “Without the support of the MoD and the infrastructure that they have in place there, there is no doubt that we would find it very difficult to give St Kilda the level of care and attention that it requires.

“However, of more concern is the risk that this proposal poses to the environmental and cultural treasures which make St Kilda so special.”

The MoD said todayit wants to cut 150 posts from the missile testing range based at Benbecula, South Uist and St Kilda and an underwater submarine testing facility at Raasay near Skye, as part of £50m savings it needs to make.

Quentin Davies, minister for defence equipment, said: “I know that this will be very disappointing news for the staff at our ranges, and I do not underestimate the impact these proposals and job losses will have on the Hebrides community, especially in the recession.”

The area’s MSPs, economic development agency and local authorities attacked the decision. Highland and Islands Enterprise’s chairman Willie Roe said the loss of 150 jobs would be a “devastating blow” to the Hebridean economy.

The sites’ operator, the private defence contractor Qinetiq, was the islands’ largest private employer. “We believe these plans fail to take account of the sites’ value and we will be doing everything in our power to find a way to put pressure on the MoD and its operator QinetiQ to seek another option,” Roe said.

SOURCE

Hill of Tara nominated to be World Heritage Site

hill_of_taraThe Hill of Tara is among a number of locations which have been nominated for inclusion on a list of possible UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Campaigners against the route of the M3 motorway in Co Meath have joined heritage groups in submitting proposals to an advisory group, set up by Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley, to review the list of Irish sites.

The existing tentative nomination list for world heritage sites dates back to 1992 and includes Killarney National Park, the Burren and Clonmacnoise. Deadlines for submissions for inclusion on the revised list closed yesterday.

Tarawatch and the Campaign to Save Tara group have claimed that the Hill of Tara complex qualifies for world heritage status as a natural and cultural landscape of outstanding universal value, due to its unique cultural significance and the extent of the surviving remains. Campaigners believe that if the site is shortlisted as a heritage site, then changes would have to be made to the route of the controversial motorway, which runs close to the hill.

“We’d love it if the whole area was chosen to be a world heritage site, but because of the destruction that has been caused by the work on the M3, there is a worry that it might be refused,” Dr Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, of the Campaign to Save Tara group, said.

Mr Gormley has said previously that he supported the plan to have the Hill of Tara considered as a world heritage site as a means of preventing future development in the vicinity of the site.

SOURCE

Celtic hoard found in Netherlands

celtic-coinCoins are often used as “index fossils” by archaeologists. An index fossil is a fossil with which paleontologists are familiar that is also known to have lived during a specific time period and in a certain environment. For this reason an index fossil can help date an entire paleontological dig site. Coins found at archaeological dig sites can often help date the site, identify past trade routes, identify rulers, suggest political borders, and even suggest the level of technology available in the area. Due to inscriptions and iconography coins are often the only artifact found at an archaeological site that can “speak” to us.

On Nov. 13 an important find of 109 Celtic coins of the Eburones tribe found in the Netherlands was announced through the Associated Press. According to AP information, this is one of three important hoard finds of coins issued by this tribe. The other two finds, according to AP information, were discovered in Belgium and Germany in areas not too distant geographically from the Netherlands.

The most recent find was discovered by metal detector hobbyist Paul Curfs, who was sweeping a corn field in Maastricht, a city in the southern part of the Netherlands. Curfs is not a coin collector. He discovered the coins in the spring of 2008. The find is only now being announced publicly.

In the AP story Curfs described his find of the first coin, saying: “It was golden and had a little horse on it – I had no idea what I had found.”

Curfs posted an image of the gold coin on the Internet on what is described as a web forum. Someone advised him the coin was rare. This prompted Curfs to return to the same field, where he next discovered a coin he described as, “It looked totally different – silver, and saucer-shaped.”

By the time Curfs and several fellow hobbyists were done they had uncovered a total of 39 gold and 70 silver ancient Celtic coins. Curfs notified Maastricht city officials of the discovery, then worked with professional archaeologists to investigate the find site further.

Specific details important to coin collectors were not immediately available, however according to the AP story, “Nico Roymans, the archaeologist who led the academic investigation of the find, believes the gold coins in the cache were minted by a tribe called the Eburones that [Julius] Caesar claimed to have wiped out in 53 B.C. after they conspired with other groups in an attack that killed 6,000 Roman soldiers.”

The Euburones were a Germanic tribe living primarily in what in now Belgium. In 54 BC the Eburones revolted against local Roman occupation through Euburones tribal chieftains Ambiorix and Catuvoleus. Ambiorix initially offered safe passage to the Romans while other tribes elsewhere in Gaul were in revolt against the Romans. The Romans, commanded by Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, agreed. The Eburones treacherously ambushed the Romans, most of whom were killed or committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured by the Euburones.

By 49 BC Roman general Julius Caesar had crushed the revolt, defeating both Celts and Germanic tribes living in Gaul (Gaul being comprised of primarily of what is now modern France). Caesar then defied the Roman Senate by crossing the Rubicon River and marching on the city of Rome, crossing the Rubicon being considered treason since that river marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Republic proper. By this act Caesar initiated a Roman civil war that would end the Roman Republic and usher in the Roman Empire The Eburones had resisted Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and were rewarded for their resistance with genocide at the hands of the Romans.

Roymans believes the gold and silver coin hoard recently found in the Netherlands were produced by Celtic tribes further north, suggesting in his opinion the coins may represent cooperation among the various Celtic tribes in the war against Caesar’s Roman legions. Roymans disclosed that both the gold and silver coins depict triple spirals on the obverse, a common Celtic symbol.

At the time this article was being written no value had yet been placed on the hoard. The hoard discovered in Belgium was of similar size and has been estimated at about 175,000 euros (about $220,000 US) in value.

Curfs has retained 11 of the coins, lending them to the city of Maastricht on what has been described as a long-term basis. His coins have been on display at the Centre Ceramique Museum in Maastricht.

The farmer on whose land the hoard was discovered sold his interest in the coins to Maastricht for an undisclosed sum.

SOURCE