Sunday, November 19, 2017

Skeleton Found in Scotland Was 4,000-Year-Old Bronze Age Farmer


Ancient Origins


Human remains discovered 138 years ago in Stirling, Scotland, have been identified as belonging to a Bronze Age farmer who worked the land more than four millennia ago. This makes the man officially the earliest known resident of the ancient capital of Scotland.

Radiocarbon Testing Establishes “Torbrex Tam” as Earliest Resident
The remains of the young man were discovered back in 1879, when workmen were digging for gravel hit the slabs of a stone-lined cist as Daily Record reports . The human skeleton was buried inside a chambered cairn – a burial monument usually constructed during the Neolithic – on land belonging to a market garden, in 1872. The remains were given to the Smith Museum in Stirling for safekeeping, while the burial monument, which is the oldest structure in Stirling, is now surrounded by houses in Coney Park. The farmer, who died in his twenties, was nicknamed “Torbrex Tam” after the area of Torbrex in Stirling.



Example of a cairn burial monument in Scotland ( CC by SA )

 Radiocarbon dating results have now officially verified that the young farmer’s remains date back to the Bronze Age, when Torbrex was a tiny community surrounded by water. Stirling archaeologist Murray Cook told Daily Record , “Torbrex Tam died around 2152 to 2021 BC. He is more than 4000 years old. He’s the oldest individual from Stirling.”

 Reconstruction of Tam’s Face Reveals Strong Resemblance to Modern Residents
While researchers were trying to accurately date Tam’s remains, a team of forensic scientists started reconstructing his face based on his skull. “His facial reconstruction is Stirling’s first recorded face. For anyone from Stirling, Tam is their oldest ancestor. I’m sure I’ve seen his face in people around the town,” Dr. Cook tells Daily Record .

Dr. Cook also added that for the past six months he has collaborated with Michael McGinnes of Stirling’s Smith Art Gallery and Museum, as well as with Dundee University forensic art and facial identification graduate Emily McCulloch from Stirling, who was the expert that carried out the work on Tam’s facial reconstruction.


Torbrex Tam; facial reconstruction carried out by Emily McCulloch.

It seems that forensic scientists from the University of Dundee have been doing an excellent job lately. As we recently reported in another article , elite forensic scientists from the University of Dundee, digitally reconstructed the face of one of Scotland's most notorious “witches”, Lilias Adie. The only documents that helped them with their demanding scientific work, were a few photographs of her skull. According to Dr. Christopher Rynn, who directed that reconstruction work, the process was a step-by-step anatomical interpretation: sculpting musculature and estimating features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears) individually from the skull.

Second Excavation at the Site Uncovered More Human Remains A second excavation of the burial monument conducted by Stirling Archaeological Society back in the early 1970s, unearthed another cist and the human remains of a second individual, possibly a female in her 20s as well. The second cist found during the same excavation works contained a pot and the skeleton of a child aged around four. “At the time, average life expectancy was probably mid to late 20s; life was short, nasty and brutish. Infant mortality was high. What we have here is probably an extended family. There are a number of other burials in the immediate environs,” Dr. Murray Cook told Record Daily

He added, “I think the cairn is a family vault that’s been in use for a period of between 200 and 500 years. Different generations would have been buried in the cairn. However, it’s difficult to know if Tam and the bones thought to be female are man and wife. They could have been, but they could be brother and sister. The child is unlikely to be theirs, but it might be a grandchild or great grandchild.”

An exhibition featuring objects associated with “Torbrex Tam” is scheduled to take place at the Smith Museum in 2018.

Top image: Torbrex Tam; facial reconstruction carried out by Emily McCulloch

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Symbolic Key to a Viking Woman’s Independence


Ancient Origins


By ThorNews

A large number of ornate keys from the Viking Age (c. 800-1066 AD) have been found in female graves and as individual findings. Bronze keys made with superb craftsmanship were used as a status symbol by women and were often small works of art worn on a belt around the waist.

 The key from Heggum farm (Old Norse: Heggheimar) is 9.5 centimeters long and ornamented with intertwined animal figures. It was found in a burial mound and may have belonged to a powerful housewife. The day she got married, she got the keys to the farm doors and treasure chests as a visible sign of her position and power.


Replica: A push key padlock from the Viking Age was found on the Björkö island in Lake Mälaren, Sweden. (Photo: historicallocks.com)

Women’s Work Duties
A Viking woman’s responsibility was “inside the doorstep,” the man’s outside. Her work duties were housekeeping and making food, including drying and smoking fish and meat, working wool, spinning yarn and sewing and weaving.

 Pregnancy, breastfeeding and raising children also took up time in a woman’s life. In practice, it was probably the women who looked after the elderly.

 She also had to perform heavy work like carrying water and participate in haymaking. In addition, she would have had knowledge of herbs to make medicine for the sick and wounded.

When the man went hunting, fishing, on Viking raids or got sick, the wife had responsibility for the operation of the whole farm, which in wealthy families also included many trells (slaves).

The married woman was seen to belong to the family she had grown up with and for that reason never quite became an integral part of her husband’s family.

Right to Divorce
 If a marriage did not work out, both wife and husband could demand divorce. The Icelandic sagas describe a wide range of divorce laws which testifies to a quite advanced law system.


Silver figure of a woman, perhaps the goddess Frigg or Freya, found at the Tissø lake, Denmark. (Photo: National Museum of Denmark)

The woman could, for example, demand a divorce if the husband had settled in a new country, or had not gone to bed with her in three years. The most common causes of divorce were that her husband failed to provide for the household or was violent. If he had beaten his woman three times, she could leave him.

To carry out the act, she had to summon witnesses and proclaim herself divorced – first at the front door and later at the couple’s bed.

We do not know the divorce rate in the Viking Age, but the right to divorce, property and inheritance shows that women had an independent legal status. Usually infants and small children followed their mother, while the older children were divided between the parents’ families, depending on wealth and status.

The Viking women’s rights lapsed with the introduction of Christianity.

 Top image: This bronze key from Heggum farm in Røyken in the Oslofjord is dated to the Viking Age. (Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen, Oldsakssamlingen)

The article ‘Keys Symbols of the Viking Women’s Independence’ by Thor Lanesskog was originally published on Thor News and has been republished with permission.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Family Accidentally Discovers 2,000-Year-Old Roman Stables in Their Backyard


Ancient Origins


A family living in Israel was digging in their backyard when they came upon an opening in the ground. They were stunned when they discovered that it led to a complex network of underground caves. Archaeological investigations revealed it was an elaborate construction dating back 2,000 years, which probably served as stables.

Unexpected Find
Haaretz reported that the underground complex was discovered in a village called Eilabun, located just 11 miles from Nazareth, the ancient city where Jesus was said to have been raised.

Archaeologists suggest that the caves had been dug out by the Romans and probably served for storage and stabling. They came to this conclusion after noticing holes chiseled into the cave walls to which horses could have been tied, and a stone trough used for water or feed.

 Interestingly, the caves are about three meters below the surface as archaeology inspector Nir Distelfeld told Haaretz. This made some archaeologists wonder how the horses could have got down there and why the Romans didn’t build a stable with walls above ground. However, Distelfeld has a logical explanation, “It’s three meters underground today, but 2,000 years ago, when in use, it would have been ground level, maybe half a meter lower but obviously the horse wasn’t lowered down,” he tells Haaretz. And adds, “It shows how much dirt and silt accrues over 2,000 years. Otherwise they would indeed have built stables and storage, not cut them into the rock.”

According to Haaretz, ancient Jews would carve caves out of the chalky, rather soft bedrock. The archaeologists discovered a large central chamber about 4x6 meters, which was at least two meters in height. Smaller chambers branched off that main one.


The village of Eilabun, where the underground stables were found (public domain)

Site Severely Damaged from Looters
Thanks to some broken pieces of pottery left behind by thieves who had looted the site exhaustively before its official discovery, experts were able to estimate that the complex dates back around 2,000 years. Thieves had removed and most likely sold everything of value they found there. What’s even worse, they broke and damaged the rock while searching for more places to loot. “The looters weren’t archaeology experts. When they saw a chamber, they started to deepen it, breaking the rock itself, thinking they would find other interesting stuff,” Distelfeld told Haaretz.

Another object the thieves left behind, other than the broken pieces of Roman-era ceramic storage jars, is a basalt rock with a groove down the middle, which had been part of a flour-grinding apparatus. “The thieves may have found other things but they won’t tell us,” a disappointed Distelfeld said.


The entrance to the cave in the Galilean village of Eilabun. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

Eilabun’s Interesting Past
The village of Eilabun has a long history. Pottery remains from the Middle Bronze Age, Iron Age II, Persian, early Roman and from the Byzantine era have all been excavated there, while rock-cut sarcophagi have been unearthed to the west of the village.

Elibabun is mentioned as one of the cities associated with one of the twenty-four priestly divisions, the residence of the priestly clan known as Haqoṣ. A stone inscription mentioning the town was discovered in Yemen by orientalist, Walter W. Muller, in 1970, and is considered to have been part of a destroyed synagogue, now turned mosque.

Ultimately, Haaretz reports that soon after the caves’ official discovery by the Israel Antiquities Authority, two thieves were arrested in a joint campaign by the IAA inspectors with police. “At the moment we are working on criminal proceedings. We will look into further excavations there in the future,” Distelfeld told Haaretz, explaining why there are no active excavations at the moment in the area.

Top image: Roman-era stables discovered in the Galilean village of Eilabun, Israel. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Valuable Jewels, Ornate Lamps and Coins Unearthed from 2,000-Year-Old Tombs in Corinth


Ancient Origins


A team of Greek researchers has unearthed unique jewels, coins and other precious artifacts while excavating tombs near the ruins of the ancient city of Corinth. Experts estimate that the newly found objects date between the fourth and first centuries AD.

 Unique Jewels and Coins Excavated Near Ancient Corinth
Τhe team of scientists led by Elena Korka of the Greek Ministry, discovered the rare artifacts in eastern Corinthia, at the site of the ancient village of Tenea, during excavation works at a burial ground with two characteristic chambers built when Greece was part of the Roman Empire, as Newsweek reports. The Greek Ministry of Culture announced in a statement that the Greco-Roman burial structures were most likely constructed during a Hellenistic period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, up until the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC. Archaeologists suggest that five of the better equipped tombs probably belonged to rich ancient Corinthian residents. The bodies were found alongside intricate gilded bronze leaves, a golden ring, valuable stones, as well as gold and bronze coins from the surrounding region as Newsweek reports. Other characteristic items of rituals buried with the dead included perfumes, artifacts made of gold, gold foil and beautifully crafted glassware, as well as items of pottery.


Gilded bronze leaves, a gold ring, valuable stone and coins were found. (Image: Greek Ministry of Antiquities)

Several Graves Organized in Circles
Furthermore, the researchers also excavated from the dig site many different burial plots. Interestingly, fourteen of the graves had been organized in circles – a common Roman tradition. These burials yielded gold and silver coins, vases, and lamps depicting the goddess Venus and two cupids. “Roman-period builders also repurposed the limestone foundations of earlier Greek structures to build the tombs for wealthy, Roman-era occupants,” Elena Korka said as Newsweek reports. Evidence of graves from the earlier Greek period was also traced in other areas of the dig site, including a figurine in the shape of a dove.


The Tenea dig site of 2017. (Image: Greek Ministry of Antiquities)

Greek Culture Conquered Its Roman Conquerors
By using the term “Roman Greece”, historians describe the period of Greek history following the Roman victory over the Corinthians, at the Battle of Corinth (146 BC), until the adoption of the city of Byzantium by the Emperor Constantine the Great as the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Regardless, some Greek cities (such as Pergamon) managed to maintain partial independence and avoid taxation. Most importantly, however, the Greeks were able to maintain a cultural autonomy from their Roman conquerors during the early period of empire, thanks to their rich civilization. Many temples and public buildings were built in Greece by emperors and wealthy Roman nobility, while this would become the longest period of peace in Greek history.


Items found included, gold items, glassware and pottery. (Image: Greek Ministry of Antiquities)

Even though a few Roman nobles regarded the Greeks as petty and inferior, the majority of Romans embraced Greek literature and philosophy. The Greek language became a favorite of the educated and elite Roman citizens, such as Scipio Africanus, who tended to study philosophy and regard Greek culture and science as an example to be followed.

Similarly, most Roman emperors maintained an admiration for things Greek in nature. Hadrian, for example, was known to be fond of the Greeks and before he would become emperor he served as an eponymous archon of Athens, where he constructed the famous Arch of Hadrian.


Arch of Hadrian, Athens. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Corinth in particular – which was partially destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC – was rebuilt in 44 BC as a Roman city under Julius Caesar. Roman Corinth prospered more than any other Greek city at the time and according to various historical accounts, it had as many as 800,000 inhabitants by the time of Paul. It was the capital of Roman Greece, equally devoted to merchants and entertainment.

Generally speaking, one could say that life in Greece continued under the Roman Empire much the same as it had previously (minus the civil wars). And even though the exhausted Greek city-states after hundreds of years of wars (against each other in most cases) were conquered by the Roman military on the battlefield, it was Roman culture that was conquered by the Greeks, a fact that is best highlighted on Horace’s quotation, “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit” (translated: Captive Greece captured her rude conqueror).

Top image: The findings included vases and a series of lamps, notably some included depictions of the Roman goddess Venus and two cupids. (Image: Greek Ministry of Antiquities)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Q&A: How did pasta come to Europe and when did it first become established in Italy?


History Extra


That the food crops up in so many cultures isn’t surprising: pasta is basically unleavened bread that has been boiled rather than baked.

There was long a fond myth that Marco Polo (1254–1324) brought pasta back to Italy from his travels in China, though what in fact he said was that he had found the Chinese eating lagana (sheets or ribbons of noodles or wheat pasta) similar to that already found in Italy.

Pasta as we know it today, made from durum wheat and water, was being produced in Sicily by the 12th century (and probably much earlier), and was probably introduced by Arab colonists. North Africa’s variation on pasta is, of course, couscous. It’s thought the Arabs used dried noodles on journeys and military campaigns as it kept well for long periods. Dried pasta would later be used by European seafarers.

Pasta spread across Italy where production remained hard, physical work; pasta-makers would generally sit and knead the dough with their feet. For this reason, it was expensive until industrialised kneading and extrusion methods were pioneered in Naples in the late 1700s. Only then did it become part of the diet of most Italians, before spreading across the world.

Answered by Eugene Byrne, author and historian.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Leprechauns: At the End of the Rainbow Lies Richness for Irish Folklore

Ancient Origins


Those little men all dressed in green, obsessed with rainbows and treasure, trickery, and of course shoe-making. These are all common perceptions today regarding the famous characters from Irish folklore: Leprechauns. The characteristics of these mythical creatures has transformed over the years and much of what made the little people special in the original tales has been forgotten.

  Etymology for the Word Leprechaun
Many scholars believe that the origin of the word leprechaun is the old Irish Lú Chorpain meaning small body. Another definition has linked the modern name to luchorpán (a word from the 8th century AD) which is defined as sprite or pygmy. Finally, the word leprechaun has been connected to leath bhrógan (shoe maker). This definition is also a possibility as many stories about leprechauns have shown their profession to be the cobblers of the fairy world.

 The word lubrican, another word associated with leprechaun, first was written in English in 1604 in the play The Honest Whore by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker. The line from the play states: "as for your Irish lubrican, that spirit whom by preposterous charms thy lust hath rais'd in a wrong circle…"

The Ancient Leprechauns
 Leprechauns are thought to have been one of the many types of inhabitants of the fairy forts or fairy rings in ancient Ireland. It has been suggested that the merry tricksters of today may even be a modern incarnation of the Euro-Celtic god Lugh (pronounced “Luck”). Lugh was said to be the sun god, patron of arts and crafts and leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann ("peoples of the goddess Danu"


Altar depicting a tricephalic god identified as Lugus (Lugh), discovered in Reims. (Wikipedia)

Medieval Irish manuscripts (12th -15th Centuries) believed to be associated with leprechauns suggest that leprechauns were originally beings that lived underwater and, contrary to today’s depiction, they weren’t all male. They were depicted as warriors with voracious appetites and the female leprechauns were especially engrossed with luring away human men for secret adventures. These characteristics seemed to continue at least until the aforementioned writing in 1604.

Early leprechauns were described as sly old men that wore red suits and were often found working on a solitary shoe. The word solitary was also applied to the social preferences of leprechauns who seemed to prefer time alone to interacting with other faerie creatures, or even other leprechauns. There friendless nature perhaps was also partly due to others avoiding them – early leprechauns were also thought to be particularly mischievous house-haunting drunkards. These characteristics were later passed on to the leprechaun “cousins” the clobhair-ceann or clurichaun, an Irish fairy that is always drunk and rude. The clurichaun got the blame for noisy nights and messy homes (especially wine cellars).


An illustration of a clurichaun, cousin of the leprechauns. (1862) T.C. Croker (Wikimedia Commons)

Changes in Leprechaun Traits: Now a Wealthy Shoemaker
By 1825, the leprechaun population was limited to only males. T. Crofton Croker's Fairy Traditions and Legends of the South of Ireland provided more insight on traits of these mythical creatures: “They are often described as bearded old men dressed in green and wearing buckled shoes. Sometimes they wear a pointed cap or hat and may smoke a pipe.”

The Leprechauns of the time were thought to be particularly stylish. Both Samuel Lover, writing in 1831, and William Butler Yeats (in 1888) made mention of the importance leprechauns placed in their appearance.

Lover wrote that a leprechaun was:

 “…quite a beau in his dress, notwithstanding, for he wears a red square-cut coat, richly laced with gold, waistcoat and inexpressible of the same, cocked hat, shoes and buckles.”

Following that, Yeats later added:

“He is something of a dandy, and dresses in a red coat with seven rows of buttons, seven buttons on each row, and wears a cocked-hat, upon whose pointed end he is wont in the north-eastern counties, according to McAnally, to spin like a top when the fit seizes him.”

The 18th Century poem by William Allingham entitled The Lepracaun; Or, Fairy Shoemaker further promoted the idea that in the fairy realm occupations are chosen by group, and leprechauns were in charge of keeping the rest of the community’s feet happy. He also provided a hint to people searching for leprechauns (more on why soon) – the presence of leprechauns can be noted by their tapping sounds as they work:

"Lay your ear close to the hill.
Do you not catch the tiny clamor,
Busy click of an elfin hammer,
Voice of the Lepracaun singing shrill
As he merrily plies his trade?"


‘Elves and the Shoemaker’, originally from ‘The Book of Fables and Folk Stories’, by Horace E. Scudder. Illustration by George Cruikshank (Wikipedia)

Allingham is often credited as the creator of the “modern leprechaun”: a short man with a red beard, a green hat in which a golden four-leaf clover (symbol of good luck) is tucked, and a green suit with a large buckle on its belt.


A modern stereotype of a leprechaun. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Moral behind Leprechauns
By the 1800s the perception of leprechauns as wealthy, clever folks was a common notion. Thus the old “wee” (small) fellows were depicted in stories with a strong interest in protecting their gold from the greedy humans that sought it out. Leprechauns are supposed to offer bribes to humans if caught in order to regain their freedom.


Engraving of a Leprechaun counting his gold, 1900 (Wikimedia Commons)

The legends about leprechauns not surprisingly focus mostly on a human catching a leprechaun then trying to attain their wealth. The most common story involves a boy or farmer who finds a leprechaun and forces him to tell where he has hidden his gold. The leprechaun is obliged to show him to the spot, which is below a tree or plant. As the human is without a shovel he ties a red cloth around the nearby tree/plant and makes the leprechaun swear he will not remove the indicator. When the person returns with the shovel he finds that there are now many red cloths and the leprechaun has vanished. Thus the leprechaun has managed to trick the human and maintains possession of his gold.

Another similar story tells of a girl who catches the leprechaun and makes him lead her to his treasure, but along the way hears a noise to which the leprechaun tells her there are bees chasing her. When she turns around to look, the leprechaun disappears.

Also according to some legends a leprechaun carries two leather pouches. He has a silver shilling in one which returns to his pouch whenever it has been given. The other pouch has a gold coin which is said to turn into leaves or ashes once the leprechaun is set free.

Another widespread interpretation of events after humans find and catch leprechauns is the offering of three wishes to which the capturer goes insane or is tricked as his wishes backfire. A popular story of this sort is that of Seamus. Seamus was a man from County Mayo who caught a leprechaun and was offered wishes. He chose to be the richest man on a tropical island. His wish was said to have come true, but there was a catch – there were no pubs, shops or other people on the island. Seamus got bored and eventually wished to be back in Ireland.

All of these stories present the same morals: getting rich quick doesn’t work out in the long run, stealing is wrong, and don’t mess with the Irish faerie folk.

 The Fascination Leprechauns Continue to Hold
Leprechauns are now understood to be the fairy tales of the past and fanciful stories to tell when one sees a rainbow. However there is still a hold these little folk have on modern society. In Dublin there is even a Leprechaun museum which provides tours and detailed information on leprechauns and Irish folklore throughout the ages. Some Irish-themed sites also provide readers with tips and tricks on how to catch a leprechaun (and what to do when you have).

Leprechaun, Wax Museum Plus, Ireland (Wikimedia Commons)

On the other side of the pond, General Mills cereal’s Lucky Charms has “Lucky” the leprechaun to keep children entertained while they consume the sugar-filled product for which he is the mascot. There are also horror/comedy movies that are focused on a monstrous trickster of a leprechaun to torment adults.

Leprechauns may not really provide us a treasure of gold and silver, but they certainly have provided richness to Irish folklore.

Featured Image: A Leprechaun’s hat. (Albund | Dreamstime.com)

By Alicia McDermott

Monday, November 13, 2017

Who Were These Vikings Buried Sitting Upright?


Ancient Origins


BY THORNEWS

Accidentally, in 1963 a burial ground with 24 graves deep inside the bay of Sandvika on the eastern side of the island of Jøa in Central Norway were discovered. The bodies buried in a sitting position dates back to the years 650 to 1000 AD, and analyses show that these Vikings belonged to a very special group of people.

Unlike other Viking Age graves, the graveyard was unknown because the bodies were not placed inside a burial mound that is clearly visible in the terrain, or marked in any other way. These dead Vikings were lowered into cylinder- and funnel-shaped sand holes from flat ground. The question is why.

Sandvika Burial Ground is Unique
The Sandvika burial ground is unique in Scandinavia, and these people are the only ones found with sitting bodies.

The burial custom had been very strenuous: Firstly, the person must have been dead for at least twenty-four hours so that rigor mortis could make it possible to shape the body into a seated position, and secondly, it must have been very difficult to form seats in the porous shell sand.

 However, these are not the only reasons why this particular group of Vikings is a mystery.


One of the skeletons found in the Sandvika sitting graves, Central Norway (Photo: NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, 1965-66)

Old Women – Small Men
In 14 of the 24 graves there were found skeletons and skeletal remains; 10 graves were empty.

 Of these, seven women and four men have been identified. Analyses shows that the women reached an average age of 47 years, much higher than average for Iron Age people, where the normal life expectancy for women was 39 years.

It has only been possible to determine the age of one of the men, and he died at the age of 40.


The reconstructed Tranås Iron Age farm located only a few hundred meters from Sandvika. (Photo: ThorNews)

The women had an average height of 157.2 centimeters (5ft 2in), and the men 162.6 centimeters (5ft 4in), which is much lower than the normal height for this period.

 The men were as much as 10 centimeters (3.9in) lower than the average for the Viking Age (172.6 cm / 5ft 8in) and 12 centimeters (4.7in) lower than people living in the Iron Age (174.7 cm / 5ft 9in).

The women do not differ so much – they only were 3.7 centimeters (1.5in) lower than the normal for Iron Age women (160.9 cm / 5ft 3in) and 0.9 centimeters (0.35in) lower than Danish Viking women (158.1 cm / 5ft 3in).

Heathen Hof Nearby
The dating of artifacts shows that these Vikings were buried fully clothed in the period 650 – 1000 AD, i.e. from the Merovingian period to the end of the Viking Age, and it seems like the burial custom ended when Christianity was forced with swords upon the Norse society.

Today, on the other side of the small river Hovselva (English: the Hof River) is the Hov (Hof) farm located in the northeast – indicating that there was a pagan temple located close to the burial ground.

In all of the 24 graves there were found remnants of bonfires, so it is natural to assume that there must have been some kind of ritual that included bonfire in connection with the funeral.

Orientation and Knives
Another peculiarity is that about half the bodies were facing north-northeast (facing the Hof) and half to the south-southeast. No one was facing directly east and only one body was facing directly to the west.


An illustration showing the orientation of the bodies. Credit: Thor Lanesskog

As many as ten knifes were found in nine different graves. They vary in length, but none of them has a blade more than 20 centimeters and consequently had not been used as Viking combat weapons. The individuals they belonged to must have used these knives for a different purpose.

There were no other weapons found inside the graves, which is unusual for the Viking Age. However, there were also found beads, brooches, finger rings and keys, but there is no repeating pattern.

Specialists in Their Field
The similarities between the buried Vikings are many:

 Both women and men died at an old age, and the men were much lower than the average height in the Viking Age.

They were buried in a small area close to a heathen Hof, and the dead were put down in a sitting position. There was no marking of the graves but they may have been marked with ornamental shrubs or flowers.

Almost all of the graves contained remnants of bonfire, and there are no traces of weapons. However, there were found many “regular” cut knives.

The bodies were facing north-northeast and south-southeast. No one was facing directly towards the east.

Who was this specialist group of Vikings? Was it “hovgydjer”, meaning pagan priestesses – and were the knives used for sacrifice? If so, the theory that Viking Age priests only were women is not correct.

Maybe Norse pagan priests also were small men with special “feminine qualities”?

Top image: Main image: Screen of Gameplay of the video game War of the Vikings (public domain). Inset: One of the skeletons found in the Sandvika sitting graves, Central Norway (Photo: NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, 1965-66)

The article ‘Who Were These Vikings Buried Sitting Upright?’ by Thor Lanesskog, was originally published on ThorNews and has been republished with permission.