Friday, October 18, 2013

Swedish archaeologists uncover rows of pre-Viking foundations






Pillars from the past: Swedish archaeologists uncover rows of pre-Viking foundations for giant wooden poles near 1,500-year-old royal burial ground

  • Colonnades found in the ancient pagan religious centre of Old Uppsala during work on a new railway line
  • Archaeologists say the 'unique' colonnades were likely from the 5th century, but their purpose is unclear
  • One row stretches for about 1km, while the other runs for about half the length in 'completely straight lines'
  • Experts believe the pillars would have been around 7m high and needed at least a ton of rock to support them



Petroglyphs from Scandinavia (Häljesta, Västmanland in Sweden). Composite image. Nordic Bronze Age. The glyphs are painted to make them more visible. It is unknown whether they were painted originally. Archaeologists in Sweden say they have unearthed the remains of unusually large wooden monuments near a pre-Viking Age burial ground.

There is general agreement that by 8000 BC the retreat of the glaciers had left most of Scandinavia open for
human settlement; that there has likely been continuous settlement in Norway and Sweden since this time.
It is generally accepted that descendants of these hunter – gatherers from three southern European glacial
refugia ultimately became the Scandinavian Vikings circa 800 AD. What has not been adequately
addressed is the evidence demonstrating that there was a significant movement of people, as well as their
horses and cultural traditions, from Central Asia to Scandinavia in the years immediately prior to the
Viking - Era. Many or most explorations of the matter have assumed that trade explains the appearance of
all the Central Asian finds in Scandinavia. What this approach fails to explain is the presence of
Scandinavians with DNA signatures that are not European, but which bear a direct link to the Caucasus
Mountain and Central Asian regions. It is also argued here that it was this population shift and consequent
cultural upheavals that sparked the Scandinavian expansions in the years to follow. What makes the
present study entirely different from those who have addressed (often somewhat controversially) this
matter is the reliance on Y chromosome genetic evidence. Historical, linguistic, archaeological data
sources are used to support the Central Asian migration hypothesis. The focus of the present study is to
cross – validate these other sources of evidence by analyzing the results of testing of the non – recombining
part of the Y chromosome (NRY). This male lineage marker is known for its power as a tool in the
exploration of human population movements. In this case it is shown that not only did human groups
migrate from Central Asia to Scandinavia, but in addition genetic evidence concludes that the horses so
important in Scandinavian life also originated in Mongolia, and were brought to Scandinavia at
approximately the same time as the proposed migration of humans. It is argued that these people with a
long history of using horses and ships to extract wealth and territory from opponents are the most likely
candidates for the leaders of those who founded the Norse colonies such as the Shetland Islands circa
800AD and Iceland circa 870AD. The most important contribution of the present study is to use Y-DNA
genetic databases with samples scattered from Mongolia to Britain to show the continuity of genetic marker
patterns from the Shetland Islands and other Norse colonies to groups such as the Altai of Central Asia, and
the Azeri of Azerbaijan, and the lack of similarity of this subset of the Scandinavian population to local
Eastern Europeans

As the ground was dug in preparation for a new railway line, they found traces of two rows of wooden pillars in Old Uppsala, an ancient pagan religious centre.

One stretched about 1km and the other was around half as long.

Mystery: Archaeologists in Sweden have uncovered this 1km-long row of wooden poles which is believed to be from the 5th Century, but their purpose is unclear

Mystery: Archaeologists in Sweden have uncovered this 1km-long row of wooden poles which is believed to be from the 5th Century, but their purpose is unclear

Even though Scandinavians joined the European Bronze Age cultures fairly late through trade, Scandinavian sites present rich and well-preserved objects made of wool, wood and imported Central European bronze and gold. During this period Scandinavia gave rise to the first known advanced civilization in this area following the Nordic Stone Age. The Scandinavians adopted many central European and Mediterranean symbols at the same time that they created new styles and objects.Mycenaean Greece, the Villanovan Culture, Phoenicia and Ancient Egypt have all been identified as possible sources of influence in Scandinavian artwork from this period. The foreign influence is believed to be attributed to amber trade, and amber found in Mycenaean graves from this period originates from the Baltic Sea. Several petroglyphs depict ships, and the large stone formations known as stone ships indicate that shipping played an important role in the culture. Several petroglyphs depict ships which could possibly be Mediterranean.

From this period there are many mounds and fields of petroglyphs, but their signification is long since lost. There are also numerous artifacts of bronze and gold. The rather crude appearance of the petroglyphs compared to the bronze works have given rise to the theory that they were produced by different cultures or different social groups. No written language existed in the Nordic countries during the Bronze Age.

The Nordic Bronze Age was characterized by a warm climate (which is compared to that of the Mediterranean), which permitted a relatively dense population, but it ended with a climate change consisting of deteriorating, wetter and colder climate (sometimes believed to have given rise to the legend of the Fimbulwinter) and it seems very likely that the climate pushed the Germanic tribes southwards into continental Europe. During this time there was Scandinavian influence in Eastern Europe. A thousand years later, the numerous East Germanic tribes that claimed Scandinavian origins (Burgundians, Goths and Heruls), as did the Lombards, rendered Scandinavia (Scandza) the name "womb of nations" in Jordanes' Getica.

Pre-Roman Iron Age

Main article: Pre-Roman Iron Age

The Nordic Bronze Age ended with a deteriorating, colder and wetter climate. This period is known for being poor in archaeological finds. This is also the period when theGermanic tribes became known to the Mediterranean world and the Romans.

Initially iron was valuable and was used for decoration. The oldest objects were needles, but swords and sickles are found as well. Bronze continued to be used during the whole period but was mostly used for decoration. The traditions were a continuity from the Nordic Bronze Age, but there were strong influences from the Hallstatt culture in Central Europe. They continued with the Urnfield culture tradition of burning corpses and placing the remains in urns. During the last centuries, influences from the Central European La Tène culture spread to Scandinavia from northwestern  Germany, and there are finds from this period from all the provinces of southern Scandinavia. From this time archaeologists have found swords, shieldbosses,  spearheads, scissors, sickles, pincers, knives, needles, buckles, kettles, etc. Bronze continued to be used for torquesand kettles, the style of which were a continuity from the Bronze Age. One of the most prominent finds is the Dejbjerg wagon from Jutland, a four-wheeled wagon of wood with bronze parts.

Roman Iron Age

Roman Iron Age

While many Germanic tribes sustained continued contact with the culture and military presence of the Roman Empire, much of Scandinavia existed on the most extreme periphery of the Latin world. With the exception of the passing references to the Swedes (Suiones) and the Geats (Gautoi), much of Scandinavia remained unrecorded by Roman authors.

In Scandinavia, there was a great import of goods, such as coins (more than 7 000), vessels, bronze images, glass beakers, enameled buckles, weapons, etc. Moreover, the style of metal objects and clay vessels was markedly Roman. For the first time appear objects such as shears and pawns. In the 3rd century and 4th century, some elements were imported from Germanic tribes that had settled north of the Black Sea, one of which is thought to be Norse runes.

There are also many bog bodies from this time in Denmark, Schleswig and southern Sweden. Together with the bodies, there are weapons, household wares and clothes of wool. Great ships made for rowing have been found from the 4th century in Nydam mosse in Schleswig. Many were buried without burning, but the burning tradition later regained its popularity.

Through the 5th century and 6th century, gold and silver became more common. Much of this can be attributed to the ransacking of the Roman Empire by Germanic tribes, from which many Scandinavians returned with gold and silver.

Germanic Iron Age

The period succeeding the fall of the Roman Empire is known as the Germanic Iron Age, and it is divided into the early Germanic Iron and the late Germanic Iron Age, which in Sweden is known as the Vendel Age, with rich burials in the basin of Lake Mälaren. The early Germanic Iron Age is the period when the Danes appear in history, and according to Jordanes, they were an offshoot of the Swedes (suehans, suetidi) who had replaced the Heruls.

During the fall of the Roman empire, there was an abundance of gold that flowed into Scandinavia, and there are excellent works in gold from this period. Gold was used to make scabbard mountings and bracteates; notable examples are the Golden horns of Gallehus.

After the Roman Empire had disappeared, gold became scarce and Scandinavians began to make objects of gilded bronze, with decorations of interlacing animals in Scandinavian style. The early Germanic Iron Age decorations show animals that are rather faithful anatomically, but in the late Germanic Iron Age they evolve into intricate shapes with interlacing and interwoven limbs that are well-known from the Viking Age.

Viking Age



A reconstructed Viking ship



Viking Age

During the Viking Age, the Vikings (Scandinavian warriors and traders) raided, colonized and explored large parts of Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa, and North America, more specifically the modern area identified as Newfoundland.

The beginning of the Viking Age is commonly given as 793, when Vikings pillaged the important British island monastery ofLindisfarne, and its end is marked by the unsuccessful invasion of England attempted by Harald Hårdråde in 1066 and the Norman conquest.

Age of settlement


Scandinavian settlements and voyages

The age of settlement began around 800 AD. The Vikings invaded and eventually settled in Scotland, England, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Ireland, Livonia, Normandy, the Shetland Islands, Sicily,Rus' and Vinland, on what is now known as the Island of Newfoundland. Swedish settlers were mostly present in Rus, Livonia, and other eastern regions while the Norwegians and the Danish were primarily concentrated in western and northern Europe. These eastern-traveling Scandinavian migrants were eventually known as Varangians (væringjar, meaning "sworn men"),and according to the oldest Slavic sources, these varangians founded Kievan Rus, the major East European state prior to the Mongolinvasions. The western-led warriors, eventually known as Vikings, left great cultural marks on regions such as French Normandy, England, and Ireland, where the city of Dublin was founded by Viking invaders. Iceland first became colonized in the late 9th century.


 Christianization of Scandinavia


During the Christianization of Norway, King Olaf ordered male völvas(seidmen) tied and left on a skerry at ebb, resulting in a protracted death by drowning and the securing of Christian hegemony in the Norwegian kingdom.

Viking religious beliefs were heavily connected to Norse mythology. Vikings placed heavy emphasis on battle, honor and focused on the idea of Valhalla, a mythical home with the gods for fallen warriors.

Christianity in Scandinavia came later than most parts of Europe. In Denmark Harald BluetoothChristianized the country around 980. The process of Christianization began in Norway during the reigns of Olaf Tryggvason (reigned 995 AD-c.1000 AD) and Olaf II Haraldsson (reigned 1015 AD-1030 AD). Olaf and Olaf II had been baptized voluntarily outside of Norway. Olaf II managed to bring English clergy to his country. Norway's conversion from the Norse religion to Christianity was mostly the result of English missionaries. As a result of the adoption of Christianity by the monarchy and eventually the entirety of the country, traditional shamanistic practices were marginalized and eventually persecuted. Völvas, practitioners of seid, a Scandinavian pre-Christian tradition, were executed or exiled under newly Christianized governments in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

The Icelandic Commonwealth adopted Christianity in 1000 AD, after pressure from Norway. The Goði-chieftain Þorgeirr Ljósvetningagoði was instrumental in bringing this about.

Sweden required a little more time to transition to Christianity, with indigenous religious practices commonly held in localized communities well until the end of the eleventh century. A brief Swedish civil war ensued in 1066 primarily reflecting the divisions between practitioners of indigenous religions and advocates of Christianity; by the mid-twelfth century, the Christian faction appeared to have triumphed; the once resistant center of Uppsala became the seat of the Swedish Archbishop in 1164. The Christianization of Scandinavia occurred nearly simultaneously with the end of the Viking era. The adoption of Christianity is believed to have aided in the absorption of Viking communities into the greater religious and cultural framework of the European continent.



Unique: The wooden monuments were found near a pre-Viking Age burial ground while work was carried out to prepare for a new railway line

Unique: The wooden monuments were found near a pre-Viking Age burial ground while work was carried out to prepare for a new railway line

Archaeologist Lena Beronius-Jorpeland said the colonnades were likely from the 5th century, but their purpose is unclear.

She called it Sweden's largest Iron Age construction and said the geometrical structure is unique. 'It is a completely straight line and they have dug postholes every 20 feet (6m),' she said. 'They have had an idea of exactly where this line is going and where to build it.

'It is a fairly modern way of thinking and we don't have many traces of these sorts of constructions from that time.'

Unfortunately we do not have clear evidence of the origins of the early Norse. It is generally assumed that they crossed to what is today Norway and
Sweden about 8000 BC when the region of Denmark, Southern Sweden, and England were one land mass. “The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings” (Haywood, 1995) and the above “Cultural Atlas of the Viking World” agree that there is no convincing evidence of subsequent migrations into Scandinavia, thus it seems likely, according to
these sources, that these first hunter – gatherers were the ancestors of the Vikings who emerged circa 800 AD. It is the purpose of the present work to challenge this assumption. A much more balanced and detailed study of the matter is presented in “Vikings:
the North Atlantic Saga” (Price, 2000) where the author notes the significant changes in culture, “which may reflect new population groups” (p. 35) occurring with the Funnel Beaker, Battle Axe, and Pitted Ware cultures which existed between about 4000 BC to 2200 BC.
Norway would have been very sparsely populated indeed in the Middle Stone Age to about 4000 BC. The latter figure marks the transition between the Mesolithic and4 Neolithic (New Stone Age), and at this time cattle raising and farming began in the southern reaches of Scandinavia (including south eastern Norway). A hunter – gatherer way of life would still have been predominant in the northern reaches of the region, where trade in walrus tusks and hides was an important part of the local economy. By
about 2000 BC, the stone tool kits began to give way to items made of bronze that, via trade routes, made exotic trade goods available to the northern most reaches of Norway. While there are rich archaeological remains in Denmark, any statements about Norway are largely by inference. It is likely that at this time a rich and powerful elite emerged in Scandinavia with access to the bronze goods. About the 1st millennium BC there was a transition to the Iron Age, the ingredients of which were freely available in the bog iron of Scandinavia. This Age is divided into a number of phases, with the last being the era when the Roman Empire held sway over much of  Continental Europe (1st to beginning of the 5th Century AD). These latter dates
shall assume a particular importance shortly in connection with the thesis of this study. It was also a time of mass migrations in response to the tumultuous changes occurring throughout Europe and Asia. The information here and below is found in works noted above unless otherwise indicated. The Roman Age (1st to 4th Centuries AD): Unfortunately relatively little is known of Norway during this period, compared to the more southerly regions. What has been
established is that the Norse were situated in the southern and mid sections of what is today Norway, and that the Danes occupied the most southern part of Sweden as well as the rest of what is today Denmark with the exception of the Jutland Peninsula. The Swedes were divided into two groups. To the north on both sides of Lake Malar were the Svears (who would give their name to the modern country) with their royal seat
at Old Uppsala, and to the south were the East Gotar residing east of Lake Vaner in the provinces of Vastergotland and, (significantly as we shall see) Ostergotland, and West Gotar from Western Sweden and Eastern Norway. Around 44 BC various groups of
Scandinavians began to move south to the Continent and expand in numbers, including the Goths (who became the historical Ostrogoths and Visigoths) and Vandals (perhaps from Vendel just beyond the northern reaches of the Svear lands), of which more will be said later.
Migration Period (375 to 550 AD): After the fall of the Roman Empire circa 420

Exciting find: Archaeologist Fredrik Thölin sitting next to one of the foundations where the wooden poles were erected around every 20 feet

Exciting find: Archaeologist Fredrik Thölin sitting next to one of the foundations where the wooden poles were erected around every 20 feet

Intriguing: Archaeologist Anton Seiler examines one of the foundations which held pillars that were believed to be around 7m high

Intriguing: Archaeologist Anton Seiler examines one of the foundations which held pillars that were believed to be around 7m high

She said the pillars are believed to have been at least 23 feet (7m) high.

Bones found in some postholes indicate animals had been sacrificed there.

Old Uppsala is known as a centre for Norse religion, where believers gathered to sacrifice animals to gods such as Odin and Thor.

The skeleton of a puppy was found in one of the pits, which suggests they had been sacrificed there Each foundation for the posts required a huge effort. In a single foundation, it may be up to one and a half tons of rock that supported the high wooden pole



The skeleton of a puppy (left) in one of the pits, which suggests it had been sacrificed there. Right, an artist's impression of workers erecting the poles which needed more than a ton of rock to support them

What were they for? An artist's impression of what the monument may have looked like. The colonnades have been described as Sweden's largest Iron Age construction

What were they for? An artist's impression of what the monument may have looked like. The colonnades have been described as Sweden's largest Iron Age construction

The colonnades were found near a famous burial site where the three Iron Age kings Aun, Egil and Adils are believed to be buried.

Beronius-Jorpeland said written testimonies from medieval times describe the city as a place for large pagan 'blood ceremonies' and religious feasts.

She said she believes there may be more colonnades in the area and archaeologists will continue to excavate and analyze the findings.


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