Archaeologist to delve into Viking presence in Spain
Many people do not realize how far and wide the Vikings of the 8 th to 11 th centuries ranged. They voyaged from their homelands in Scandinavia, north and west to Iceland and Vinland and south down the Atlantic Coast and into the Mediterranean and Black Sea and up into Eastern Europe and Russia.
Unusually, the Vikings’ presence in one particular place that they landed and stayed a while, northern Galicia in Spain, has not been studied. Locals take pride in Viking heritage and point to some people’s blue eyes and ginger hair. Maybe some Vikings of that time and place were known as Erico el Rojo instead of Erik the Red.
Map of Viking expansion in Europe ( Wikimedia Commons )
However, the lack of information about Viking activities in Spain is about to change with a new study planned by Irene García Losquiño of the University of Aberdeen’s Center for Scandinavian Studies. She expressed surprise about how little is known about the Vikings’ activities in Spain.
“There are written accounts of Viking raids in northern Spain but, archaeologically, absolutely nothing has been done on an academic scale,” she told The University of Aberdeen’s research news website . “Internationally, there is only a vague knowledge that the Vikings went there. They visited the area from around 840 until the 11th century but there is no realization that there is this vast thing to be explored. Most of the studies focus on their activities in other countries such as Britain and Ireland.
She visited the region in March 2014 when storms caused Viking anchors to wash ashore. She saw a mound on the beach near the anchors. Locals assumed the mound was a motte-and-bailey structure, or a castle-type structure with a wall on a raised area. But tomography showed it to be a longphort, or shore-side fort similar to where Vikings wintered in Britain after taking over a harbor.
A Viking anchor (9th century) discovered in Loire Atlantique, France ( Wikimedia Commons )
Written sources say during one visit Vikings came in the fjord at Santiago and stayed three years in the fields. García Losquiño said no one knows where they stayed or what they did while there. She will study these things. Some of the sites are in marshes, which are good for preserving archaeological evidence, she said.
She is applying for funding to do a more complete study of the Viking presence in Galicia and Seville, which the locals are very interested in. The professor intends to reach out and educate the local people about their Viking heritage by inviting them to digs and to contribute to exhibitions where the researchers will share their findings.
Some people in the region have blue eyes and red hair, and they speculate Vikings stayed there and intermarried. In some places Spanish people of today share traditions with Scandinavian cultures--not Spanish or Celtic, but Viking, she said.
“It is hugely important to share any information that we find with the local community, so they can relate their history to the interaction with the Vikings,” García Losquiño said. “They are proud of this link to the Vikings. In some towns there are festivals and pilgrimages that pay homage to these roots. But there is a lack of facts and data about when they were here, where they went, and how long for. I hope to be able to fill in some of these blanks and share it with the whole community. It is such a local thing, in some cases only a Spaniard, and in some cases someone who can speak the local language can have access to – so I am very fortunate!”
She is preparing a dig in the spring. She and her team will examine with metal detectors sites that are unusually shaped. She has also been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with recent satellite images and sees that some sites are like Viking camps found elsewhere.
The professor is also trying to raise money to produce a documentary video about Vikings in Galicia. She has two videos about Vikings already at a website she calls Viking Iberia .
Featured image: Excerpt from folio 47v of Harley MS 2278. The scene depicts Hinguar and Hubba setting out to avenge their father, Lothbrok. ( Wikimedia Commons )
By Mark Miller