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Archaeologists Discover Remains of Viking Parliament of Medieval Norse King in Scotland

Archaeologists Discover Remains of Viking Parliament of Medieval Norse King in Scotland

A place where Vikings settled disputes, made key political decisions, and decided laws has been unearthed on the Isle of Bute, in Scotland.

The history of the Isle of Bute is connected with the Norse King Ketill Flatnose, whose descendants were the earliest settlers of Iceland. The site which was recently discovered has been identified as the location of a Norse parliament, known as a ''thing''.

'Althing in Session' (19th century) by W. G. Collingwood.

'Althing in Session' (19th century) by W. G. Collingwood. ( Public Domain )

Although in our times this word is mostly related to unimportant objects, in Viking times this term had a different meaning . According to specialists in old Scandinavian languages, the word ''thing'' came from the old Norse word ''þing'', meaning assembly.

The mound site at Cnoc an Rath has been an interesting archaeological site since the 1950s, but it has never been fully researched. The recent series of excavations was started due to the suggestion that it could have been a farm site dating back to the prehistoric or medieval period.

The Herald reports that archaeologists uncovered samples of a preserved surface during excavations, which was analyzed with the use of radiocarbon dating. The results were clear; the area was an important land for the Vikings during their stay in Scotland.

Cnoc an Rath on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.

Cnoc an Rath on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. ( Discover Bute, Youtube Screenshot )

The discovery was presented at the beginning of May at the Scottish Place-Name Society Conference, held in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. According to the researchers , the discovered site contains important evidence of human activity and a possible location for the headquarters of the Gall-Gaidheil, meaning ''Foreign Gaels''.

As archaeologist Paul Duffy, who runs Brandanii Archaeology and Heritage Consultancy,  said:

“The first date from the site is between the mid-7th Century and the mid-9th century. That is the end of Dalriada and the time when the Vikings arrive at the end of the 8th Century - so it puts it firmly in the time we were looking at, although maybe a little bit early to be a 'thing' site. The second date we got back - was late 7th Century to late 9th century – which puts it quite firmly in the period when we are fairly sure Vikings are active round about the Argyll coast and Bute.''

The Norse-Gael society dominated the region of the Irish Sea for a part of the medieval times. They supported the Kings of Ireland with military forces.

The main evidence which links Bute with old Viking traditions is the Irish religious manuscript Martyrology of Tallaght, which dates to around 900 AD. It refers to the bishop, St. Blane of Kingarth on Bute, who stayed in the territory of the Gall-Gaidheil. The researchers believe that the leader of the Gall-Gaidheil, Ketill Flatnose, was also connected with this place. Apart from this, medieval farms dated back to the 14th century have also been identified at the location.

The path at Cnoc an Rath on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.

The path at Cnoc an Rath on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. (Alan Reid/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

It is not the first discovery like this in Scotland. On October 27, 2013, Ancient Origins informed that archaeologists discovered an 11th century Viking parliament underneath a parking lot in the town of Dingwall. It was considered as a rare finding because most Viking assemblies took place in open-air fields - so it is quite unusual to find a more permanent building that was used.

An important parliament site was also discovered in Iceland , at Þingvellir (the ‘assembly fields’ or ‘Parliament Plains’), which is in the southwestern part of the island. Founded in 930 AD, the Althingi was initially used for the general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth. The gatherings typically lasted for two weeks in June, which was a period of uninterrupted daylight, and had the mildest weather.

During these meetings, the country’s most powerful leaders would decide on legislation and dispense justice. At the center of the assembly was the  Lögberg, or Law Rock. This was a rocky outcrop which the Lawspeaker, the presiding official of the assembly, took his seat. Today, Þingvellir is an Icelandic national park, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Lögberg, or Law Rock, at Þingvellir National Park, Iceland.

The Lögberg, or Law Rock, at Þingvellir National Park, Iceland. ( My Iceland )

The domination of the Vikings on the seas and oceans was visible for a few centuries in the Middle Ages. The Norse people left Scandinavia, traveled to Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and finally landed in North America, where they created the first settlements in Canada.

The heritage of the people from some of the coldest parts of Europe is related not only with war but also building boats and the colonization of new lands. The Vikings had a well-organized society, which respected law and had a form of structure - which nowadays we often call a parliament.

Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker showing the power of his office to the King of Sweden at Gamla Uppsala, 1018.

Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker showing the power of his office to the King of Sweden at Gamla Uppsala, 1018. ( Public Domain )

Featured Image: The site of Cnoc an Rath on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. ( Paul Duffy ) Germanic thing, drawn after the depiction in a relief of the Column of Marcus Aurelius (AD 193) ( Public Domain )

By Natalia Klimczak

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