Beyond Violence: Examining UK Viking Families and their Artifacts
Understanding Viking families through the artifacts they left behind and their DNA is the latest approach to learning more about the Viking Age in the United Kingdom. Scientists in the UK are currently planning a reanalysis of ancient Viking archaeology to identify new connections between invading Viking cultures and the populations in the two Norse power centers at York (England) and Dublin (Ireland).
It has long been known that the Viking families in these two population centers were ruled by descendants of the same Viking family, the “grandsons of Ivar,” during the late 9th and early 10th century. “Ivar the Boneless” is believed to be the son of Danish king Ragnar Lothbrok who featured in the History Channel series “Vikings.”
According to the 2005 book Viking Empires, the Viking Age in Europe lasted from 800 AD until about the 1050s AD, just before the 1066 AD Norman Conquest of England. During this period “Dyflin” (Dublin in Ireland) and “Jorvik” (York in England) were major centers of Viking rule and home to an extensive network of Viking families.
A team of researchers from Glasgow University and the University of York plan to study old Viking archaeology and artifacts with the hopes of further illustrating the connections between Dublin, Ireland and York, England. It is thought that this innovative project will also help the archaeologists better understand the daily life of Viking families in Scotland and elsewhere.
Until Now We Have Focused On Viking Violence And Looting
The new archaeological project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Creative Ireland, Dublin City Council and the National University of Ireland. The aim of the project is to re-study many of the well-preserved Viking items recovered from York and Dublin to understand Viking life and Viking families better.
These fierce warriors are what we typically imagine when we think about Vikings but there is more to these people than just looting or violence. Many Viking men in the UK were also part of Viking families and had "normal" daily lives! (Nejron Photo / Adobe Stock)
Speaking to the National Scot, Glasgow University archaeologist Dr Stephen Harrison said that most people were fascinated by the Viking’s “violence and the raiding.” But he explained that this is rapidly changing, and that people are now as interested in learning about how Viking families integrated and traded with foreign cultures.
The term “Scandinavian Scotland” refers to the period from the 8th to the 15th centuries AD when Vikings and Norwegian settlers colonized parts of what is now modern Scotland.
The hostilities between the Scandinavian Earls of Orkney and the emerging sea empire of the Kingdom of the Isles is well-documented. However, while the violence that existed between the Dublin Vikings and those stationed along the west coast of Scotland is well understood, this new project sets out to discover more about how Vikings “interacted with settlements and native populations stretching from Galloway to the Western Isles,” according to Dr Harrison.
What everyday Viking families left behind, food residues for example, can now be chemically analyzed to better understand the daily lives of Vikings in the UK. (Evdoha / Adobe Stock)
Using High-tech, Researchers Are Re-examining Viking Lives
Despite the Vikings well-known spirit of adventure, shipbuilding and conquest, this new Viking research approach aims to answer long-standing questions about how Viking explorers lived, where they traveled to, and who they really were in everyday life. This means that the latest project will also, hopefully, provide better insights into the daily and seasonal lives of Viking families in these areas of the United Kingdom.
Therefore, the effort of this new research project is not to discover new Viking archaeology, but to reanalyze artifacts and documents uncovered from the 1970s-80s AD with new methods of analysis. Dr Harrison says he wants to “squeeze” new data from the old material because “The amount you can tell about the environment now has changed completely.”
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This means the archaeologists will chemically analyze food residue samples found on ancient Viking cookware. They will also examine the microscopic remains of insects found in Viking areas of the UK. Both food residues and insects can provide key environmental data related to Viking diets and the everyday lives of Viking families. For example, “what Vikings made their beds with, and how badly affected were they by parasites?”
The latest Viking research project in Ireland aims to use the DNA of ancient UK Vikings, as well as a new analysis of UK Viking artifacts, to learn more about Viking daily life and how Vikings eventually became part of the local and, then modern, culture of the UK. (Giovanni Cancemi / Adobe Stock)
Mapping The DNA Of UK Viking Families Will Tell Us More!
Knowing Viking ship captains sailed from Scandinavia to unexplored shores, one would think modern researchers of the Viking Age would focus on sea charts and retrace the ancient intercoastal Viking shipping lanes. But more likely, today’s scientists are looking at the DNA maps of known Viking families.
The modern era of Viking research, i.e. looking beyond the stereotype of them “only” being violent colonists, was born in 2015 when University of Bergen geneticist Ellen Røyrvik studied the genetic legacy of Viking populations living in the British Isles. She concluded that their “interaction with local residents was wonderfully complex and unpredictable.”
As Vikings are viewed less as pillaging, raping-looters, new research results are quickly coming out. Perhaps the best example of how they integrated with foreign cultures was published last week in my Ancient Origins news article about the new Lidl store in Dublin featuring a 10th century Hiberno-Norse structure under a glass floor. This stands as evidence of “the union of ancient Scottish and Norse cultures.”
In summary, we can no longer just follow old-school ideas in which all Vikings were everyone’s enemy. While Viking Age rulers, warlords and sea captains were holding Europe’s rulers at the tips of their swords, many more shiploads of “friendlier” Vikings shared their religious thoughts, arts, crafts and culture with the new peoples they encountered.
And with Vikings becoming more humanized, as so many were members of “peaceful” Viking families, it is now becoming very clear that many of these Vikings fell in love, well, at least fell into bed, with folk from the new territories they settled in. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Viking DNA maps!
Top image: Ancient UK Viking families, who are now part of the native populations of Ireland, Scotland and England, were not entirely violent or focused on looting. Now, they are all friends!
Source: Viacheslav Iakobchuk / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie