Category Archives: History News

Read about the most recent archaeological finds, new books and articles, and interpretations of our human history!

Viking Women Colonized New Lands, Too

viking-boatVikings may have been family men who travelled with their wives to new lands, according to a new study of ancient Viking DNA.

Maternal DNA from ancient Norsemen closely matches that of modern-day people in the North Atlantic isles, particularly from the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

The findings suggest that both Viking men and women sailed on the ships to colonize new lands. The new study also challenges the popular conception of Vikings as glorified hoodlums with impressive seafaring skills. [Fierce Fighters: 7 Secrets of Viking Men]

“It overthrows this 19th century idea that the Vikings were just raiders and pillagers,” said study co-author Erika Hagelberg, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oslo in Norway. “They established settlements and grew crops, and trade was very, very important.”

Vikings hold a special place in folklore as manly warriors who terrorized the coasts of France, England and Germany for three centuries. But the Vikings were much more than pirates and pillagers. They established far-flung trade routes, reached the shores of present-day America, settled in new lands and even founded the modern city of Dublin, which was called Dyfflin by the Vikings.

Some earlier genetic studies have suggested that Viking males traveled alone and then brought local women along when they settled in a new location. For instance, a 2001 study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggested that Norse men brought Gaelic women over when they colonized Iceland.

Modern roots

To learn more about Norse colonization patterns, Hagelberg and her colleagues extracted teeth and shaved off small wedges of long bones from 45 Norse skeletons that were dated to between A.D. 796 and A.D. 1066. The skeletons were first unearthed in various locations around Norway and are now housed in the Schreiner Collection at the University of Oslo.

The team looked at DNA carried in the mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of the cell. Because mitochondria are housed in the cytoplasm of a woman’s egg, they are passed on from a woman to her children and can therefore reveal maternal lineage. The team compared that material with mitochondrial DNA from 5,191 people from across Europe, as well as with previously analyzed samples from 68 ancient Icelanders.

The ancient Norse and Icelandic genetic material closely matched the maternal DNA in modern North Atlantic people, such as Swedes, Scots and the English. But the ancient Norse seemed most closely related to people from Orkney and Shetland Islands, Scottish isles that are quite close to Scandinavia.

Mixed group

It looks like women were a more significant part of the colonization process compared to what was believed earlier,” said Jan Bill, an archaeologist and the curator of the Viking burial ship collection at the Museum of Cultural History, a part of the University of Oslo.

That lines up with historical documents, which suggest that Norse men, women and children — but also Scottish, British and Irish families — colonized far-flung islands such as Iceland, Bill told Live Science. Bill was not involved with the new study.

“This picture that we have of Viking raiding — a band of long ships plundering — there obviously would not be families on that kind of ship,” Bill said. “But when these raiding activities started to become a more permanent thing, then at some point you may actually see families are traveling along and staying in the camps.”

As a follow-up, the team would like to compare ancient Norse DNA to ancient DNA from Britain, Scotland and the North Atlantic Isles, to get a better look at exactly how all these people are related, Hagelberg said.

The findings were published today (Dec. 7) in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Originally published on Live Science

Viking Feasting Hall identified near Vadstena in Sweden


Archaeologists from Stockholm University and Umeå University used ground-penetrating radar, a non-invasive geophysical method, to locate and map the house foundation. The study was published today in the journal Archaeological Prospection.

The Aska barrow, where the hall has been found, was long seen as a burial mound. But archaeologists have now revealed that it is a foundation platform for a large building, most likely dating from the Viking Period. The hall was probably the home of a royal family whose rich graves have previously been excavated nearby.

“Parallels are known from several of the era’s elite sites, such as Fornsigtuna near Stockholm and Lejre near Roskilde. The closest similarities are however seen in a recently excavated feasting hall at Old Uppsala near Stockholm. Such close correspondences suggest intensive communication between the two sites”, says Martin Rundkvist of Umeå University.

vikinga1-1024x717The building was about 14 metres wide and was equipped with double walls and four entrances. The measurements also indicate a large fireplace at the centre of the floor.

“Our investigation demonstrates that non-invasive geophysical measurements can be powerful tools for studying similar building foundations elsewhere.

They even allow scholars to estimate the date of a building without any expensive excavations”, says Andreas Viberg of the Archaeological Research Laboratory at Stockholm University who directed the fieldwork.

Stockholm University – Header Image : Reconstructed long-house at Lofotr  : WikiPedia

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“Death and Afterlife in Ancient Greece”, Exhibition at the Cycladic Art Museum

Epekeina_2_EN-286x338Did you know that ancient Greeks regarded Death and Hypnos twins?

The exhibition “BEYOND, Death and Afterlife in Ancient Greece” which opens on December 11th, 2014, at the Cycladic Art Museum in Athens, explores one of the most important issues that puzzled and continues to concern humans; the fate of the immortal soul after the death of the mortal body.

People have always sought to understand the unknown and over a broad field of inquiry – from explaining natural phenomena and exploring space to understanding how the human body functions and inquiring into the past or even the future. It is therefore entirely natural that we should wonder about the greatest unknown of all, the hereafter (the “beyond”). What awaits a human after the death of his or her mortal body? Is there a soul and, if so, just what is it? Do our actions in this life have repercussions on the fate of the soul in the next world? Is there any interaction between the living and the dead? Which doctrine can ensure eternal bliss?

Epekeina_11_EN-238x338These questions transcend space and time, just as the inscrutable “beyond” transcends these earthly dimensions. These questions have preoccupied everyone at some point and they continue to do so at every age and in every part of the world because of the inescapability of death. Many scholars have addressed several aspects of death in the international literature, and we have made good use here of the results of their in-depth investigations into the subject. But the exhibition Beyond attempts to present not just the many different faiths and beliefs associated with the dead and death, but also various views of the next world, as expressed in ancient Greek art and literature.

Great care was taken in selecting the artifacts to be included in the exhibition and its catalogue. Each object is unique and, at the same time, an inseparable part of the whole, and most of them have never been exhibited together before. Thus, the visitor, whether an expert or a non-specialist, has the opportunity not just to admire them up close, but also to reflect on the many multifaceted interpretations of their use and function.

Epekeina_12_EN-225x338THE SECTIONS
The exhibition is arranged in five sections. The first shows scenes related to the moment of death, as depicted in ancient art. The many varied representations of the moment of death in ancient art involve mainly mythical characters known from epic poetry and drama. Depicting the death of historical people is extremely rare, as for example that of Croesus, King of Lydia. However, in either case, ancient artists appear to have chosen to portray the death of these figures with an emphasis on the tragic element, something that would evoke strong emotions in the viewer and give the work gravitas. Even in the case of Croesus, who ascended his funeral pyre while still alive, the dramatic element prevails. In addition to the deaths of individuals, it was very common to depict death on the battlefield. These scenes show a balance between mythological and ‘historical’ narratives and were very common on the funerary stelai of men who had died in battle. Interestingly, the tombstones for the fallen were the only funerary stelai that were decorated with death scenes. We should bear in mind, however, that all ancient artifacts were intended for a particular ‘buying public’ with very specific demands, so it is natural that the depiction of death should be chosen by some clients as a subject for the decoration of a sculpture, relief, vase, or other object that was to be used as a grave marker.

The second section analyses the whole ritual of the funeral and the offerings for the deceased. Funeral rites had enormous significance for the ancient Greeks, which is evident not just from the earliest descriptions in epic poetry but also from the existence of special laws on the subject in many city-states. All ceremonies associated with the dead have a two-fold interpretation and significance: the need to express grief at the loss, and the need to mitigate the deceased’s fear of nemesis. This accounts for the so-called conservatism of funerary customs, which underwent only a few relatively small changes in the period from the tenth century BC to late antiquity. Each ritual and each object associated with the deceased and his or her tomb—just as in memorial services in later periods—were carefully selected by their nearest and dearest and served particular purposes. Despite the fact that some objects were replaced by others over the course of time, the objectives almost always remained the same. The deceased is treated like a living person who needs food, money, clothes, jewelry, furniture, and so on, even in the afterlife. These funerary gifts, known as grave goods, are found in every period of Greek antiquity and reveal the need that the living have to believe that the deceased will go on existing somewhere else, even if they do not all know or believe the same things about that ‘elsewhere.’

The last three sections each relate to one of the three versions of Hades: the Homeric, the Bacchic-Orphic and the Platonic. These versions are fundamentally based on the philosophical and religious predilections associated with the various periods of ancient Greece. It is easy to ascertain that there are many similarities, as well as obvious differences, between the three underworlds, because of the way in which information, beliefs, and perceptions were exchanged between poetic, religious, and philosophical tendencies in the various periods of antiquity. The dark and fusty Homeric underworld was not just the kingdom of lost souls; there were also the souls of those who inhabited the Elysian Fields, such as Menelaus. Likewise, not all souls were allowed into the Bacchic-Orphic Hades, only initiates. Even in the Platonic underworld the souls of sinners were condemned to a thousand years of torment, whereas the godless had no place in the cycle of reincarnation.

Discovery of the Million-Mummy Cemetery!

mummies_2-450x338A few days ago the international media reported about a million mummies cemetery revealed at the site of Fag El Gamous in Fayoum where the mission of “Brigham Young University” under the direction of Dr. Kerry Muhlestein is conducting archaeological excavations. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities responded to these reports by making an official statement where it described the reports as “rumors” and by stopping the mission from working at the site again. Dr. Muhlestein has sent a statement to all media sources about the subject. The text of Dr. Muhlestein’s announcement reads:

“We continue to excavate in Egypt and to study the results of past excavation seasons. Thus, all results are preliminary.

“The cemetery is largely a Roman period cemetery, located in the Fayoum area of Egypt. The burials are not in tombs, but rather in a field of sand. The people in the cemetery represent the common man. They are the average people who are usually hard to learn about because they are not very visible in written sources. They were poor, yet they put a tremendous amount of their resources into providing beautiful burials.

“The cemetery is densely populated. In a square that is 5×5 meters across and usually just over 2 meters deep, we will typically find about 40 burials. The cemetery is very large, and so far seems to maintain that kind of burial density throughout. Thus the math suggests that there are over a million mummies in the cemetery, though we cannot be certain of this without further exploration and a thorough academic review process”.


Tomb of Amenhotep-Huy to be opened to the public

After three years of restoration the tomb of Huy will be opened to the public in mid-December. The tomb of Amenhotep Huy, ruler of Lower Nubia Kush under king Tutankhamun, is famous for its colorful and detailed wall paintings.

The small tomb is located at Qurnet Marei on Luxor’s west bank. It consists of a court and a burial chamber.

Huy_1-461x338The Wall Paintings

“The images depict figures painted in Nubian attire walking behind a chariot driven by a light brown figure, a black rider painted in traditional Nubian garb, and pulled by a cow. Walking before the chariot are more Nubian figure,” explained Aly El-Asfar, head of the central administration of Upper Egypt. “Hunting scenes similar to those found in Tutankhamun’s tomb are also depicted on walls as well as scenes showing Huy being greeted by high priests and among his family.”

Huy_3Overseer of the Southern lands

Amenhotep, called Huy, was a viceroy of Nubia. The Lower Nubian Kush was a province of Egypt from the 16th century BC to eleventh century BC. During this period it was ruled by a viceroy who reported directly to the Egyptian Pharaoh. The viceroy was appointed directly by the Egyptian king and usually bore the titles “overseer of the southern lands” and “king’s son of Kush”. Huy would have been responsible for organizing construction on Tutankhamun’s behalf, as well as being responsible for military operations in the region of Nubia.

The project

Huy owned a tomb in the Theban necropolis. This tomb was unearthed in 1978. A multi-national team led by the Instituto de Estudios del Antiguo Egipto de Madrid and Dr Martin Valentin have been studying the architectural elements of the tomb since 2009. There is a website about the Vizier Amenhotep-Huy Project (in Spanish).

Conclusive evidence

In February 2014, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced that “conclusive evidence” was found that Akehnaten shared power with his father. The evidence came from the Huy tomb.


Book Review: ‘The Roman Guide to Slave Management’ Is Brilliant: Hoelterhoff ‘

by Manuela Hoelterhoff Oct 15, 2014

These days, PAs and nannies do what they can, but in the golden days of Rome, life required slaves. Lots of them.

How and where to buy the best gets “The Roman Guide to Slave Managements: A Treatise by Marcus Sidonius Falx” off to a captivating start. Chapter headings like “When Only Torture Will Do” keep our interest throughout.

Falx credits his father, a minor nobleman, for helping him understand the many ways slaves are beneficial to non-slaves. “Showing off” is top of the list. Slaves confer status and the more you have, the better you look.

An encounter with a visiting princeling from a German tribe motivated Falx to write this owner’s manual. He was about to break the legs of a slave for snickering as he tripped over a hoe when his guest suggested that was extreme. “Surely you would treat your slaves the same way?” asked Falx. The German said they did not have slaves. Questions raced through the flabbergasted Falx’s head. What did they do with captives acquired in wars of conquest? Who would perform the basest tasks? How would you display your wealth?

So he wrote this manual on servitude with the help of the historian Jerry Toner of Churchill College, Cambridge. In fact, Toner wrote it for him and then, exchanging his toga for the gown of a don, provides historical commentaries and context at the end of every chapter.

‘Tool That Talks’

Toner draws on Seneca, Pliny the Younger and various Roman chroniclers to create in Falx a credible portrait of the affluent slaveholder — smug, smart, sardonic.

“Wealthy Romans saw slaves as being necessary for a high standard of living, just as we view modern domestic appliances,” notes Toner. Slavery was simply a fact of life, part of the natural order.

“Think of a slave as a tool that talks,” says Falx.

By the standards of his era (the references to Christian losers suggest the first century A.D.), Falx has decent impulses and even acts on them. He is a stickler for rules and knows every decree any emperor ever passed regulating the proper owning of slaves. For instance, there were laws that forbade kidnapping people and forcing them into servitude. When a crying female slave begs him for help because she was wrongfully abducted from her native land, Falx sends her back from his estate with travel money.

Fair Treatment

Christians, he is happy to point out, despite their smug claims to moral superiority, have done little to affect the institution of slavery. Paul, the future saint, even returned a slave to his owner with a note attached to treat him kindly.

Still, he agrees that fair treatment is part of good management. Learn how to manage your slaves and you will be ready to pursue a leadership role in society, says Falx. “Breeding slaves is both expensive and time consuming. And the cost is considerable,” he adds. Let me help you. He’s well-informed about the best places to shop for whatever you need, a bailiff, a gardener, a nanny, or maybe just a playmate.

“If you wish to purchase yourself a boy as a pet, you would be well-advised to go to Saepta Julia and ask if they have any Egyptians in the back.” Judging by “The Roman Guide to Slave Management,” a lot of Romans were cheerfully bisexual. “Avoid slaves who appear melancholy,” he counsels, in what may be the manual’s funniest line.

Free at Last

Incidences of slaves turning on masters seem to have been rare enough for Falx to linger on the murder of a man so rich he owned 400 slaves. When one killed him, the others were executed because of a complicated law that gave Falx a headache (such a waste of capital) and provoked riots in the street. But what helped to keep the peace probably more than extreme punishment was that slavery was a temporary state for many.

A large percentage were freed within 10 years. Slaves who saved could buy their freedom, while others were set free for good behavior or when their owners died. “Somewhat surprisingly, Roman slavery was as much about social mobility as structural rigidity,” explains Toner. The Roman Empire lasted as long as it did because of the fluid ways it absorbed vast numbers of strangers and slaves and transformed them into citizens.

Toner of today’s Cambridge has the last words:

“No one now argues, like Falx, that slavery is acceptable or justifiable. But before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, we should remember that it is a tragic fact that even though slavery is illegal in every country in the world, it still exists widely. The NGO Free the Slaves estimates that there are 27 million individuals who are forced to work under threat of violence, without pay or hope of escape. There are more slaves in the world today than there were at any point in the life of the Roman empire.”

“The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Marcus Sidonius Falx” is published by Overlook.

Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor at Bloomberg News. Any opinions are her own.

From Obelisk to Orbit: the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents goes into Space

– Maggie Sasanow
The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents (CSAD) has recently become involved in a remarkable cross-discipline enterprise, which becomes more interesting by the day. Combining two of the Centre’s current projects, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions (CPI), and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), the CSAD has recently begun preparation for the capture of RTI and 3D interactive images of the 6.7 metre tall obelisk from Philae in Egypt, now situated in the grounds of the Kingston Lacy estate in Dorset.
The obelisk was discovered in 1815 by William John Bankes, heir to the Kingston Lacy Estate, ‘at whose suggestion and expense’ it was transferred from Egypt to Dorset under the direction of the flamboyant Italian circus performer and archaeologist, Giovanni Belzoni. Today the obelisk forms part of the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK, now on permanent display in the house and grounds at Kingston Lacy.
The CSAD’s CPI project is creating a corpus of up-to-date editions of over 500 Greek and multilingual inscriptions on stone from Egypt during its rule by the dynasty founded in 323 BCE by Ptolemy I. Egypt is unique in that public writing survives in its own Egyptian languages alongside the Greek of the Ptolemies, and it is this co-existence of essentially the same text in two or three different scripts that in the 19th century provided the clue to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. The obelisk at Kingston Lacy is one of these inscriptions, in which Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphic scripts exist alongside one other.
RTI is a photographic method that captures a subject’s surface shape and colour and enables the interactive re-lighting of the subject from any direction. A particular strength of RTI is that it can reveal surface information that cannot be seen with the naked eye. While the scripts on the Kingston Lacy obelisk are in a reasonably good state of preservation, and reading is still possible, the opportunity to improve the accuracy of the text, and to find and identify elements of pigment in the inscription, provide sufficient reason for re-examining the monument. For the National Trust, which now owns the Kingston Lacy estate, there are also conservation benefits to be gained from the creation of a permanent, accurate, interactive virtual image of the obelisk as it is today, since gradual deterioration of the original over time is inevitable.
The Philae Robotic Lander that will accompany the Rosetta Spacecraft
As well as its particular epigraphical interest for the CSAD, the obelisk is set to achieve considerably wider significance later this year: its name has been given to the robotic craft that in November 2014 will attempt a landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as part of a mission launched in 2004 by the European Space Agency (ESA). The main robotic spacecraft is named Rosetta, after the famous Egyptian basalt slab, featuring a decree in three scripts, and the lander is named after the Nile island of
Philae, where the Kingston Lacy obelisk was discovered. Having identified the obelisk as a rewarding though challenging object for RTI and 3D imaging, the CSAD team has been encouraged by this exciting coincidence to carry out the exercise as part of a multidisciplinary focus on the obelisk planned to culminate at the time of the comet landing in November. Imaging of the obelisk, together with another obelisk fragment and a sarcophagus nearby in the Kingston Lacy grounds, will be carried out in the early autumn, and time-lapse photography will record the whole process. An exhibition and a
short documentary film on the obelisk and its flamboyant history, and the CSAD’s part in recording it, are also being discussed, all to be ready to markin style the landing of its namesake, Philae, on the comet in November.
– from the Oxford Faculty of Classics Newsletter 2014

Hadrian’s Wall – Life on the Roman Frontier (Free Course)

Hardians wall

Hadrian’s Wall stretches over 73 miles (117 km), from coast to coast in what is now Northern England

The Wall, complemented by a sophisticated system of outposts and coastal watch stations, offers a remarkable glimpse of ancient society. In addition to housing one of the largest concentrations of Roman soldiers anywhere in the Empire’s provinces, Hadrian’s frontier system was home to an incredibly cosmopolitan array of civilians.

This six week course offers a comprehensive introduction to Hadrian’s Wall and its people and raises fascinating issues concerning colonisation, cultural transformation, immigration, integration and imperialism.

We will explore life in the region before the construction of the Wall, the arrival of the Roman army and its impact on the local population. Detailed case studies will consider the different features of the Wall and its surroundings, considering the way in which the frontier system evolved throughout the Roman period.

The changing face of both the Roman army and indigenous populations is richly illuminated through archaeological finds and reconstructions. To appreciate the range and character of native people, soldiers’ families, slaves, merchants and migrants, we will examine their homes, dress, diet, rituals and religious beliefs.

Drawing on the very latest research, we will investigate how archaeologists interpret evidence, considering:

  • the factors that determine the survival of evidence
  • the different methods of archaeological prospection used to detect settlement locations and better understand their organisation
  • the planning of archaeological projects
  • excavation techniques
  • and the detailed study of structures and artefacts.

As part of the course you can test your understanding of these methods with real case studies and participate in a series of archaeological experiments designed to help you appreciate the complexities of daily life on Rome’s most famous frontier.

This course will give you the opportunity to purchase a Statement of Participation.

More Information –

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