Saturday, 17 September 2011

Digging for Vikings

At last, a TV programme on the Vikings that was coherent, and had both interesting and new information. Well done, BBC2 and Alice Roberts, and the Digging for Britain series. The only downside is the title - 'Invaders' - but otherwise the programme is highly recommended and can be viewed by readers in the UK for another 22 days on BBC iPlayer, if you haven't seen it already.

Dedicated readers of this blog will recognise many of my favourite Norse and Viking things on the programme. It managed to pack in many of several places (Lewis/Harris, Orkney), things (the Lewis chessmen) and finds (the St John's College skeletons) already mentioned here, some of them more than once. Place-names got a very brief mention (well, only Horgabost, really), as did runes.

There were in fact glimpses of two recent runic finds, one from the Brough of Deerness which has, alas, not yet revealed its linguistic meaning, and (unacknowledged, but clearly visible for a brief moment) a spindle-whorl from Lincolnshire. The latter could have deserved some more discussion for, as John Hines has noted, while 'there's quite an essay to be written over the uncertainties of translation and identification here; what are clear, and very important, are the names of two of the Norse gods on the side, Odin and Heimdallr...' Unusual enough in an Anglo-Scandinavian context, but especially so given the object seems to be from the eleventh century and made locally.

All in all, an excellent programme, though I do think these recent finds have some way to go before they match up to some of those from earlier years. Some grubby steatite from Horgabost, or a wonky gaming-board from Deerness, despite the cooings of Alice Roberts, don't quite set the pulse racing as do the fabulous finds from Scar (excavated in 1991) or even the delicate bone pins found at the Udal on North Uist, some made from bird-bones. The Udal was excavated between 1963 and 1995 and now looks like it will get a proper publication. So it's not surprising that the programme ended with these blasts from the past.

7 comments:

  1. Very cool! I really love that show, can't wait. Very interesting about the inscription with the Gods names..on a spindle whorl?Interesting.

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  2. thought programme was not factual , vikings as town planners , vikings as scholars , vikings as caring i think not , another case of rewritting history , the viking story is one of an invading force whose cruelty was legendary ,

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  3. I'm loving the programme - just beginning to learn about Vikings. Ran a workshop at Hawes last year with Young Archaeologists doing a Viking project - really inspired my interest, so delighted to find your blog - will keep tuned!

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  4. Such a shame the site in Harris was left in such a state by archaeologists, cists not backfilled and collapsed, site unfenced and dogs and sheep running over burials. Some respect please!

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  5. Sorry to hear that, Anonymous.

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  6. Speaking as a Viking re-enactor, it's good to see something that shows more than the typical burn-loot-pillage.

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  7. Responce to David's post - What do you mean 'not factual? Who's version of the viking legacy are you referring to by saying that? Could your version be the one written by the 'victors' as often happens in history?! Did it not occurr to you that propeganda was a weapon of war used by the ancients as well as modern societies? That's the beauty of archaeology - its impartial, where as traditional 'history' cant always be that way! Other groups have 'suffered' similar fates by history of this country - for instance, most people know little of our common ancient history - certainly not went on before 1066 in any case! The irrefutable evidence, is the physical evidence which archaeology seeks to find and interporate, which I thought this programme did very well - except, I thought the early Orkadians would have been from the Pictish Nation, not the Gaells?!

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