31 December 2009

The Viking In All Of Us

It seems there is still a bit of the old Viking spirit in the residents of the Wirral, who have successfully fought off local government plans to close most of their libraries. This news report on Channel 4 this evening notes that the library at Irby was one of those scheduled to close, and also shows this fine old signpost of the footpath to Thurstaston. Both Irby and Thurstaston are places that can trace their origins to the Viking settlement of Wirral in the tenth century, as you can read, if you are interested, in Paul Cavill et al., Wirral and its Viking Heritage, 2000.
Today's Guardian editorial is 'In praise of ... British cheeses' - hear, hear! I think we can all assent to that... News to me, however, is that a Scottish cheese called crowdie 'traces its origin to the Viking invasion'. I suppose this is part of the general tendency to ascribe all good things to the Vikings, so I can second that. However, the OED claims its derivation is unknown, merely noting that 'Jamieson conjectured some connexion with GROUT, and Icel. groutr [sic] porridge; this suits the sense, but leaves phonetic conditions unsatisfied'. Quite. Thus do scholarly conjectures turn into newspaper fact... The 'porridge' meaning, by the way, is now obsolete according to the OED, but the second meaning it lists is 'in some parts of the north of Scotland, a peculiar preparation of milk' (eh?). The northern distribution may I suppose reflect Viking influence, and here I must recall one of my earlier posts on this blog, just over a year ago, about Crowdie Vikings, so maybe there is something in it.
Happy New Year to one and all, Viking or no Viking!

22 December 2009

New Blog For Runes and Coins

The National Museum of Denmark has set up what looks like a very useful new blog in which they will report on new finds of runic inscriptions and coins. The most recent blog, posted by Lisbeth Imer on 15 December, shows a recent find of a bronze runic amulet (from near Ribe) which has not yet been fully interpreted but seems to contain the word þurs ... interesting!

Gleðileg jól!

The word of the week at the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum is, most appropriately, jól. Have a good one, one and all!

11 December 2009

A Modern Swelkie

Among all the devices being tried out in the waters around Orkney to harness the energy of tides and waves, one caught my eye in particular. It's an undersea turbine, described as a 6m wide 'fan', and it is being tried out in the 'Fall of Warness' off the coast of Eday. I caught sight of it in a news item on the BBC the other day. Because the BBC report implied it was being tried out in the Pentland Firth, it reminded me of an Old Norse legend, a version of the widespread aetiological tale in which an undersea salt mill is said to be the reason why the sea is salt. One version of this tale attaches this legend to the Swelkie (sometimes written Swilkie or Swelchie), a fearsome tidal whirlpool in the Pentland Firth (I've discussed this a bit in this paper from the Durham Saga-Conference and also in one from the Uppsala Saga-Conference, which can be downloaded here). This picture of the turbine looks just like how I imagined the salt-mill...

06 December 2009

Lewis Chesspersons Again

Everyone's favourite Vikings, the Lewis playing pieces, are in the news again. There is an article in Medieval Archaeology (which I haven't fully digested yet) propounding new theories about what kind of board game the pieces were used for (hnefatafl rather than chess), and why they were found on Lewis (belonged to a rich person who lived there, rather than just accidentally shipwrecked there). No doubt the press accounts (e.g. the BBC website) oversimplify a more nuanced academic article, so I am looking forward to reading that (there is also a bit more detail in the press release). The article is in fact available free online, so it will save me a trip to the library! I have a particular interest, because I have recently argued that one of Earl Rögnvaldr's verses contains a reference to chess, and draw the parallel with the roughly contemporary Lewis pieces.
The other bit of news is that a selection of the playing pieces will go on tour around Scotland in 2010-11: full details are available from the National Museums of Scotland website.

04 December 2009

Viking Wine

I've just been given this splendid present, a Viking wine holder (wine bottles fit perfectly, but in the picture I used some jiggery-pokery to put a more appropriate bottle into the holder). His name is Thorfinn Blast, and he is every inch the Viking warrior. Note his lack of horns, which is pretty good, especially if you compare him to my other two Vikings, Einar Rope-Arms (the brown one) and Brusi Bubble (the rather silly one with a moustache and ears [EARS?]).
Einar is an old Danish Viking, probably from the 1960s when such things were very popular, while Brusi was acquired only a week or two ago from the German Christmas market in The Square in Nottingham. Every year they have a stall with fun wooden figures, and this one was irresistible, though not terribly Viking. He can, however, cleverly move his mouth... As to Thorfinn, well I don't know where he came from, do I, as he was a present!
In case you were wondering, the ladybirds don't have names.