1,000-Year-Old Viking Sword Discovered in Iceland by Men Hunting Geese

1,000-Year-Old Viking Sword Discovered in Iceland by Men Hunting Geese

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A group of hunters tracking geese in Skaftárhreppur, South Iceland, brought back more than just birds on their latest trip – they found a 1,000-year-old Viking sword lying completely exposed in the sand. The double edged sword is in a remarkable condition considering its age.

“Meant to go to a goose area, but ended up finding a sword that I think once belonged to [Viking settler] Ingólfur Arnarson,” Árni Björn Valdimarsson posted on his Facebook page .

Credit: Árni Björn Valdimarsson

Ingólfur Arnarson was the first Norseman to settle in Iceland and live out the remainder of his life there. According to the Icelandic Book of Settlements, ‘Landnama’, Arnarson arrived with his wife in 874 AD. Records state that when he saw Iceland ahead of him, he left it in the hands of the gods to decide which part of the landmass he should settle.

“He then threw the carved pillars of his high seat overboard and swore that he would build his farm wherever they came ashore,” reports The Saga Museum . “After having thrown them into the water, Ingólfur came ashore at what was subsequently known as Ingólfshöfði, where he raised a house and spent his first winter. He sent out two of his slaves, Vífill and Karli, to look for the carved pillars. They searched along the coastline for three years before finally locating them in a large bay in the southwest of the country… Ingólfur moved to the place where the pillars came ashore. He called the place Reykjavík (literally ‘steam bay’) because of the large amount of steam that rose from the nearby hot-springs.”

A painting depicting Ingólfr Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, newly arrived in Reykjavík

According to, the newly-discovered sword was passed to The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland, which will now carry out further testing and preservation work on the sword.

“We date the sword at this stage to circa 950 AD or even prior to that,” the agency’s director general Kristín Huld Sigurðardóttir told “We are very excited here as this is only the 23rd sword from Viking times found in Iceland.”

Last year, another Viking sword was discovered, that time by a hiker in Norway. The 1,200-year-old weapon was pulled out from underneath some rocks. Researchers speculated that, due to the high cost of extracting iron, the sword likely belonged to a wealthy individual and would have been somewhat of a status symbol, to “show power”. Viking swords often had handles that were richly decorated with intricate designs in silver, copper, and bronze. The higher the status of the individual that yielded the sword, the more elaborate the grip.

While both these sword discoveries are rare and exciting, they do not bear the mark of a Viking Ulfberht sword. The super strong Ulfberht swords, of which about 170 have been found, were made of metal so pure that scientists were long baffled as to how they mastered such advanced metallurgy eight centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution.

An Ulfberht sword displayed at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany. (Martin Kraft/Wikimedia Commons)

    Icelandic goose hunter unearths 1,000-year-old sword

    Arni Bjorn Valdimarsson was more interested in goose hunting than discovering archeological treasures. But on Saturday, the Icelandic man stumbled upon a rusted sword that archaeologists believe may be over 1,000 years old. The weapon is already being hailed as one of the best-preserved artifacts of its kind.

    "We were just looking for some goose tracks," Valdimarsson tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "The sword was laying in the sand and just waiting for someone to look at it!"

    "We didn’t find any goose — but I think this is better!” says Árni Björn Valdimarsson, who discovered a 1,000-year-old sword while he was hunting for geese. (Árni Björn Valdimarsson/Facebook)
    Valdimarsson suspects the artifact was recently exposed after a flood. He admits that initially he had no idea the find was so significant.

    "We started to be archaeological — not hunters!" Valdimarsson quips. "We weren't so excited until I put it on the Facebook and got the reactions."

    Within minutes, Valdimarsson says his Facebook post drew the attention of an archaeologist who specializes in swords. She asked that he bring the weapon to the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland.

    "[They] told me it was an old viking sword," Valdimarsson explains. "They looked at it and they thought without x-rays or anything, that it should be around 1,000 years old."

    The sword is now in the possession of the agency and they will survey the area for further excavation. Valdimarsson suspects there is more to find and is looking forward to learning about the history of the weapon.

    "I'm sure they'll find something else," Valdimarsson insists. "We didn't find any goose — but I think this is better!"

    Viking sword dating back 1,000 years found by goose hunters in Iceland

    Go hunting for geese, end up discovering a thousand-year-old Viking sword: just another day in Iceland.

    A group of goose hunters last week stumbled across a remarkably well-preserved sword, believed to date to the 10th century, while hunting in Skaftarhreppur in southern Iceland.

    The sword, which one of the men said was lying in the sand near Eldvatn lake, is believed to have been washed up in a recent flood.

    "It was just lying there, waiting to be picked up," Rúnar Stanley Sighvatsson told the Iceland Monitor.

    "It was obvious and just lying there on the ground."

    Árni Björn Valdimarsson posted a photo of the weapon on Facebook.

    "Were going goose hunting but ended up finding a sword that I think has been owned by [Icelandic settler] Ingólfur Arnarson," Mr Valdimarsson wrote.

    Whether or not the sword really did belong to the fabled Arnarson, who with his wife is commonly recognised as the first permanent Nordic settler of Iceland and founder of Reykjavik, is yet to be determined.

    Just 10 minutes after posting the photo, Mr Valdimarsson received a call from Iceland's Cultural Heritage Agency.

    Agency director Kristin Huld Sigurdardottir said only 24 swords from around that time had ever been discovered.

    "Many of the swords are in pieces and even only found a part of the hilt," she told Quartz.

    "So it is exciting to find an almost complete sword."

    Uggi Ævarsson, one of the archaeologists from the Cultural Heritage Agency to visit the site where the sword was found, said the team still could not make sense of the discovery.

    "This is a puzzle, because it's highly unusual to find a sword lying in the sand, completely exposed (it was not covered by any sand) and then not to see any traces of human activity. That's highly unusual," he told Iceland Reivew.

    Goose Hunt Leads to Discovery of 1,000-Year-Old Viking Sword

    Picture this: Five buddies go out on a goose hunting trip in the wilds of southern Iceland. Instead of bringing back dinner, they return home with a 1,000-year-old Viking sword.

    One of the hunters, Árni Björn Valdimarsson, told Icelandic news site Vísir that he and his friends didn’t dig up the heavily rusted sword, but simply found it lying in the sand. (A recent flood in the area likely uncovered it.)

    But the prized find wasn’t in the hunters’ keep for that long: After posting a photo of the sword to his Facebook page, Valdimarsson said the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland came calling soon after, taking the artifact into their possession.

    The agency’s director, Kristin Dark Siguroardóttir, noted that on first glance, it appeared to be around a thousand years old. It was also in good condition, despite how it looks. She observed that Iceland had only dug up 20 of the swords from that specific time period, making it a particularly rare find. See it below.

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    They Never Wore Horned Helmets​

    "There has never been any evidence discovered by archaeologists that would prove the Vikings wore horned helmets. However, they did wear skullcaps, which were obviously intended to protect their skulls from any impact".

    "The idea of the horned helmets came about during the 19th century, however, it was Richard Wagner’s cycle of four operas that implanted the horned helmet image into our imaginations. To this day, there are still many filmmakers, cartoonists, and artists who continue to keep this myth alive".


    Senior Meanderer

    Oldest Viking settlement possibly unearthed in Iceland​

    "Archaeologists have unearthed what may be the oldest Viking settlement in Iceland".

    "The ancient longhouse is thought to be a summer settlement built in the 800s, decades before seafaring refugees are supposed to have settled the island, and was hidden beneath a younger longhouse brimming with treasures, said archaeologist Bjarni Einarsson, who led the excavations".

    "The younger hall is the richest in Iceland so far," Einarsson told Live Science. "It is hard not to conclude that it is a chieftain's house." (read more)

    The oldest of the two Viking longhouses at Stöð dates from around A.D. 800, several decades before the commonly accepted date of the settlement of Iceland in A.D. 874. (Image credit: Bjarni Einarsson)


    Senior Meanderer

    What Did The Viking Houses Look Like?​


    SF VIP

    What Did The Viking Houses Look Like?​


    SF VIP

    (Image credit: Drawing by Tancredi Valeri Copyright Antiquity Publications Ltd.)
    In 2017, a group of researchers in Sweden did a genetic analysis on the bones of a warrior Viking, long assumed to be male. However, the results showed that the individual had XX chromosomes, revealing that the deceased was, in fact, a woman.

    There were so many questions about this discovery, that the researchers just published a new study that delved deeper into the finding. Here is an illustration of what the female warrior may have looked like. The clothing details are based, in part, on material found within the burial chamber, the researchers said.


    Senior Meanderer

    Viking Gender Roles (link)​

    This probably never happened.

    "Most importantly in a Viking Age context, however, there’s no evidence that women ever fought in battle as far as we can tell, this was left entirely to men.[8][9][10] Only men could become warriors and travel to lands far from their farms with their warband to fight on behalf of the warband’s leader. The only thing women did on a Viking Age battlefield was flee so they wouldn’t be raped by the victorious army.[11]"

    "(Note: those who believe that a recent archaeological find proves the opposite should see here and here.)"

    "Some people have hoped to find in the warlike valkyries a mythical image of female warriors that had some counterpart in historical reality. But the historical, human counterpart of the valkyries wasn’t female warriors.[12] Rather, it was sorceresses, who used magic with the intent of influencing the outcome of battle but didn’t physically participate in it.[13]"


    SF VIP

    Yes the Valkyrie were only choosers of which of the dead got to be with Odin.

    But the body they found buried as a warrior was proven to be a woman. well, at least according to the article.

    As far as Judith Jesch and the other article, I say Bah, dang it! Hahahaha


    Living the Dream


    Senior Meanderer

    Yes the Valkyrie were only choosers of which of the dead got to be with Odin.

    But the body they found buried as a warrior was proven to be a woman. well, at least according to the article.

    As far as Judith Jesch and the other article, I say Bah, dang it! Hahahaha


    SF VIP

    I read over your links. My opinion of them was jokingly "Bahh". LOL, I just wanna believe the body was female. After all, I named my dog Boudica, the Warrior Queen back when the Romans were in Britain.


    Senior Meanderer

    I read over your links. My opinion of them was jokingly "Bahh". LOL, I just wanna believe the body was female. After all, I named my dog Boudica, the Warrior Queen back when the Romans were in Britain.


    Senior Meanderer

    10 Best Female Viking warrior in the history​

    November 1, 2019 by Richard Marrison

    "The standard history popularized in the 19th Century tells us that only men were Viking Warriors. They did trading, fought wars, and treated women in a poor manner.
    But, Norse mythology and now science tells us differently.
    History does teach us that Norse women were much more liberated than other women at that time. They had the chance to enjoy social freedom".

    "They could own property, conduct business, get a divorce, and gain custody of their children. And, Norse folklore and mythology claim that women were also fierce warriors. Poems and stories feature weapon-wielding women called shield maidens".

    "The female Vikings are mostly mentioned by Snorri Sturluson in the 12th and 13th Century Iceland Sagas. And, some are mentioned in the writings of historical and semi-historical writers".

    "Despite all of the details about these warrior women, female Vikings or their sagas, are taken as unrealistic events. They are considered as the events of magics or myths which cannot be relied upon".

    "Though it is believed that there are no or very little scientific pieces of evidence of the existence of strong, courageous female warriors, goddesses, Vikings, or deities in the present day. We could still find various mythology or literature about them in the past".

    "As we go with the literature of the ancient civilization, there were deities with powers. Such as Minerva, Fortuna: who could tell about the luck of a person. The homes of the Vikings were managed by the skill work of women".

    "Wars during the Viking age were basically fought using axes, swords, and spears. Women somehow were compelled to take part in such wars with weapons of their comfort".

    "Even after the Evolution of Christianity that started denying women’s rights and equality. Warriors like Brynhild or Hervor were worshipped by women doing household works, thinking that even women could be so courageous and powerful compared to males".

    View our collection of:Viking Compass NecklacesViking Compass RingsViking Compass Home Decor

    Triskele (Horns of Odin)

    The Horns of Odin (also referred to as the horn triskelion or the triple-horned triskele) is a symbol comprised three interlocking drinking horns. The exact meaning of the symbol is not known, but it may allude to Odin's stealing of the Mead of Poetry. The horns’ names were Óðrœrir, Boðn, and Són. The symbol has become especially significant in the modern Asatru faith. The Horns of Odin symbol is also meaningful to other adherents to the Old Ways, or those who strongly identify with the god Odin.

    The symbol appear on the 9th-century Snoldelev Stone (found in Denmark and seen to the right). While the shape of this symbol is reminiscent of the Triqueta and other Celtic symbols, it appears on the Larbro stone (in Gotland, Sweden) which may be as old as the early eighth century. On this image stone, the Horns of Odin are depicted as the crest on Odin's shield. Because of its association with the Mead of Poetry and Odin’s artistic aspects, it might also be worn to bring inspiration to writers and performers.

    Vikings History — Society: Men, Women, and Children

    Within the male-dominated Viking society, women had a certain amount of personal power, depending on their social status. When Viking men were away from home—raiding, fishing, exploring or on trading missions—women in Viking society took over all the men’s work as well as doing their own. Women were valuable members of the society and it was shameful for a man to harm a woman.

    Women’s role was domestic, taking care of the family, preparing food, laundry, milking cows, sheep and goats, making butter and cheeses, preserving food for winter, gardening, cleaning and the most time-consuming task of all, making the family’s clothes. Spinning, carding, weaving, cutting and sewing took a long time. It could take a Viking woman 35 hours to spin enough yarn for a day’s weaving, to give you some idea of how much time it took to make clothing.

    Viking women married young—as early as 12 years old. By the age of 20, virtually all men and women were married. Life expectancy was about 50 years, but most died long before reaching 50. Only a few lived to 60.

    Marriages were arranged by the parents of the young couple. A marriage was a contract between two families: the groom’s family paid a bride price to bride’s family when the couple was betrothed. At the marriage, the bride’s father paid a dowry. Since both families had a financial investment in the new couple, a marriage was as much a matter for the families as it was for the people involved.

    Viking children did not go to school as we know it today. Rather, the boys learned all the men’s work, taught by their fathers, brothers and uncles. Girls worked along with their mothers and aunts learning how to cook, garden, take care of the domestic animals and make clothing. By the time they reached adulthood at 12 to 15, both boys and girls could effectively run a household and a farm.

    As is always the case, there were exceptions to these general societal rules of behavior. When the men went to settle Iceland, Greenland and Vinland, women went with them. Vikings settled in England, Ireland and France as families. However, only men went raiding and trading while women stayed home and minded the farm.

    Women in Viking society had more power than most other European women of the time. They could divorce their husbands, own some property and sell their own handicrafts. Some women became wealthy landowners. Others participated in trade—scales used for weighing silver used in trade have been found in women’s graves. Even a few weapons were found in female graves, giving the notion that some women were fighters along side of their men. Most women in Viking society, however, lived and worked in the domestic realm of the household.

    5 The Palisade Fences

    A fascinating phenomenon in Nordic countries are palisade enclosures. In Denmark, near Stevns, one hugs the landscape with such epic proportions that it stunned archaeologists in 2017. Built in the Stone Age, it runs like a strange labyrinth over an area of 18,000 square meters (200,000 ft 2 ). Several palisade rings make up the interior. The timber palisade&rsquos center yielded sun symbols and possibly a solar temple. A second, similar construction also exists on the island.

    More palisades dot the fields in Denmark&rsquos East Zealand and Falster as well as in Skane, Sweden. In 1988, some of the most intriguing sites were found on the Danish island of Bornholm. The Bornholm sites are the only palisades with any connection to ritual and worship. They are also older than Stevns, which was probably erected from 2900 to 2800 BC. Archaeologists don&rsquot know why palisade patches were created, but they were obviously important. Despite their differences, they enclosed something, perhaps of religious value, like the Bornholm temples.


    The vast majority of Norse people lived on small farms. However, the nature of these settlements varied widely from one region to another. In prosperous regions, farms tended to cluster into small villages or hamlets. In less prosperous areas, individual farms were well separated. In Iceland, farms were widely separated, and nothing like villages existed.

    Typical farm settlements took the form of a central cluster of buildings enclosed by fences. Outside the fenced areas were the fields used for cultivation or grazing. Each homestead typically consisted of a longhouse and multiple out-buildings.

    In the earlier part of the Norse period, it appears that everything was contained in the longhouse: animals, people, tools, food storage, work shop. Later, all but the people were moved to out buildings. For example, the early longhouse recently excavated at Aðalstræti 14-16 under the streets of Reykjavík had animal stalls in the living quarters. The floor plan of the house (left) shows the animal stalls located opposite to the front door. While this arrangement was common in early longhouses found in Norway, this is the first example found in Iceland.

    Farmhouses generally were built on a slope or other high ground, which provided for better drainage. Houses were built near running water. While wells (right) were known and used in the Viking age, especially in densely settled areas like trading towns, running water was preferred at a farmstead.

    The late Viking-age farm at Stöng (right) was built at the top of a hill above a stream, an excellent location. Today, a modern building covers the ruins of the farm on top of the hill.

    A high location also allowed for better visibility. It was better to see visitors well before they arrived at the farmhouse, should the visitors not be friendly. The Viking-age farm at Vatnsfjörður (left) could light signal fires on the ridge above the house to call for help to neighboring farms, should assistance be required. The photo shows the ruins of the longhouse, with paving stones in front of the doorway, and the varða (cairn) on the cliff in the distance where fires were signal fires were lit.

    Svarfdæla saga (ch. 14) says that Klaufi first built his farmhouse at Klaufanes (Klaufi's point) in north Iceland, near a river, but it was too exposed, so he moved his farm to Klaufabrekka (Klaufi's slope), further up the valley.

    The main farming activity throughout the Norse region was animal husbandry, and cattle were the most important of the livestock. That importance is reflected in the language: the word for cattle and the word for money are identical: fé. Cattle were the only farm animals covered by the insurance provided by the hreppur, described later in this article.

    Cattle were raised for many purposes. Milk cows provided diary products, which were consumed fresh, but more importantly, they were turned into foods such as cheese, butter, and skyr, which could be stored over the winter months when cows stopped producing fresh milk. On prosperous farms, beef from the cattle was a regular part of the diet. Oxen were used as draft animals, to pull a sleigh, a sledge, or an arðr , an early form of plow. Additionally, bulls were used as offerings to the gods in pagan era sacrifices.

    The large, wealthy farm at Stöng in Iceland had a barn with stalls for 18 head of cattle when the farm was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the year 1104. The ruins of the cow shed are shown to the left, as it appears today. Stone slabs that divided the stalls are still visible (right).

    Njál's farm at Bergþórshvoll had stalls for 30 head of cattle, a very large Viking age farm.

    Cattle were smaller in the Viking age than today, standing less than 120cm high (48in) at the shoulder. Few bulls were kept. Rather, they were allowed to reach puberty, bred widely, and then slaughtered before they reached the point where they consumed large amounts of fodder in the winter.

    In the summer, cattle were driven to pastures in the highlands. Barren cattle might be grazed outdoors year round, but generally milk cows were brought in under cover during the winter and fed from the stored stocks of hay. During especially harsh winters, it is likely that livestock left outdoors starved to death.

    Second in importance to Viking age farmers were sheep. Sheep were raised for their fleece, their milk, and their meat. Wethers (castrated rams) were allowed to graze, but ewes were penned and the lambs weaned from them. Smaller numbers of ewes than wethers were kept, which suggests that the fleece from mature wethers was the desired product and that milk from sheep was of lesser importance than it came to be after the end of the Viking age.

    Like the cattle, the sheep were driven to higher pastures in summer, where they were allowed to roam free. In the fall, all the farmers in a region worked together to round up the sheep and sort them by owner. This practice is still followed in Iceland the sorting pen shown to the right differs little from those used in medieval times. In winter, some sheep may have been sheltered in barns or simple barrows (fjárborgir).

    Sheep in the Viking age were about 60cm (24 inches) high at the withers and weighed about 35kg (80lbs).

    Horses were raised, not only for their utility for travel and transport, but also because their meat was prized. It was a common, inexpensive part of the diet. In addition, horses were sacrificed to the pagan gods, and the meat consumed as part of the feasting ceremonies. When Christianity was adopted, the consumption of horseflesh was banned.

    There appears to have been special interest in breeding horses in Iceland, perhaps the only farm animal to be systematically bred. Large breeding stocks were kept, with the goal of producing horses that were especially good for the popular sport of horse fights.

    Viking age horses closely resembled modern Icelandic horses (right). They're small (15 hands, about 150cm), but sturdy, strong, and willing.

    Other livestock raised on Viking age farms included goats and pigs. Goats could be grazed year round in areas of brushwood, but evidence from Hofstaðir suggests that goats were penned and fed high quality fodder. Goats were kept for their milk and their meat. In Iceland, pigs were valuable to the early settlers because they reproduced rapidly and were capable of finding food on their own. But because of their destructive tendencies and aggressive behavior, pigs were considered "problem animals" in the later Icelandic law codes. Home field pigs (túnsvín) were kept close to home and slaughtered for home consumption. Very young suckling pigs were considered a delicacy and a mark of status. Many of the pigs kept at Hofstaðir were slaughtered at this stage in their lives, suggesting they were a part of the feasting activities of the farm.

    No doubt other domesticated animals were kept, as well. The sagas tells us that dogs were kept to warn of intruders (Brennu-Njáls saga, chapter 76) and were used to track men who were fleeing their pursuers (Reykdæla saga og Víga-Skútu, chapter 4). One might expect that they were used to help round up sheep, as well. Viking-age dogs resembled modern Icelandic dogs (left), a medium-small breed.

    Cats are rarely found in the literary sources or in archaeological sources, but it seems likely that they were kept to help control pests such as mice around the farm. The sagas occasionally mention cat-skin being used for garments, such as for gloves and for hood-linings (Eiríks saga rauða chapter 4). Archaeological evidence confirms the stories. Cat skeletons have been found on Viking-age house sites having marks consistent with skinning.

    The growing of hay was essential to maintain the farm animals over the winter in Norse lands. Hay was required for the animals that were sheltered under cover over the winter, and hay may have been provided to livestock in pasture lands for animals that were out of doors through the winter.

    As a result, it was necessary to put up sufficient hay each autumn to maintain the livestock until spring. At the beginning of the winter, the number of livestock was compared to the amount of hay in storage. If the farmer thought that insufficient hay was available, the weakest animals were slaughtered before the winter started, so that the available fodder would last the winter. Over two tonnes (2 tons) of hay was needed for each cow to last the Icelandic winter. A large farm in Viking age Iceland had around 20 to 40 milk cows, so harvesting and storing sufficient hay to last the winter was an arduous but important task. Studies of several Viking era farms in north Iceland suggest that farms could produce between 0.5 and 0.9 tonnes of hay per hectare (0.22 - 0.44 tons/acre) in good years. These figures imply that large farms required 20 to 80 hectares (50 to 200 acres) of land set aside for hay cultivation to keep their livestock over the winter.

    Sheep and goats, being hardier, could survive the winter outside, but might be brought under cover at the height of a storm.

    While hay was grown on uncultivated land, the best hay was grown in the tún, the home field near the farm. This hay was carefully cultivated, with animals (and people) excluded so that the grass remained untrampled and uneaten while it grew during the summer.

    Hay was harvested using scythes, and then raked and turned and stacked against a wall for drying. Scythes needed frequent resharpening in order to keep the edge sufficiently sharp. Whetstones, imported from Norway, were used to keep the edge sharp. In addition, the ropes (ljábönd) which attached the blade to the wooden handle worked loose as the work progressed, requiring a pause to retighten. As much hay as possible was stored under cover in barns, but it's likely that at least some of the hay had to be stored outdoors over the winter. This hay was built into stacks and protected from the weather by turf piled around and over the stacks.

    The tún at Bjarg, the farm where Grettir the Strong was raised, is shown to the right as it looks today. When the photograph was taken, the haying operation was in full swing, using modern farm machinery.

    An experimental hay harvest, using traditional tools and methods, was recently conducted by Minjasafn Austurlands. The photo to the left shows Gráni loaded with hay in a klyfberi (pack-saddle). It appeared that Gráni ate more hay than he carried on his back.

    During the second harvest (right), the pack-saddle on Hringur's back was much more heavily loaded.

    In order to keep out animals, walls were built of sod and stone. The walls both enclosed and protected the hayfields, and also marked boundaries. A turf wall is shown to the right, which was under construction when the photograph was taken. Building and maintaining the walls surrounding the meadows and the homefield was a major chore at the farm every year. The law required that walls be the shoulder-height of a man and five feet thick at the base (Grágás K 181). Maintaining the walls was so important the law code specified that three months out of each year were to be set aside for the maintenance of walls. Chapter 15 of Fljótsdæla saga tells of a master wall-builder, Ásbjörn, who built boundary walls and hayfield walls in the East Fjords. The saga author says that some of his walls were still standing centuries later when the saga was written.

    All available manure was spread on the homefield to fertilize the soil and to maximize the crop. In the spring, manure that had accumulated in the animal shelters over the winter was spread on the homefield. There is some evidence that some fields were irrigated, for example the laws about irrigation that appear in Grágás (K 191), the medieval Icelandic law book. However, if irrigation happened at all, it must have been on a small scale, due to the difficulty of digging extensive irrigation ditches with the tools available in the Viking age.

    Hay was so important to Viking age farms that growing sufficient hay was written into the law, which required that tenant farmers hire enough farm hands that all hay meadows could be worked. The law prohibited land from becoming waste through lack of attention.

    In the summer months, livestock was driven to pastures at higher elevations, called sel (shieling). During this time, from mid-June through mid-October, most of the livestock were left to forage freely, while milk cows and ewes were kept close so they could be milked every day. The raw milk from the animals was collected and processed in a shed on site, where the farm family, or their hired hands, lived during the summer while they tended the livestock.

    In some cases, the sel was near the farm, in the same valley, but further in the valley or higher up the wall of the valley. The sel for Bolli's farm in the Sælingsdalur valley was located adjacent to the ravine Stakkagil (left), as told in Laxdœla saga. Although at the time of the saga, the valley was wooded, it's possible that the farm was visible from the sel. Chapter 55 of the saga says that while working at the sel with only his wife and a few farmhands to help, Bolli was attacked and killed.

    In other the cases, the sel was a considerable distance from the farm, perhaps in the next valley, or in the highlands between valleys. The sel ruins shown to the right were discovered in 2004. They are probably the remains of a sel for one of the farms in Hrafnkelsdalur in east Iceland. Perhaps it is one of the sels that Einar rode to in search of the lost sheep, as described in chapter 5 of Hrafnkels saga. The site was studied in 2006, but little conclusive was found. The next year, the site was flooded by Hálslón, the lake behind the new dam at Kárahnjúkur.

    Milk collected at the sel was turned into butter, cheese, and skyr on-site. Skyr (left) is usually translated as curds, which for most English speakers, fails to convey the pleasures of this yummy dairy treat.

    The dairy products were brought down to the farms in skin sacks. Products such as skyr were stored in partially buried vats (right), which kept the skyr cool, helping to preserve it. During the winter months, when cows stopped producing milk, the skyr in storage became the main source of dairy food. In addition, sour milk was used as a preservative for other foodstuffs.

    Typical crops included grains such as barley (a staple crop throughout the Norse lands), rye, and oats. In the most southerly regions, wheat could be grown, a luxury crop. Depending on the local climate and soil conditions, vegetables such as beans, peas, cabbage, and onions could be grown. Thus, it was possible for a Norse farm family to have a varied diet. In addition, utility crops (such as flax for linen) were grown.

    In Iceland, grain cultivation must have been difficult even in the best of times. The best chances for success were in the warmer parts of the country, in the south and southwest. Njáls saga, set in the south, contains a number of references to the growing of grain. Chapter 111 tells that Höskuldr Hvítanesagoði went out one morning with his seed bag in one hand and his sword in the other to sow grain in his field (left, as it appears today). The sons of Njál were waiting behind the fence, and they ambushed Höskuldr and killed him.

    Regardless, grain cultivation was clearly attempted by the early Icelandic settlers. Both oat and barley pollen and barley grains have been found in the earliest settlement layers in Iceland. Substantial quantities of grain were found in the excavation of a Viking age granary at Aðalstræti 14-16 in Reykjavik, suggesting that at least for this early Viking age farm, grain cultivation was quite successful. If the stone chest had been full, it would have held 200kg (440lb) of grain.

    Larger grain fields were plowed with an arðr (left) drawn by oxen, while smaller fields were worked with hand tools. The iron cutting piece of the arðr (right) lacked flaring sides, so it merely cut grooves into the soil, rather than turning the soil like a modern plow. In the photo, the cutting tip is to the left, and the opening that receives the wooden frame of the arðr is to the right.

    Plows were used in other parts of Europe during the Norse era, but there is scant evidence of their use in Norse lands during this time. Literary evidence (such as Landnámabók) supports only the use of ards. While iron cutting blades of ards have been found, no complete ards or plows are known to have survived from the Norse era, so their appearance is open to speculation.

    It is thought that one man guided the arðr while another walked alongside the oxen, guiding them, encouraging them, and holding them when the arðr was stopped by a stone.

    Sometime in the 11th century, a drift of sand covered a farmer's field in northern Jutland. When the sand was removed in the 1950s, the Norse era field was still intact from its last plowing (right). The slightly curving furrows can be seen, along with the tracks of a wheeled vehicle, and footprints, possibly those of the farmer who plowed the field.

    farmers field
    Continuous cropping was the cultivation practice most widely followed, where fields were continuously used year after year without any fallow periods. This practice required heavy fertilization in the form of manure. Only later in the medieval period, after the end of the Viking age, did crop rotation techniques come to be used in Norse lands. It is possible that alternating fields were left fallow for a year, and livestock were kept overnight on the unfallow fields as a way of fertilizing the field for the next year's crop.

    Barley was mowed with a sickle, then bound and stacked. After drying near a fire, the grain was threshed. The difficulty of growing grain was reflected in its value. A weight of dried grain was worth the same as an equal weight of butter or cheese. Grain was used for bread, porridge, and ale.

    Various tools were widely used for cultivating, harvesting, and processing the crops. Iron-shod spades (left) with a wooden blade and handle, and only a thin iron edge were used to dig ditches. Iron picks and iron-shod hoes were used to work the soil. Iron scythes, sickles, and leaf-knives were used for harvesting. Wooden pitchforks and rakes (right) were used for spreading manure and for haymaking. Manure was also spread by dragging bundles of sticks over the homefield to break up and spread out the clots of manure. Flails were used to thresh the grain. Stone querns (below) were used to mill the flour (although archaeological evidence suggests that water powered mills might have been used in towns during the Viking era).

    The farm staff typically consisted of the owner of the farm, his family, as well as extended family who lived with the farmer in the longhouse. In addition, hired men and servants worked at the farm, in exchange for wages and room and board. Most farms kept slaves, a practice that was widespread throughout the Viking lands on both large and small farms. Slaves generally worked alongside the hired workers on the farm, but probably were assigned the harder and less desirable work. Lastly, shepherds were hired to tend the sheep, but this work had little respect.

    The low status of shepherds is revealed in several sources. Shepherds received no wages, but only room and board. The law (Grágás K.78) prohibited farmers from assigning shepherding duties to the hired men, which would be demeaning. In chapter 26 of Reykdæla saga og Víga-Skútu, Skúta pretended to be a shepherd while he was being pursued. He turned his cloak inside-out (to display the less showy inner lining), broke off the spearhead from its shaft (turning it into a staff and appearing weapon-less), and took the saddle off his horse (to appear poor). Riding bareback, Skúta shouted at the sheep as he rode towards his pursuers. As he passed, they didn't recognize him as the imposing man with weapons they had been chasing.

    The law in Iceland required every person to be affiliated with a farm. In order to bring a legal complaint against a person, he had to be summoned to the legal assembly (þing) for his region. A person with no fixed abode couldn't be charged in the proper court and thus was a danger to the smooth operation of society. People were allowed to change their legal residence only during the four days at the end of May called fardagar (moving days). During this time, households moved, and tenants and farmhands renewed their contracts for the year.

    Occasionally, men did not want to move. Chapter 26 of Víga-Glúms saga says that Einarr won a case against Glúmr. Glúmr was banished from the district, and Einarr bought his land. On the last of the moving days, Glúmr sat in his high seat and refused to leave his home. Einar's mother came and turned him out. "You can't stay any longer. I turn you out now, for the land is consecrated to Einarr." Glúmr's farm at Þverá is shown to the right as it appears today.

    toolsblacksmith toolsIn general, farm families needed to be self-sufficient. With the exception of some luxury items, and some raw materials, everything needed for farm life was typically grown or manufactured on the farm. Wooden tools were made as needed. Every farm had to have a forge of some kind in order to be able to resharpen cutting tools such as scythes whetting alone was insufficient for keeping frequently used tools sharp. Most large farms had well equipped forges for working iron. Farmers were expected to be competent carpenters and blacksmiths. The tools shown to the left are reproductions of carpenter tools (top) and blacksmith tools (bottom). Sketches of period blacksmithing tools are shown to the right.

    Farms throughout the Norse lands were isolated. Farm life in the Viking age was a constant struggle against starvation, cold, and disease. Most people expected to and did work their entire waking hours.

    Since there was nothing like a police force to maintain the peace, every farmer had to be prepared to defend his farm and property. A sense of solidarity was expected on a farm, between the farmer and his wife, on one hand, and the servants and farm hands on the other. In exchange for obedience and support, the farmer provided for defense and safety of his entourage. In addition, a farmer would look for support and assistance from people outside the farm: from family members his chieftain his neighbors and others with whom he had made reciprocal arrangements for mutual help and protection.

    In Iceland, each local district participated in a mutual insurance pact, called a hreppr. Regular annual payments from area farmers were used to help farms that suffered catastrophic losses to buildings from fire or to livestock from disease. The hreppr also saw to the welfare of orphans or others who could not provide for themselves. While the concept of the hreppr is discussed in the law books (Grágás K234), it is mentioned only once in passing in the stories (Víga-Glúms saga, chapter 18).

    It was the custom of farmers in a district to meet during the last month of the winter, according to chapter 14 of Vopnfirðinga saga. At these meetings, men shared out the common work that needed to be done in the spring.

    Entertainment was at a premium at the farm, and included games, feasts, and story telling. Any opportunity to travel to markets, to feasts, to games, or to gatherings such as þing meetings was welcome.

    Viking Artifacts Discovered Near Great Lakes!!

    This was the headline of a recent article on a satirical news website called the World News Daily Report. The article claims that a group of amateur archaeologists recently discovered a collection of Viking artifacts on the shore of Lake Huron near the town of Cheboygan, Michigan. The collection included “swords, axes…silver buttons and a balance scale allegedly from the British isles, hair combs and knife handles made of walrus ivory and originating from Greenland or Iceland.” The artifacts were sent to the Department of Archaeology at the University of Michigan for further analysis. The researchers concluded that the site was once the location of a Pre-Columbian trading center for Scandinavian explorers.

    Vikings did indeed visit North America prior to Columbus. Archaeologists in 1960 unearthed a Viking settlement dating to the year 1000 at l’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, Canada. However, there is no credible evidence that they reached the middle of the continent. A quick Google search to verify the story would have revealed that it was indeed a joke. Yet judging from the numerous comments below the article, many people took this claim seriously.

    The notion that Medieval Norsemen visited the Upper Midwest has been a perennial fascination since the late nineteenth century. In 1898, a Swedish immigrant farmer in western Minnesota claimed that he discovered a stone with a runic inscription left by Norse explorers in the year 1362. The artifact, known as the Kensington Rune Stone, was soon declared a hoax by numerous academics. However, scholarly denunciations did little to dampen the spirits of those who have been the stone’s ardent defenders. In 1907, amateur historian and Norwegian immigrant Hjalmar Holand acquired the stone and began a lifelong mission to prove its authenticity. Holand scoured the Minnesota landscape digging up battle axes, swords and other purported Norse artifacts. He published his findings in numerous books and articles. Much of his argumentation is based on pseudo-science and wild historical conjecture. In spite of his specious claims, Holand generated enough publicity for the Kensington Rune Stone that by the 1960s, some 60% of Minnesotans believed that Vikings were the first European visitors to the state. The Kensington Rune Stone was featured at the Smithsonian Institute, the New York World’s Fair and even on a recent History Channel documentary entitled “Holy Grail in America.” Why did the Kensington Rune Stone and the theory of pre-Columbian Norse travels to Minnesota become so popular considering the lack of credible evidence? This question is at the very heart of my current research. Click on my book page to find out more about my book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America , University of Minnesota Press.

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