?

Log in

No account? Create an account
West with the Vikings - News from Nowhere [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
shewhomust

[ website | The Shadow Gallery ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

West with the Vikings [Apr. 13th, 2016|01:02 pm]
shewhomust
[Tags|, ]

On Sunday we caught up with The Vikings Uncovered, which we only picked up on because a friend tweeted about it. In many ways it was an infuriating programme: in particular, it did one of the things I most hate about television documentaries, which is that it assumes the subject matter is not inherently interesting, and that unless it is tricked out with illustrative footage and fake suspense, the audience will wander off. It also managed to run for an hour and a half, which is longer than I find comfortable for a pregramme whose structure is "Look at this! And now look at this!" It was like watching a ninety minute trailer for a series coming later in which each of the short sections would would be unfolded into a really interesting programme about a site associated with the Vikings, and what we could learn about them from that site.

The most interesting of all of these, the bean in the cake, was the discovery of what really does seem to be a second Viking site in Newfoundland, at Point Rosee near the southwestern tip of the island. The BBC, bless their pointed little heads, issued their press release on April 1st, which combines with their rather excitable tone to unfortunate effect - but reading carefully what they do and don't say, there is still something there to get excited about.

Two somethings, in fact: the site itself, and the way it was discovered.

Excavations at Point Rosee have uncovered evidence of iron working. That's all, and it is in itself pretty minimal: a boulder in front of a shallow pit, surrounded by smaller stones and sheltered by an L-shaped turf wall, traces of charcoal and a quantity of slag. It's not a Viking settlement, because if there is an associated settlement it hasn't yet been found, and there's no evidence that it is even Viking - except that it's a technology known to have been used by the Vikings, and by no-one else in the region at the time. So it seems reasonable to call it a second Viking site, and evidence that the Vikings didn't just touch down at L'Anse aux Meadows and then turn round and go home. This would be even more exciting if the programme hadn't let slip something that I hadn't previously known, that butternuts (I hadn't even heard of butternuts: it's a kind of walnut, apparently) found at L'Anse aux Meadows must have been brought back by explorers further south and west. So it is not entirely news that the Vikings travelled further in Vinland than just the most northeasterly tip. Still, sort of knowing is one thing; seeing traces on the ground is another.

Seeing those traces on the ground from 400 miles away in space is yet another. The excavation site was identified by space archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak - which has to be the best job title of the year. She doesn't, alas, go into space. Instead, what she is doing is the familiar exercise of identifying promising locations from the air, just from rather further up than traditional aerial photography. She uses satellite images (if we were told whose images, I missed that bit) and enhances them to pick out promising features. These are not always what she is looking for: the sheltering turf wall at Point Rosee had looked like a typical Viking longhouse (and similar traces on Auskerry turned out to be turf cuttings). Pretty amazing, all the same, to identify from hundreds of miles above something which, close up, even when the grass has been removed, looks like different shades of mud.

All in all, despite patronising me outrageously (it seems that everything I thought I knew about the Vikings was wrong, they didn't have horns on their helmets at all - and here's some footage of Up Helly Aa) the programme did tell me new and interesting things, and sent me off to the internet in seach of more. Links follow, for my own convenience:

linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: sovay
2016-04-13 03:51 pm (UTC)
space archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak - which has to be the best job title of the year.

Seriously.

and here's some footage of Up Helly Aa

I learned about Up Helly Aa from Mollie Hunter's A Stranger Came Ashore (1975). I have never seen what it looks like for myself, though.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2016-04-14 09:35 am (UTC)
I don't know A Stranger Came Ashore, and the Wikipedia summary makes it sound more like the Western Isles than Shetland, which is odd. But what do I know? I've never seen Up Helly Aa either: Shetland in January? Hasn't happened yet! However, Flickr can help us here (and this is certainly the sort of stuff I was referring to).
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: sovay
2016-04-14 07:50 pm (UTC)
I don't know A Stranger Came Ashore, and the Wikipedia summary makes it sound more like the Western Isles than Shetland, which is odd.

It's a retelling of "The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry" and it is very definitely set in the Shetlands: it says so on the first page.

It was a while ago, in the days when they used to tell stories about creatures called the Selkie Folk.

A stranger came ashore to an island at that time—a man who gave his name as Finn Learson—and there was a mystery about him which had to do with these selkie creatures. Or so some people say, anyway; but to be exact about all this, you must first of all know that the Selkie Folk are the seals that live in the waters around the Shetland Islands. Also, the Shetlands themselves lie in the stormy seas to the north of Britain, and it was on a night of very fierce storm that it all began.


It's a particularly cold, dark take on selkies, but I read the book for the first time in fifth grade and imprinted on it for life even if I didn't agree with it entirely. Hunter also wrote The Mermaid Summer (1988), which I read a few years earlier and imprinted on without reservations: its mermaid is wild, proud, lawless, and vain, and even if she is the antagonist of the story, I wished for years that I had a jade comb to pin my hair up with.

I've never seen Up Helly Aa either: Shetland in January? Hasn't happened yet!

Fair enough!

Edited at 2016-04-14 07:50 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ylla
2016-04-15 03:27 pm (UTC)
Oh! I had forgotten all about the jade comb! But bits of Molly Hunter are embedded deep in me :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: sovay
2016-04-15 04:25 pm (UTC)
But bits of Molly Hunter are embedded deep in me

Early exposure to The Kelpie's Pearls (1964) was also significant. I didn't encounter Patrick Kentigern Keenan (1963) until high school—and last year I lent my copy to my much younger cousin and fully expect never to see it again—but The Wicked One (1977) was interesting to read as a child who had to learn to keep my temper. The strongest imprints are the sea-stories, though.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2016-04-15 04:54 pm (UTC)
I wasn't querying your account: the use of Up Helly Aa sets it unambiguously in Shetland. The names are not, on the whole, Shetland names - and the passage you quote uses the expression "the Shetlnds", which is one of those shibboleths - I'm being picky, for which I apologise. And I like the sound of the mermaid story.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: sovay
2016-04-15 05:03 pm (UTC)
The names are not, on the whole, Shetland names - and the passage you quote uses the expression "the Shetlands", which is one of those shibboleths

Understood. Mollie Hunter herself was from Edinburgh and Inverness, I believe.

And I like the sound of the mermaid story.

I haven't re-read it in years, but I expect to find fragments of myself in it when I do, or the other way round; it was very powerful for me.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)