VIDEO: Five astonishing Viking finds uncovered by Stockholm University

It seems only fitting that some of the most remarkable Viking finds have been discovered by researchers at Stockholm University. After all, it is just a stone’s throw from Birka, a Viking city on the island of Björkö, where the university's archeologists are always digging up the past.

VIDEO: Five astonishing Viking finds uncovered by Stockholm University
A Viking ring with a Kufic inscription. Photo: Stockholm University

For more than a millennium, people around the world have been fascinated by the Vikings. The ancient Norse seafarers, with their insatiable appetite for drinking and plundering, seem more like they belong in a myth than an actual history book.

But Vikings did indeed once roam the earth and nowhere is there more evidence for their existence than in their native Nordic countries. Over the years, archeologists and researchers at Stockholm University have discovered some fascinating finds that shed light on the way that the Vikings lived, loved and died.

Presenting five of the most amazing Viking finds uncovered by Stockholm University.

Not half the man she used to be

Fans of the History Channel’s Vikings may have occasionally doubted the plausibility of the ferocious ‘shield maidens’ depicted on the show. But, as researchers at Stockholm University revealed, battle was not an exclusively all-male activity and women too could climb the military ranks.

Archeologists and historians had assumed for over a century that the remains of a person found buried in Birka, along with their weapons and horses, belonged to a man. But in 2017 osteology and DNA tests found that he was a she and that she was a high ranking military leader.

Image: Stockholm University

Stockholm University’s Jan Storå says, “This burial was excavated in the 1880s and has served as a model of a professional Viking warrior ever since.”

The future may be female but, as this amazing discovery shows, it turns out the past was too!

Feast your eyes on this

It’s no secret that the Vikings enjoyed a good feast (after all, what was Valhalla but a supersized feast hall?). And where better to hold a big fat Viking feast than a great hall designed for just such an occasion?

Photo: Stockholm University

In 2014, a 50-metre-long Viking feasting hall was identified in Vadstena, a city in southern Sweden. Long mistaken for a burial mound, archeologists revealed that the Aska barrow was in fact, most likely, the home of a noble family whose graves had been excavated nearby.  

Archaeologists from Umeå University and Stockholm University worked together on the project, using a non-invasive ground-penetrating radar to locate and map the foundations of the hall.

“Our investigation demonstrates that non-invasive geophysical measurements can be powerful tools for studying similar building foundations elsewhere,” said Andreas Viberg of the Archaeological Research Laboratory at Stockholm University. “They even allow scholars to estimate the date of a building without any expensive excavations.”

Find out more about the research underway at Stockholm University

I’ll be Birka

One of history’s greatest mysteries was the long-lost location of a grand manor owned by Heriga, the royal bailiff of Viking trade centre Birka. For years, archeologists scratched their heads and wondered how one of the most important Vikings halls could have seemingly vanished into thin air.

After discovering what researchers believed were the terraces of several houses in the spring of 2016, they (figuratively) dug deeper to find out more. Using that same ground-penetrating radar, they produced a high-resolution geophysical survey which revealed what turned out to be Heriga’s hall, which can be dated to sometime around 810 AD.

“The results highlight the benefits of using non-intrusive geophysical surveys for the detection of archaeological features and, once again, prove to be an invaluable tool for documenting Iron Age building remains in Scandinavia”, says Andreas Viberg, researcher at the Archaeological Research Laboratory at Stockholm University.

Dragon up the past

Viking folklore was awash with dwarves, trolls, giants and dragons, with the mythical beasts heavily influencing Norse art.

Photo: Still taken from a Stockholm University video

Back in 2015, when archeologists began working on a layer that had once been a lake in the Viking town of Birka, they found what turned out to be a small bronze dragon head. The dragon head would once have been placed on an ancient costume needle although the needle had long since disintegrated.

“This dragon head has become a symbol of the Viking Age”, says Lena Holmquist, lecturer at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm University. “For many years, there has been an ongoing debate as to where the dragon head was made. With the discovery, we hope to show that it was produced here in Birka.”

Find out more about Stockholm University

Dead ringer

How much can an ancient ring really tell us about intercultural relations? A whole lot, actually.

Using a scanning electron microscope, Stockholm University biophysicist Sebastian Wärmlander discovered an Arabic inscription on the coloured glass of a ring found in a Viking women’s grave. An expert of old Kufic translated the inscription, which he concluded to read 'for/to Allah’.

The 2015 discovery of the inscription spoke volumes, as did the mint condition of the ring. Scientists have suggested that the ring was new when it was buried with the woman and that perhaps she, or someone she knew, had recently acquired it on a journey to the Islamic world. This shows that the Vikings did venture into the Islamic caliphate, corroborating ancient tales about ties between the two worlds.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Stockholm University.


Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google’s questions

Why is Sweden called Sweden? Why is Sweden so depressing? Why is Sweden so rich?  In a new series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you type "Why is Sweden..." into the Google search engine.  

Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google's questions
Why is Sweden actually called Sweden? Let's find out. Photo: Google screenshot

The short answer to “why is Sweden called Sweden?” is that it’s not. It’s called Sverige

When The Local asked Henrik Williams, a Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University, he also gave the question a short answer: “Because it’s inhabited by Swedes.” 

We can trace some form of the name back to at least the 13th century, when it was called Swearike in Old Swedish. That translates to “the kingdom of the Swear”.

Two thousand years ago, some of the people living in what is now known as Sweden were called Svear or Suiones, depending on which language you spoke and on how you spelled things (spelling varied greatly). 

The Roman historian Tacitus gives the first known description of the Svear in a book written in the year 93 CE, Germania

Everything comes down to this word, Svear, the name of the people. It means ‘we ourselves’. The Svear lived in Uppland just north of where Stockholm is now, until about the 11th century when they started expanding their territory. 

“It’s very common that people call themselves, either ‘we ourselves’ or ‘the people’” said Professor Williams. 

“We are ‘the humans’ and everybody else is something else. Everyone else is ‘them'”.

Of course, nobody uses the word in that way now, but it still forms the basis of the word Sweden.

The 8th century epic poem Beowulf gives the earliest known recorded version of the word Sweoland, land of the Swear

But at that time, there was no Sweden. Instead, the land was occupied by little kingdoms of Swedes and Goths (in present-day Götaland) and warring tribes of Vikings.

It’s unclear when the King of the Swear started referring to himself as the king of a country called Sweden, but it was probably around the time the country adopted Christianity in the 11th century. 

“Sweden” only came into regular use after 1750, when it replaced “Swedeland” in English. But in Scotland, “Sweden” had been used since the beginning of the modern era.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 17th century, people would use Sweden as the name of the people, and Swedeland as the name of the country. 

The first attested use of ‘Sweden’ was in a Scottish timber accounting log in 1503, which refers to “Sweden boards.” 

Most countries went from the Old Norse word Svíþjóð (which is still used to describe Sweden in Icelandic today) and turned it into something in their own languages, like the Old English Swíoríce, the Middle Dutch Zweden and High German Schweden

But it’s not called Sweden everywhere. 

In Finnish, Sweden is Ruotsi, in Estonian it’s Rootsi, and in Northern Sami Ruoŧŧa.

This comes from the root-word Rod, as in modern day Roslagen the coastal part of Uppland. It means rowing, or people who row. And because Finland was invaded by people from Roslagen, that’s how Finns referred to them.