Rare structures and artifacts of the Viking religion practiced centuries prior to Christianity's introduction have been uncovered by archaeologists in Norway, including a "god house."
- A 1,200-year-old temple to the Old Norse gods including Thor and Odin has been unearthed in Norway by a team of archaeologists.
- It was likely used for worship and sacrifices to gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices, and other fertility festivals.
- Icelanders are officially practicing the Old Norse pagan religions again; the first temple to the Norse gods in 1000 years is currently being constructed in the City of Reykjavík.
The god house<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU1MjM3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1ODkzNzY0MX0.pmfs1whuVE2pdAlBLV64Zw0T2FSLPFpm63j48AlyUz4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="531ba" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="693df469340e1552b5babcf965f8df7e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Aerial view of the "godhouse."
Photo courtesy of the University Museum of Bergen<p>The building remains were unearthed by <a href="https://www.universitetsmuseet.no/nb/artikkel/230/enestaende-funn-av-hedensk-gudehov-fra-yngre-jernalder" target="_blank">archaeologists from the University Museum of Bergen</a> in September at the seaside village of Ose located in western Norway ahead of preparations for a new housing development project. Based on the placement of post holes and other artifacts, the team was able to determine the structure of the god house and how it was used.</p><p>The large wooden building was about 45 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 40 feet high, and is thought by archaeologists to date from the end of the eighth century. The building's layout is almost identical to late Iron Age god houses found at Uppåkra in southern Sweden and Tissø in Denmark, but this is the first temple of its kind found in Norway according to archaeologist and architect <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Soren_Diinhoff" target="_blank">Søren Diinhoff</a> who led the project.</p><p>"We have discovered the most perfectly shaped god house of all the finds so far — I know of no other Scandinavian buildings in which the house construction is as clear as it is here," <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Soren_Diinhoff" target="_blank">Diinhoff</a> told <a href="https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/1200-year-old-viking-temple-found-in-norway" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Syfy Wire</a>'s Elizabeth Rayne. "I think our building is central to document and verify this very special architecture."</p><p>Diinhoff told Live Science that god houses at Ose followed the architectural blueprint of Christian basilicas that travelers would have come across in southern regions. Because of this, Old Norse religious temples of this time are characterized by a high tower looming above a pitched roof, similar to early Christian churches. At the site were also a number of cooking pits for preparing religious feats, and a collection of bones — the remains of animal sacrifices.</p><p>Their excavations also revealed traces of early agricultural settlements dating to between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, including the remains of two <a href="https://www.livescience.com/oldest-viking-settlement-discovered.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">longhouses</a> — large wooden halls typically covered with turf and thatch and used as communal habitations. According to Diinhoff, they would have each been the center of a small farm for a family and their animals. </p>
Old Norse religion<p>Later in the sixth century is when the Norse began to construct large "god houses." These were complex outdoor worship sites dedicated to deities of the Norse pantheon including the fertility god Freyer, the war god Odin, and the storm god Thor. This suggests the worship was more than a small cult or folk practice. Rather, it likely had something to do with elite classes wanting to put on an ideological spectacle. As high-status families began to take control of the earlier religious cults, Norse religious worship became more organized.</p><p>The temple at Ose was likely used for celebrations and sacrifices to gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices (the shortest and longest days of the year), which would have been highly revered cosmological events for agrarian societies like the Old Norse. Several years ago, a "phallus" stone was found nearby the excavation site. According to Diinhoff, it was likely a part of Old Norse fertility rituals. </p><p>Festivals in which meat, drinks, and treasures were offered to wooden figurines representing the gods would have also taken place. While the gods consumed the spiritual essence of the food and drink, practitioners were able to enjoy the material of the feast. </p><p> "You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking," Diinhoff said to Live Science. "I think they would have had a good time."</p>
A return to pagan practices in Norway?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fc0c3e3cc8af1ce80c73d8eac464841"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OYAWNj76axM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Unfortunately, the party was brought to an end during the 11th century. It was then that Norway's rulers imposed Christianity onto the population. As a result, pagan religious structures were torn down and burned, and Norse gods were demonized. There's currently no evidence suggesting that Ose's god house was part of the iconoclastic purge, but Diinhoff and his team would like to find out in further work.</p><p>Recently, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/iceland-to-officially-worship-norse-gods-again" target="_self">the Norse pagan religions have made a comeback</a>. For example, an Icelandic neopagan faith group called the <a href="https://asatru.is/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ásatrú Association of Iceland</a>, is currently one of the country's fastest growing religions. Over the last decade, it's almost quadrupled its membership going from a (granted, low) base of 1,275 people in 2009 to 4,473 in 2018. The association is constructing the first temple to the Norse gods in 1000 years in the City of Reykjavík. The project began in 2017 and after running into a funding roadblock, it's expected to be completed later this year. </p>
Researchers found a common element in the destruction of even the most powerful empires.
- Researchers found a commonality between the collapse of ancient empires.
- Even the best-run nations fell apart because of leaders who undermined social contracts.
- The scientists found that societies that had good governments broke up even worse than those with dictators.
The ruins of the Roman Forum, which served as representational government.
Credit: Linda Nicholas / Field Museum
The young man died nearly 2,000 years ago in the volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii.
- A team of researchers in Italy discovered the intact brain cells of a young man who died in the Mount Vesuvius eruption in A.D. 79.
- The brain's cell structure was visible to researchers (who used an electron microscope) in a glassy, black material found inside the man's skull.
- The material was likely the victim's brain preserved through the process of vitrification in which the intense heat followed by rapid cooling turned the organ to glass.
Discovery of cells<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUwNTc3Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzkxOTE3Nn0.P40yPfGHp1jlqrALyP2BXokaKnS1u0ThXdmsbOuRrtw/img.png?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C78%2C0%2C78&height=700" id="a2fc4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="72ff4c56563712e6e7a89df6207cebf1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Electron microscope image of brain axons.
Credit: PLOS ONE<p>Now, subsequent research has described how the researchers, using an electron microscope, discovered cells in the vitrified brain. According to Petrone they were "incredibly well preserved with a resolution that is impossible to find anywhere else." Additionally, the team used another method called energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy to determine the chemical compounds of the glassy material. The sample was rich in carbon and oxygen, which indicates that it was organic. The researchers compared those ancient proteins to a database of proteins found in the human brain, and found that all of the discovered proteins are indeed present in human brain tissue.</p> <p>Additionally, Petrone and his team suspect they also discovered vitrified nerve cells in the ancient victim's spinal cord and cerebellum based on the position of the sample in the mind of the skull and the concentration of the proteins. </p>
Future research<p>These impeccable preservations of brain tissue are unprecedented and will undoubtedly open the door to new and exciting research opportunities on these ancient people and civilizations that weren't possible until now.</p> <p>The Italian research team will continue to study the remains to learn more about the vitrification process, including the precise temperatures the victims were exposed to and the cooling rate of the ash. They also, according to Petrone, want to analyze proteins from the remains and their related genes. </p>
Scientists have found evidence of hot springs near sites where ancient hominids settled, long before the control of fire.
"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," said project leader Professor Eske Willerslev.
- A team of international researchers spent years analyzing the DNA of 442 people, most of whom lived during the Viking age.
- It's the largest DNA analysis of Viking remains to date.
- The results show that Vikings were more genetically diverse than previously thought.
An artistic reconstruction of 'Southern European' Vikings emphasising the foreign gene flow into Viking Age Scandinavia.
Credit: Jim Lyngvild<p>The results deal a blow to our modern image of Vikings.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We didn't know genetically what they actually looked like until now," project leader Professor Eske Willerslev, director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/sjcu-wld091120.php" target="_blank">statement</a>. "We found genetic differences between different Viking populations within Scandinavia which shows Viking groups in the region were far more isolated than previously believed. Our research even debunks the modern image of Vikings with blonde hair as many had brown hair and were influenced by genetic influx from the outside of Scandinavia."</p>
A mass grave of around 50 headless Vikings from a site in Dorset, UK. Some of these remains were used for DNA analysis.