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>
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%2C0&height=700" id="ba6e0" 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>
Well preserved coffins hint towards more discoveries in a famed necropolis.
- Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered more than two dozen sarcophagi in the last month.
- Experts predict more discoveries in the coming weeks.
- Their discovery is another credit to Saqqara, the necropolis of the old capital of Memphis.
More mummies than a horror movie<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMTA4OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjQ3Nzc5OX0.Vf-N6VDF0tVTarGsPg46iPDARKKIqYqd32b7Zltvxn0/img.jpg?width=980" id="4aad6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6000d3bd2b06357cc5155b1372689044" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="coffin close-up" />
Archaeology clues us in on the dangers of letting viruses hang around.
- A University of Otago researcher investigates the spread of disease in ancient Vietnam.
- The infectious disease, yaws, has been with us for thousands of years with no known cure.
- Using archaeology to investigate disease offers clues into modern-day pandemics.
History-Changing Archaeological Finds<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ed6ad05071e93f257aa0b73f4001c805"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gydYHHfnLhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While we rightfully look toward infectious disease experts during times such as now, archaeologists also have plenty to offer. A <a href="http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/bioarchaeology/article/view/1173" target="_blank">new research article</a>, published in the journal, Bioarchaeology Journal, turns back the clock to ancient Vietnam. The findings offer important clues about why we need to eradicate COVID-19.</p><p>Lead author Melandri Vlok, a PhD student at the University of Otago in New Zealand (with support from researchers in Australia, Vietnam, Japan, and the UK), investigated a case of yaws that ran through the Neolithic archeological site of Mán Bạc in Northeast Vietnam. </p><p>Yaws remains a common infectious disease in at least 13 tropical countries, with up to a half-million infected each year. Hard skin lesions form on the victim's bodies; they can form painful ulcers. While lesions usually subside within six months, bone and joint pain and fatigue are common. Some cases last many years and result in permanent scars. On occasion, death follows a long battle. </p><p>Subsistence farmers in mainland China have long battled the environment. Finding the right soil and water sources for their crops has been a generational battle. Roughly 4,000 years ago, such farmers made their way into Mainland Southeast China (modern day Vietnam), where, as Vlok writes, "genetic admixture and social transition occurs between foragers and farmers." In 2018, Vlok traveled to Mán Bạc to study the remains of seven skeletons, which included two adults, two adolescents, and two children.</p><p>Her findings help give us perspective on today's proliferation of the coronavirus. As she <a href="https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/releases/otago744185.html" target="_blank">says</a>, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This matters, because knowing more about this disease and its evolution, it changes how we understand the relationship people have with it. It helps us understand why it's so difficult to eradicate. If it's been with us thousands of years it has probably developed to fit very well with humans." </p>
My Son Sanctuary, Quang Nam, Vietnam.
Credit: Mrkela / Shutterstock<p>Yaws is not the only disease considered in the article. Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and cancers were also discussed. The goal of the research was to identify disease spread through cultures and the chronic problems left behind, sometimes for millennia. Vlok notes how temperature fluctuations in the Mán Bạc region affected a variety of diseases. Yaws appeared to have spread easily due to an abundance of water and vegetation, combined with increased population density—children are more likely to spread this disease.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Pre-industrialized agricultural communities have also been associated with increased incidence of yaws. The coastal region is also slightly warmer and more humid than inland northern Vietnam and therefore more conducive to the spread of yaws."</p><p>The Climate Clock is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/21/climate-change-metronome-clock-nyc/" target="_blank">ticking down</a>. We're already experiencing the ravages of this global shift, and it's not going to get any easier if interventions are not immediately legislated. While no single science will help us wrap our heads around the immediate future, Vlok suggests factoring in archaeology. Past precedent matters.</p><p>Gazing back a few hundred generations offers important clues for the future—really, the present—that we must confront. A concerted effort by the World Health Organization in the 1950s couldn't eradicate yaws. Diseases that have an opportunity to hang around will exploit every advantage it can. The blasé attitude too many Americans currently hold about the novel coronavirus's dangers is going to have a reverberating effect through the generations. As Vlok concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This shows us what happens when we don't take action with these diseases. It's a lesson of what infectious diseases can do to a population if you let them spread widely. It highlights the need to intervene, because sometimes these diseases are so good at adapting to us, at spreading between us."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>