Archives For Vikings

Roald AmundsenIn his latest book, The Last Viking, author Stephen Bown documents the epic life of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Amundsen is best known for winning a dramatic race to the South Pole and becoming the first human to reach the bottom of the world. Bown presents readers with a modern retelling of Amundsen’s life and stunning achievements. Amundsen was not only the first to journey to the South Pole, he also was the first to reach the North Pole and to sail the Northwest Passage.

Divided into five parts, The Last Viking chronicles each of Amundsen’s polar explorations including his last ill-fated voyage to rescue the stranded crew of an Italian airship in the Arctic. Bown, though, resists the urge to focus solely on Amundsen’s explorations and presents readers with a portrait of a confident leader whose drive and attention to detail helped him become one of the most successful explorers of the 20th century.

Utilizing contemporary newspaper accounts and previously untapped archival materials, Bown describes in detail Amundsen’s voyages, personal financial problems and character flaws. The reader also learns of the behind the scenes struggles Amundsen endured with duplicitous agents, rival explorers driven by nationalism, and the cataclysm of World War I which hampered one of his voyages.

Each section of the book opens with a map of the region corresponding to the exploits Bown documents in that section. This is especially helpful to understand the vast distances Amundsen covered either by ship, sled, skis, airship or plane.

In a world where little is left to explore, Bown transports his readers to a time when great men battled nature to explore the earth’s last remaining terra incognita. As the winter months approach, readers would be well served to buy The Last Viking and curl up in front of a roaring fire to enjoy Bown’s gripping account of Amundsen’s epic polar adventures.

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Vikings in America

Baffin Island
CC Image Courtesy of Mike Beauregard on Flickr

National Geographic reports that archaeologists working in Tanfield Valley on Baffin Island have uncovered evidence pointing to a second Viking camp in North America. Canadian archaeologists led by Memorial University adjunct professor Patricia Sutherland began excavations in the area in 2001. While excavating the ruins of an ancient building on the island, Sutherland and her crew found whetstones with traces of a copper alloy known to be used by Viking metalsmiths, but not natives of the region. Items with Viking origins have previously been found on the island including Viking yarn, tally sticks and whetstones.

Sutherland’s latest discovery solidifies evidence for Viking contact with the peoples of Baffin Island and provides further foundation for her assertion that a northern transatlantic trade route existed between the Vikings and Arctic natives. The high demand in northern Europe for ivory and furs would have provided significant economic incentive for the Vikings to trade with Arctic natives.

Archaeologists first discovered evidence of Viking contact with North America at L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960. Numerous modern day adventurers have utilized Viking ships and navigation techniques to sail from the Vikings’ Scandinavian homeland to various points in North America. The feat was even accomplished 120 years ago when Norwegian Magnus Anderson built and sailed a Viking longship replica from Norway to Chicago for the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition. The ship is now on display in Chicago, Illinois.

Viking Longboat

The Viking by C. Graham. 1893.

In 1892, Norwegian Magnus Andersen embarked on an ambitious project – building a full-size replica of the Gokstad Viking ship that had been discovered 12 years earlier in a burial mound near Gokstad, Norway. As if replicating a nearly 80 foot wooden ship wasn’t enough, Andersen then sailed the ship from Norway to New York City up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal through the Great Lakes and finally to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Andersen’s exploits made waves both literally and figuratively at the Exposition and later as he sailed to New Orleans and back to Chicago.

The ship is now housed in Geneva, IL just outside Chicago and is considered one of Illinois’ most endangered historical landmarks. Friends of the Viking Ship have stepped up to preserve the ship and are currently resolving legal ownership issues so they can raise money to permanently house the ship in a climate controlled facility. The ship is open to the public from 1 – 4pm this Saturday (September 15, 2012) as well as October 20, 2012. For more information, see the Friends of the Viking Ship website.

Viking longboat

CC Image courtesy of TNDrumGuy on Flickr

Divers operating near the Swedish village of Birka announced the discovery yesterday of underwater jetties dating back to the Vikings. The stone foundations found by the dive team were deeper than historians had believed Vikings could build. The discovery is causing archaeologists to re-examine some of their basic understandings of the Birka village and Viking building techniques. Historians have long thought Birka to merely have had small jetties and a trading post, but the foundations now lead them to believe the village could have been 30% larger than previously thought. They also now believe that it functioned as a port with a marketplace near the wharf

The village of Birka on the Swedish island of Björkö has long been the site of archaeological excavations because of its Viking history. Work in the area first began in the late 19th century and continues today. The village is a UNESCO world heritage site and contains a reconstructed Viking village and museum.