Archive for November, 2019

World’s first Christmas card goes on display at Dickens Museum

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

One of only 21 surviving examples of the first commercial Christmas card has gone on display at London’s Charles Dickens Museum. On loan from a San Francisco book dealer, the card is part of a new exhibition dedicated to the dawn of Christmas as marketing and commerce bonanza ushered in by the publication of A Christmas Carol.

The card was created by Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant who would gain renown as the organizer of the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 and the founder of the V&A Museum. He was also one of the most dedicated advocates of postal reform. He was secretary of the reform committee, editor of their newsletter, the Post Circular, and from 1837 to 1840, the assistant of the leader of the post office reform movement, educator Rowland Hill. The Uniform Penny Post was introduced throughout the UK on January 10th, 1840.

In 1843, the same year Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol thus inadvertently (and to his later regret) launching the modern commodified Christmas we all know and love to hate, Henry Cole commissioned his friend narrative painter and illustrator John Calcott Horsley to design a convivial Christmas card he could send to family, friends and acquaintances alike. Horsley designed a triptych: the center panel depicting a family raising beverages of a spirituous nature, two side panels of charitable distribution of clothing and food to the poor. The joyous family noel was captioned “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” The images were lithographed on cardstock and the center panel was hand-colored.

Horsley printed a lot of 1,000 of them and the ones Cole didn’t use went on sale to the public for a shilling apiece (a week’s pay for the average working man) in Old Bond Street, London. They were expensive for regular folks and the idea didn’t take hold right away, hence the small number of surviving originals. One of them set a new record price for a card when it sold at auction in 2001 for £22,500. It was sent by Cole to his grandmother and aunt and bears his signature, hence the record.

Five years would pass before the second commercially printed Christmas card would hit the market, but after that there was no stopping it. As happened with Valentines, the practice of sending preprinted commercial Christmas cards exploded in Britain in the second half of the 19th century. The lithography printing process made increasingly colorful cards affordable for everyone and the penny post made sending them cheap, fast and reliable.

The United States was a slow adopter of the Christmas card. Cole’s family scene involved a little too much of the demon liquor — check out that baby hitting the wine glass in the center front — for American bourgeois sensibilities. The first commercial Christmas card published in the US for general purchase (as opposed to business promotional cards) was created by Louis Prang in Boston in 1874. At first he was selling them in England where cards were firmly established as a hit; then he introduced them to the US market He hit the ground running. Using the chromolithography process which allowed him to use up to 30 different colors on a single print with fine details creating realistic illustrations of hair and mistletoe and textile patterns and roaring fires, by 1881 he was selling five million Prang’s Christmas Cards a year. His fortunes would ebb at the turn of the century when German postcard makers would flood the US market with much cheaper imitations. Prang refused to cut corners and continued to use the highest quality stock and inks. In 1897 L. Prang & Company merged with an art company and got out of the Christmas card business. Cheap German cards would dominate the US market until World War I.

Beautiful Books: Dickens and the Business of Christmas runs through the season, ending April 19th, 2020.

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Elizabeth I’s translation of Tacitus found

Friday, November 29th, 2019

A manuscript translation of Tacitus’ Annales has been discovered to be the work of Queen Elizabeth I. The manuscript was identified by University of East Anglia researcher Dr John-Mark Philo who was looking for translations of Tacitus in the Lambeth Palace Library. It is a limp vellum binding of 17 folio pages whose title page (likely added at a later date and corrected even later) reads “An Essay of the Translation of Livy Tacitus 1st Booke of the Annals.” The manuscript wasn’t lost, but it was neglected, academically speaking. Even though it’s one of only four known early modern manuscript translations of Tacitus, it has never until now been subject of scholarship.

Dr Philo, who was a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow when he made the discovery in January this year, said: “The manuscript features a very specific kind of paper stock, which gained special prominence among the Elizabethan secretariat in the 1590s. There was, however, only one translator at the Tudor court to whom a translation of Tacitus was ascribed by a contemporary and who was using the same paper in her translations and private correspondence: the queen herself.

“The corrections made to the translation are a match for Elizabeth’s late hand, which was, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic. The higher you are in the social hierarchy of Tudor England, the messier you can let your handwriting become. For the queen, comprehension is somebody else’s problem.

“The translation itself has been copied out in an elegant scribal hand, which is itself a match for one of Elizabeth’s secretaries, but the author’s changes and additions are in an extremely distinctive, disjointed hand – Elizabeth’s. Her late handwriting is usefully messy – there really is nothing like it – and the idiosyncratic flourishes serve as diagnostic tools.”

Some of those known idiosyncrasies found in the corrections are the the top stroke of the ‘e’, an unusually horizontal ‘m’ and the broken stem of her ‘d’. The paper stock is characterized by a watermark of a lion rampant to the initial “G.B.” and a crossbow. This stock is found in many of the papers of Robert Cecil, son of Lord Burghley, Secretary of State and Lord Privy Seal of Queen Elizabeth I, whose secretaries used it for everything from letters to arrest warrants.

The manuscript is short, translating only the first book of the Annales which, after a brief introduction about the end of the Republic, covers the final acts of Augustus, his death in 14 A.D. and the first two years of Tiberius’ reign. In the late 16th century, Tacitus’ account of tyranny, torture, betrayal and depravity at the courts of the early emperors were held up as political cautionary tales, negative examples for any righteous and moral monarch to take to heart. One translator of the Annales, Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius, included extensive quotations from the ancient author in his very popular Politica. Published in 1589, Politica was a defense of strong centralized monarchy. Tacitus’ chronicles were used to illustrate how an enlightened modern ruler, unlike the ones Tacitus was dealing with, should behave.

The timing of the translation ties it to this trend in scholarship. Elizabeth could well have translated the Annales to absorb the lessons from some of history’s choicest tyrants. She could also have had an interest in some of the other personages depicted. Dr. Philo muses:

“It is hard not to wonder what Elizabeth made of Agrippina, ‘who’, as Elizabeth translates it, being a woman of a great courage, ‘tooke upon hir some daies the office of a Captaine’ and is able to rouse the troops successfully. It is not unreasonable to assume that Agrippina may have appealed to the same queen who addressed the soldiers at Tilbury, and who had deliberately represented herself as placing the importance of addressing her troops in person above her personal safety.”

Or she could have done it purely for her own intellectual enjoyment. Poet and historian John Clapham wrote in Certain Observations Concerning the Life and Reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1603:

She took pleasure in reading of the best and wisest histories, and some part of Tacitus’ Annals she herself turned into English for her private exercise. She also translated Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae, and a treatise of Plutarch, De Curiositate, with diverse others.

That Boethius translation, btw, was also written on the rampant lion-GB-crossbow stock.

The provenance of the manuscript links it to the Tudor court as well. It is catalogued as part of the collection of Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury (1636–1715), who had a significant number of documents from the court of Elizabeth I. He bequeathed his book collection to his successors, which is how it entered the library of Lambeth Palace, official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The manuscript has been fully digitized and can be perused here. Dr. John-Mark Philo’s study of the manuscript has been published in the The Review of English Studies and can be read here.

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Rare box-shaped Viking brooch found in Estonia

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

A rare early Viking brooch has been found in the village of Varja, northeastern Estonia. The box-shaped brooch is one of only two of its kind ever discovered in Estonia, and the other one has not been handed in to heritage authorities yet. The other one is also of later date.

The Varja brooch was made of bronze cast in a single piece. It is in excellent condition, intact with only minor damage to the surface, likely from agricultural activity disturbing it when it was underground, and its steel pin missing.

The decoration is of the Broa or Oseberg style, characterized by sinuous animal figures and “gripping beast” motifs (creatures grasping the borders around them in their paws, usually their own serpentine bodies or another animal). The Boa style dates the brooch to between the late 8th century and the mid-9th.

The brooch was unearthed at the site of an ancient wetland which is believed to have had a single farm during the Viking era.

Kiudsoo explained that the village of Varja is situated in the northeastern part of the ancient parish of Askälä, and that this region on Estonia’s northern coast, between Purtse River and the present-day city of Kohtla-Järve, stands out for its exceptionally rich archaeological find material. The Eastern Route, an important Viking-era trade route, ran along Estonia’s northern coast.

The archaeologist said that he believes that the brooch found at Varja belonged to a woman born on the island of Gotland, who took up residence in the Viru region of Estonia later in her life. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that similar decorative items were in widespread use in Gotland during the Viking era, but are not common elsewhere. Kiudsoo said that hundreds of box-shaped brooches like the one recently found in Estonia have been found in Gotland.

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5,000-year-old group burial chamber found in France

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

Archaeologists have discovered a Neolithic hypogeum, an underground tomb with a corridor leading to the burial chamber, in Saint-Memmie, a town in the Marne department of northeastern France. It dates to 3500-3000 B.C. and contains the skeletal remains of at least 50 individuals, plus grave goods including limestone beads from a necklace, perforated animal canines used as pendants and flint tools.

First bones emerge in hypogeum excavation. Photo courtesy INRAP.The Marne region has a particular concentration of hypogea due to its chalk subsoil which makes digging under the ground or in the sides of cliffs comparatively easy. While 160 of them have been found in Marne over the centuries, only five of them have been scientifically documented. The rest were dug up and emptied out without archaeological investigation. The Saint-Memmie excavation, therefore, is a unique opportunity to use the latest and greatest methods and technology to reveal new information about this funerary practice.

The hypogeum consists of an entrance opening on to a sloping corridor 12.5 feet long. It widens out to an antechamber that tightens again, leaving just wide enough a doorway for a man to pass through. This design is typical of the hypogea in the Marne region, but it does have one unusual feature: the entrance was accessible from ground level when it was built.

The chamber is 65 square feet in area and contains multiple layers of bones. They are densely packed in the space, interlocked with each other, and some of them have been burned. There are remains of adult men and women, adolescents, young children and infants. More than 2,000 bones and 50 skulls have been unearthed thus far.

The excavation will continue for a month and the bones will be painstakingly recorded before removal to allow archaeologists to unravel the threads of how the bodies were deposited and when, how the bones were rearranged both by natural means when the tissues decomposed and artificially when the remains were reorganized during later deposits. Laboratory analysis of the bones will hopefully give a more precise idea of the number of people buried here, their age at time of death, sex, health, any familial relationships and the date range of when the hypogeum was in use.

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Roman silver coin hoard found in Switzerland

Monday, November 25th, 2019

A hoard of 293 silver denarii in excellent condition has been unearthed near Pratteln in northwestern Switzerland. There is no surviving container, but the coins were all found in a small hole together, so they had to have been buried in one event. The coins date from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., mostly the latter. The oldest denarius in the hoard was minted under the reign of the Emperor Nero, the youngest in Rome under Commodus in 181/182 A.D. The dates of the most recent coins suggest the hoard was cached at the end of the second century.

The total value of the coins at that time would have been significant. Almost 300 silver denarii is the equivalent of half the annual salary of a legionary. It is the second largest assemblage of pure Roman silver ever found in Switzerland, after the treasure of Augusta Raurica (Kaiseraugst) which, while far richer in total weight (58 kilos vs. one kilo) and status pieces (tableware, candelabra, silver bars), its complement of coins was a mere 187. Hoards of thousands of Roman coins have been found, but they are a hundred years younger than the Pratteln coins and the currency was so debased their silver content was practically nil. The denarii of the 1st and 2nd century were 100% silver. The ones of the third century were less than 3% silver.

The hoard of silver denarii was discovered by Archäologie Baselland volunteer Sacha Schneider while on a metal detecting investigation of the slopes of Mount Adlerberg. It was in a wooded area with no conspicuous features that you might expect to mark the spot of buried treasure, but perhaps there was something notable there in the second century A.D. when the hoard was hidden. Archaeologists would never have found it on their own. They’re primarily engaged in salvage excavations in advance of construction or in exploring known sites, so for the past decade they have enlisted volunteers like Schneider to explore the wider landscape and report anything they find. She alerted archaeologists in the Canton capital of Liestal and they excavated the hoard.

Today a suburb of Basel, the whole village of Pratteln is on the Federal Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites and is one of the earliest known areas in the country to have been settled. The oldest artifact ever discovered in Switzerland, a 100,000-year-old hand axe, was found there in 1974. While the village as it is today was built around a monastery and castle in the 11th or 12th century, archaeological remains from the Neolithic, Celtic Iron Age and Roman Empire are evidence of that the area was occupied for millennia.

One of Pratteln’s Roman villas, the rural estate of Kästeli, was one of the largest country homes in the vicinity of Augusta Raurica. The Church of Saint Leodegar at the epicenter of Pratteln’s old town was built in the 13th century over the remains of a Roman villa. That villa would have had a clear view of the Adlerberg slope were the treasure was buried.

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Museum acquires only known antebellum image of slaves with cotton

Sunday, November 24th, 2019

The only known antebellum image of enslaved African-Americans with cotton has been acquired  by the Hall Family Foundation for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The quarter plate daguerreotype was sold at Cowan’s American History auction in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 15th and blew past the pre-sale estimate of $100,000 – $150,000 for a hammer price of  $260,000 ($324,500 including buyer’s premium).

The daguerreotype, still in its original leather case, was taken in the 1850s and is a posed tableau centered on three slaves carrying large baskets of cotton on their heads. In total there are 10 African-American enslaved individuals in the image, including several children. Behind them is a two-story house with front and rear galleries supported by posts. A log cabin is in the front right, perhaps a smokehouse or slave cabin. A crude well with a large timber crank mechanism is in the front center. A man in a top hat on the left is likely the owner.

Images of enslaved people working on the cotton plantations of Georgia and the Carolinas are extant, but they were captured by photographers who traveled south with the Union Army. They were taken at the large coastal planters owned by the wealthiest elites and worked by hundreds of slaves. This daguerreotype depicts slavery at a rural holding, the type of small-scale operation that was typical for the vast majority of slaveholders.

The daguerreotype was discovered in estate of Charles Gentry, Jr., after his death in Austin, Texas, in 2012. It was in good condition, but needed conservation to remove tape residue and dirt and to re-glaze and rebind the plate. The hinges of the case were also repaired.

Gentry was originally from Polk County, Georgia, so researchers investigated the origin of the image, they turned to the census and Slave Schedule records pertaining to the Gentry family in Georgia. Of several Gentrys living in Georgia in the decade before the Civil War, only one owned at least 10 slaves: Samuel T. Gentry of Greene County. The Federal Slave Schedules list him as owning between 15 and 18 men, women and children between 1850 and 1860.

“This piece—a record of the historical crime of slavery—is remarkable both for the power of its content and for its technical and aesthetic sophistication,” said [Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art]. “This is an unforgettable rendition of an era, and a way of life, that must never be forgotten or forgiven. At the same time, it markedly expands our understanding of the history of American photography. We have long believed that daguerreotypes such as this ‘should’ have been made in the 1850s; now we know that at least one actually was.”

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240-year-old oak falls at Mount Vernon

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

A white oak at Mount Vernon that was a witness to history from the time of George Washington has fallen. The oak was 115 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter and was at least 240 years old when it fell down across a road through the woods on the night of November 4th. There was no storm, not even any wind.  The tree wasn’t rotten, damaged or diseased. It was the oak equivalent of dying peacefully in its sleep.

Dean Norton, Mount Vernon’s director of horticulture, counted the rings from the cut trunk and conservatively dated the oak to at least 1780. It might be even older. (Some of the rings blend into each other and can’t be precisely counted.)

Norton said there is also a possibility that Washington had purposely transplanted the tree from the local woods. It had stood in what looked like a man-made triangle of three trees, all the same age, all the same kind, and never cut down.

“To me, they were intentionally, not only planted, but saved,” he said.

The other two are already gone. The first fell about 40 years ago; the second in August of last year. The three were near a road about a half-mile west of the mansion, Norton said.

Mount Vernon was treated as neutral ground during the Civil War, but all three of these oaks were informally enlisted on the Union side. A star and a cross, insignia of two Union Army corps, were carved into the bark of the three oaks in 1865. The five-pointed star and Latin cross can still be seen on the fallen trunk, albeit less distinctly. An archival photograph from 1932 shows them more distinctly, and a curatorial note attributes them to a New York regiment that visited Mount Vernon while it was in Washington, D.C. for the Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865. This was the last tree still standing at Mount Vernon with Civil War carvings in its bark.

Mount Vernon was a mecca for soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. George Washington was a revered native son of Virginia as well as the first President of the United States, so Union and Confederate soldiers alike had reason to pay their respects. It was an immensely popular attraction for Union troops in particular. An estimated 200 Federal regiments visited Mount Vernon from 1861 to 1865.

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which had acquired the dangerously dilapidated mansion and 200 acres of the property from John Augustine Washington III in 1858 and taken possession in 1860, had members from north and south and consciously eschewed all partisanship. Their sole goal was to repair the estate, which was literally falling apart and propped up by repurposed ships’ masts, and honor Washington’s legacy. When Civil War broke out and Virginia seceded from the Union in the spring of 1861, MVLA regent Ann Pamela Cunningham declared that Mount Vernon should be neutral territory, that any troops, Union or Confederate, who visited should not be armed or uniformed.

Her wishes were conveyed to all soldiers in the area and respected to the best of their abilities. In a May 2nd, 1861 letter to Cunningham, her secretary Sarah Tracy reported:

[The troops] have behaved very well about it. Many of them come from a great distance and have never been here, and have no clothes but their uniforms. They borrow shawls and cover up their buttons and leave their arms outside the enclosures, and never come but two or three at a time. That is as much as can be asked of them.”

Union General Winfield Scott made it a formal policy that Mount Vernon was to be left alone in General Order 13, issued on July 31, 1861:

Should the operations of our war take the United States troops in that direction, the General Officer does not doubt that every man will approach with due reverence, and leave undisturbed, not only the Tomb, but also the house, groves and walks which were so loved by the best and greatest of men.

The fallen oak will remain at Mount Vernon, indeed will become even more a part of it as it will be used by the preservation department to make necessary repairs.

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Elite Anglo-Saxon burial found in Canterbury

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

The remains of an elite Anglo-Saxon woman adorned with fine jewelry have been unearthed on the Canterbury Christ Church University campus.

The woman, believed to have been in her twenties, was found buried with a silver, garnet-inlaid, Kentish disc brooch. Scientific testing on similar finds has shown the garnets are likely to have come from Sri Lanka rather than a nearer source. Such brooches, crafted in east Kent from exotic materials, were produced at the behest of the Kentish royal dynasty and distributed as gifts to those in their favour.

She was also wearing a necklace of amber and glass beads, a belt fastened with a copper alloy buckle, a copper alloy bracelet and was equipped with an iron knife. Together, the items found in the grave suggest that this young woman was buried between AD 580-600. She would have been a contemporary, and likely acquaintance, of the Kentish King Ethelbert and his Frankish Queen Bertha, whose modern statues can be seen nearby at Lady Wootton’s Green.

Archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) excavated the site of the former Canterbury Prison in advance of the construction of new Science, Technology, Health, Engineering and Medical facilities at Canterbury Christ Church University. Between July 2018 and June 2019, the team unearthed a Romano-British cremation burial from the 2nd-3rd century, medieval trash pit full of animal bones, evidence of extensive post-medieval quarrying and a boundary ditch from the perimeter of St. Augustine’s Abbey, now a ruin after having been plundered for building material after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Abbey was immensely important in its day. Founded in 598 by Augustine, the very first Archbishop of Canterbury who was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to Christianize the Anglo-Saxons, the monastery and its church were built on the grounds of the pagan temple at which Æthelberht, King of Kent, worshiped, or rather had worshiped before Augustine (doubtless heavily aided by Æthelberht’s Christian queen consort Bertha) converted him. The king commissioned construction of a church on the Abbey grounds dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul which was completed in 613. Archbishops of Canterbury and kings and queens of Kent would be buried within its masonry walls.

The newly-discovered grave almost certainly pre-dates the construction of Sts Peter and Paul Church and of the Abbey. We know the site was used as a burial ground in Roman times and held religious significance for pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons. This is now evidence that high-status Anglo-Saxons were buried there as well and that the Kentish royal family was continuing an established practice even after their conversion to Christianity. They just added the church.

Very little of her skeleton was recovered because soil conditions in the area are hard on bones, but there are a few surviving teeth which opens up the possibility of archaeological DNA and stable isotope analysis. Researchers hope to discover more about her life and death from further studies of her remains.

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Whole historic log cabin found inside house during demolition

Thursday, November 21st, 2019

A whole log cabin dating to the Civil War or immediate antebellum period was discovered inside an existing house that was being demolished in Prescott, Arkansas. The 18 x 20-foot cabin was kept whole and encapsulated with new siding between 1953 and 1955 when it was moved entire to its current location on Greenlawn Street.

Property records indicate the log cabin originally built on Miller Hill on land belonging to one John Vaughn. The records would suggest it dates to 1850s or 1860s and the timbers are roughly hand-hewn, which dates them to before the arrival of the railroad and the mill-sawn timber it brought to the area in the 1870s. Miller Hill was next to the 30-square-mile plain that as of April 12th, 1864, would become known as the Prairie D’Ane battlefield, now part of the Camden Expedition Sites National Historic Landmark. This log cabin could well have been mute witness to the Union victory at Prairie D’Ane. An archaeologist has been enlisted to authenticate the building and date it as precisely as possible.

Demolition is obviously no longer on the cards. The Nevada County Depot & Museum has acquired the log cabin thanks to a donation from local residents Dr. Michael and Bo Young. The museum plans to dismantle the cabin piece by piece, number each timber, conserve and stabilize them and store them until the structure can be reconstructed on the Prairie D’Ane Battlefield. A new visitors center will be built at the site in the next couple of years. The log cabin will be reassembled inside the new building to keep it safe from the elements and open to visitors.

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Nested Viking boat burials found in Norway

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

Two Viking-era boat burials have been found, one inside the other, in Vinjeøra, central Norway. The graves were unearthed by a team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) University Museum in October who were excavating a known Viking era burial ground in advance of highway construction. They first came across the burial of an elite woman dating to the second half of the 9th century. Then they found a second burial, this one for an elite man dating to the 8th century, under hers.

“I had heard about several boat graves being buried in one burial mound, but never about a boat that had been buried in another boat,” said Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum and project manager for the excavation.

“I have since learned that a few double boat graves were found in the 1950s, at Tjølling, in the south of the Norwegian county of Vestfold. Still, this is essentially an unknown phenomenon,” he said

The man was buried in boat around 30 feet (9-10 meters) long. Interred with him were a spear, a shield and a single-edged sword. The style of the sword is what dates the grave to the 8th century, the Merovingian era. The woman’s burial boat was about 25 feet long (7-8 meters) and interred with her were a pearl necklace, two scissors, a spindle whorl and the head of a cow. Her garment was fastened at the chest with two gilded bronze shell-shaped brooches and a cruciform brooch that was originally a horse fitting of Irish manufacture likely taken in a raid and repurposed as jewelry.

The wood of both boats has almost entirely rotted away (a small piece of the keel of the woman’s boat was the only survivor), but the rivets were all in place and undisturbed. Archaeologists were able to determine the size and shape of the boat by mapping the rivets, and that’s how they realized instead of a single boat they had discovered a smaller one nested inside a larger one. This was not a haphazard stacking. The first grave had to have been painstakingly excavated so as not to disturb the remains and grave goods and then the woman’s boat carefully placed within.

The two boat graves were found on the edge of what had once been the largest burial mound on the site. The mound had eroded to flatness over the centuries of agricultural use of  the land, but archaeologists hoped to find artifacts, if not remains, from the central grave in the middle of the tumulus. They did discover an early Merovingian-era brooch, confirming that the mound pre-dates both the boat burials.

But what was the connection between the man and the woman? Sauvage says it’s reasonable to assume that the two were related. The Vikings on Vinjeøra probably had a clear idea about who was in each burial mound, since this information most likely was passed down for many generations.

“Family was very important in Viking Age society, both to mark status and power and to consolidate property rights. The first legislation on allodial rights in the Middle Ages said you had to prove that your family had owned the land for five generations. If there was any doubt about the property rights, you had to be able to trace your family to “haug og hedni” – i.e. to burial mounds and paganism” says Sauvage.

“Against this backdrop, it’s reasonable to think that the two were buried together to mark the family’s ownership to the farm, in a society that for the most part didn’t write things down,” Sauvage says.

While the soil is too acidic for good bone preservation, fragments of the woman’s skull and teeth were found in the grave. Researchers will attempt to extract DNA from the remains and perform stable isotope analysis to find out where she grew up and what she ate. Archaeologists will return to the site next year to continue the excavation of the mound. The goal is to unearth any artifacts associated with the central burial.

This brief but illuminating video recreates the boat burials and their contents as they would have looked originally. CGI rendering artfully illustrates how the two boat graves fit with each and in the context of the earlier burial mound.

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