Vikings in Greenland

Greenland, or Grœnland in Old Norse, was settled by Norwegian and Icelandic explorers during the 10th century AD, where two major Viking settlements emerged until their abandonment in the 15th century AD.

According to a medieval text called the Landnámabók, translated as “Book of Settlements”, Greenland was supposedly first sighted by Gunnbjörn Ulfsson, also known as also known as Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson during the early 10th century AD when his ship was blown off course.

In AD 978, Snæbjörn galti Hólmsteinsson is said to have set sail for Greenland with about two dozen companions, and settled on the islands of Gunnbjarnar Skerries, a small group of islands lying off the coast of Greenland, that according to Johannes Ruysch’s map from AD 1507 had “completely burned up” (possibly by volcanic activity). After spending a terrible winter on the islands, the settlers murdered Snæbjörn and his foster father, and abandoned the settlement to return to Iceland.

The first successful settlement of Greenland was by Erik Thorvaldsson, otherwise known as Erik the Red. According to the sagas, the Icelanders had exiled Erik during an assembly of the Althing for three years, as punishment for Erik killing Eyiolf the Foul over a dispute.

Erik went in search of land that had been reported to lie to the north and reached the coastline of Greenland where he spent the three years of his exile exploring the new land.

Upon returning to Iceland, he is said to have brought with him stories of “Greenland”, an auspiciously named land in order to sound more appealing than “Iceland” to lure potential settlers.

Erik returned to Greenland in AD 985 or 986 with a large number of colonists, who established two colonies on the southwest coast: The Eastern Settlement or Eystribyggð, in what is now Qaqortoq, and the Western Settlement or Vestribygð, close to present-day Nuuk. A later Middle Settlement emerged in what is now Ivittuut, but this is generally considered to be associated with an expansion from the Eastern Settlement.

Erik built his personal estate of Brattahlíð, near present-day Narsarsuaq where he ruled as paramount chieftain of Greenland until his death. According to legend, Erik had planned to journey with his son Leif Erikson (who is believed to have established a Norse settlement at Vinland), but Erik fell off his horse on his way to the ship. He later died from a pandemic that killed many of the island’s colonists in the winter after his son’s departure.

At their peak, the settlements are estimated to have had a combined population of between 2,000-10,000 inhabitants (sources differ), with archaeologists identifying the ruins of approximately 620 farmsteads spread across Greenland’s south-western fjords.

The settlers shared the island with the late Dorset culture, who lived in the northern and western parts of Greenland, and later with the Thule culture (who the Norsemen called the Skræling) that entered from the north around AD 1300 after migrating from Alaska.

In AD 1126, the Roman Catholic Church founded a diocese at Garðar in the Eastern Settlement at present-day Igaliku, which was subject to the Norwegian archdiocese of Nidaros and constructed several churches. By AD 1261, the Greenlanders had accepted rule by the King of Norway, which then entered into a union with the Kingdom of Denmark in AD 1380.

The settlements continued to prosper until the 14th century AD, where they entered a period of decline until their abandonment in the 15th century AD. Various theories have been proposed to explain the abandonment, with the most prominent being gradual climate change, loss of contact and support from Denmark, opportunities for migration back to Europe after the plague had left farmsteads abandoned, economic factors, or conflicts with the Inuit peoples.

The last written record from the Viking Greenlanders dates from AD 1408, which documents a marriage between Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Björnsdóttirin.

Source: HeritageDaily

Saffron Bread

Saffron Bread

In the Middle Ages, spices were a symbol of status and prosperity. Aristocrats’ meals were ordinarily heavily spiced, and saffron was especially favored. The attractive, bright yellow was used to color a variety of dishes.

It is believed that Welsh devas, also known as faeries, thrived on saffron. A twelfth-century story by Giraldus Cambrensis tells of a boy who was taken to a faery palace and found that the whole faery court ate nothing but saffron and milk.

The saffron crocus was first found in Greece and Asia Minor. Later, medieval people found that they could grow the flower closer to home. Spain, Italy, and England all produced large quantities of saffron.

¾  Cup Warm Milk

1 (¼-Ounce) Package Active Dry Yeast

1 Teaspoon Granulated Sugar

¼ Teaspoon Saffron Strands

½ Cup Boiling Water

3½ Cups All-Purpose Flour

1 Cup Butter, Softened

½ Cup Superfine Sugar

½ Cup Raisins

½ Cup Dried Cranberries

½ Cup Chopped Candied Orange Peel

1 Teaspoon Minced Fresh Thyme

Pour the milk into a bowl and dissolve the yeast and the sugar in it. Let stand in a warm place for approximately 10 minutes, until foaming. Steep the saffron in the boiling water for several minutes, then let the mixture cool.

Sift the flour into a large bowl. In a small bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Then add raisins, cranberries, orange peel, and thyme, mixing well. Gradually add the flour.

Strain the saffron mixture. Add the yeast mixture and saffron liquid to the flour mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth; it should look like a very thick batter.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Pour the batter into a greased and lined 10-inch round cake pan. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour, until the mixture rises to the top of the pan. Bake the bread for 1 hour. Let it cool in the pan.

Slice and serve with butter.

Viking Longships

Arguably, the Norsemen’s biggest breakthrough in seafaring was the design of the longship. Viking ships were made mostly by timber, the Viking elongated their ship designs so that they could handle the roughest water and carry people across their vast distances. One of the Viking ships that remains includes the Oseberg Viking ship which is now listed as the most beautiful Viking ship ever found. 

Karvi:

Karvi is listed as the smallest Viking ship design with about 6 to 16 benches. This kind of ship had many uses, for trade, fishing, transportation, and military purpose. 

The unique structure of karvi helped it to handle shallow waters. This was ideal for transporting both people and cargo across the waters. 

By far, the most famous Viking ship ever discovered was the Gokstad ship. It was excavated around the 1880s and dated sometime around the 9th century. It was about 23 meters (75 feet) in length.

Snekkja:

A bigger design of the Viking ship was the Snekkja. “Snekkja” meant “snakes” in English. It was a sleek and dynamic vessel. 

The snekkja had a minium of 20 rowing benches. This kind of ship could carry on cox and about 40 oarsmen. 

Snekkja excelled in deeper waters. This made them ideal when travelling in fjords and across Atlantic expeditions. 

Skeid:

The skeid longship, translated as slider, is one of the larger Viking vessel designs. It was used as a warship. Skeid often had about  or more rowing benches. 

One of the largest discoveries of a skeid ship came to the public light in the mid when a 37 meter long vessel was unearthed in Roskilde harbour in Denmark. 

Drakker:

Another famous type of Viking longship was the drakker which means “dragon”. This kind of ship often contained many carvings from dragons to snakes. 

The excellent qualities on the ship not only helped the Viking to show off their carving and designing skills but also helped to intimidate the victims while raiding and pillaging. 

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

This cathedral contains two medieval marvels: a chained library of rare books and one of the earliest maps of the world.

In the Middle Ages, before the availability of the printing press, volumes on law and religion were quite rare and valuable. To protect against theft, the books at Hereford Cathedral were chained to desks, pulpits, and study tables.

The chained library was created in 1611 when a collection of hand-transcribed, hand-bound books was moved into the Lady Chapel. Most of the volumes in the collection are acquisitions dating back to the 1100s, although the oldest book in the collection, the Hereford Gospels, dates to about the year 800.

The medieval world map stored at Hereford Cathedral depicts three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. On the as-yet-unexplored periphery of these lands roam fire-breathing dragons, dog-faced men, people who survive on only the scent of apples, and the Monocoli, a race of mythical beings who take shade under their giant feet when the sun becomes too bright.

The 5 × 4.5-foot map (1.5 × 1.4 m), created around 1300, is part geography, part history, and part religious teaching aid. A lack of confirmed information on Asian and African geography presented no obstacle for the mapmaker, who used hearsay, mythology, and imagination to fill in the gaps—which explains the four-eyed Ethiopians.

Sources: Atlas Obscura

Stone Tools Used By Homo Erectus Discovered

Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of stone tools in a goldmine where Homo erectus would have inhabited 700,000 years ago in the eastern part of the Sahara Desert, 70 km east of the modern city of Atbara in Sudan.

Homo erectus (meaning “upright man”) is an extinct species of archaic human from the Pleistocene, with its earliest occurrence about 2 million years ago. Studies of surviving fossils suggest that the species had a humanlike gait and body proportions, and was the first human species to have exhibited a flat face, prominent nose, and possibly sparse body hair coverage.

A gold rush in the eastern Sahara Desert has led to many open-cast mines being excavated in search of the valuable ore. The mining activity has allowed archaeologists to study exposed layers containing large tools with a transverse cutting edge, and almond-shaped cleaver tools with chamfered edges on both sides, which form a pointed tip at the junction.

Archaeologists believe that the site was a workshop for the manufacturing of stone tools, evident by the discovery of associated flakes formed during their production.

Layers of earth and sand lying just above the tools have been analysed using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), which dates the earthen-sand layer to around 390 thousand years ago.

Professor Mirosław Masojć from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Wrocław said: “This means that the layers below are certainly older. Based on the style of workmanship of the tools, I believe that they may be over 700,000 years old, and perhaps even a million years old – similar to their counterparts in South Africa”.

The researchers suggest that the site is the oldest known example of tool manufacturing within the areas of Egypt and the Sudan that has a well-confirmed chronology, in which Masojć adds: “Yes, ancient tools are found in deserts, but never before have they come from layers that we can safely determine their age”.

Source: HeritageDaily

Leonardo da Vinci

The original Renaissance man died 502 years ago (1452–1519), but the nature of his genius continues to fascinate us:

Leonardo’s science was grounded in the Aristotelian world as shaped by 18 centuries of interpreters. He developed a system of what he called the four powers of nature: movement, weight, force and percussion. Although he struggled to define these concepts, and many of the ideas are archaic, it is telling that he developed a coherent model for all natural phenomena ranging from the macrocosm (e.g., geological forces that lead to the formation of rivers and oceans) to the microcosm (e.g., human anatomy).

Ulysses S. Grant on Religion & Taxation

On this date in 1822, Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States, was born in Ohio. The Union victory at the end of the Civil War was credited to Grant, who became General of the Army. Grant was U.S. president from 1869 to 1877. He was a favorite of irreverent author Mark Twain, who gave the keynote at a toast for Grant at the Palmer House in Chicago in 1879, as part of an illustrious line-up of speakers that included agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll. Twain was entrusted to publish Grant’s Memoirs. Grant was not a member of any church, and was never baptized. After receiving eight demerits as a cadet at West Point for failure to attend chapel, he protested in a letter that it was “not republican” to be forced to go to church (Brown’s Life of Grant, p. 329, cited by Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents). Grant was on record in favor of taxation of church property. In an annual address to Congress in 1875, he warned of “the importance of correcting an evil that if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land . . . It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed Church property . . . I would suggest the taxation of all property equally.” D. 1885.

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”
~ Ulysses S, Grant, address delivered in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1875

Château De Montségur (“Satan’s Synagogue”)

Château De Montségur (“Satan’s Synagogue”)

Before turning their thoughts to the intriguing legends associated with these ruins, any person who strays off the marked footpaths and loses his or her footing on the edge of the precipices that drop away on every side of this aptly nicknamed “citadel in the sky.” And let us not forget that early in 1244 it was a feat of rock climbing that sealed the fate of the Cathars when they were besieged here by the army of King Louis IX. After seven months, during which traditional military strategies had brought nothing but failure, Hugues des Arcis, the commander of the forces encamped at the foot of this eagle’s nest, finally decided to send a small group of particularly agile soldiers up the cliff face. Under cover of darkness, this detachment reached the summit, captured a watchtower, and installed a trebuchet, with which it proceeded to bombard the interior of the castle without respite, making life impossible for the besieged, who were forced to surrender after a few weeks.

The fate of this community, the last bastion of the Cathar faith in France, is well known. One Sunday in March 1244, the day of the equinox, the believers—more than two hundred men and women—were led down to a pyre that had been set up at the foot of the hill, steadfastly refusing to renounce their faith. What else could they do, these pacifists who had taken a vow to show courage in the face of suffering and death? The name Cathar—from the Greek katharos, meaning “pure”—was given them by their contemporaries on account of their asceticism and refusal to compromise in any way. For the same reason, those who had undergone the rite of ordination called the consolamentum were known as perfecti, although among one another they preferred the terms “good man” and “good woman.” The band of sympathizers protecting the pacifist Cathars were allowed to go free provided they pledged to stop supporting heresy and swore allegiance to the king of France.

The Château de Montségur that stands today is not the same fortress that existed at the time of these dreadful events. Historians, archeologists, and local storytellers cannot agree on all the details. For example, was the Cathars’ place of martyrdom the prats dels cremats (“field of the burned”), as indicated today by a stele, or was it a neighboring hill? At this magnificent site, so many questions remain unanswered. There’s the legendary Cathar treasure, said to have been held in safekeeping at Montségur before being smuggled out to an unknown destination. And then there are the four men deputed by the community to slip away under the utmost secrecy prior to the ultimate surrender, carrying with them who knows what. Items of treasure? Precious documents? Mysterious keys enabling the Cathar tradition to be revived elsewhere? At Montségur nothing seems impossible. In the last century a team of German researchers came, with the blessing of the Nazi regime, to investigate, convinced that the castle housed the Holy Grail, the famous cup believed to have been used to catch Christ’s blood.

What should we make of the site’s architecture, of the spectacular alignment of the sun’s rays at solstice time, as if its architects had wanted the castle to function as a kind of astronomical calendar? And doesn’t its floor plan reflect the constellation of Boötes, with the donjon representing the star Arcturus? Is it also mere chance that “Cant del Boièr” (Song of the Herdsman) remains one of the most popular folk songs in the Occitanian canon, with some people reading into its words a coded message addressed to future generations?

“After seven hundred years the bay tree will flower again”—and with it, no doubt, the Cathar faith. Thus were the words of the troubadour in the Occitania of old. Or was it the last of the perfecti to be burned at the stake? Or even a poet born generations later? Basically, nobody knows. It is even possible that the bay tree could be an olive tree, and that the date is regularly adjusted so that it never loses its relevance. No matter. The legend remains perplexing enough for visitors to be drawn in by its verses while contemplating the ruins of what the inquisitors called “Satan’s synagogue” – but never quite managed to utterly destroy.

Sources: Atlas of Cursed Places

Joe Biden Declares Ottoman Empire Committed Armenian Genocide

Joe Biden has officially termed the mass killings and death marches of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, which occurred in 1915 and 1916, as a “genocide.” Historians estimate that a million or more Armenians died during this atrocity. There is simply no longer any doubt that this took place, though Turkey has denied it for a century and even at the time took steps to hide the murders. Biden’s gesture is an admirable stand for human rights, and of course endangers the U.S. relationship with our NATO ally Turkey. But Turkey’s odious President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is ruining his great country with his religiously-based autocracy, deserves no coddling. He’s declared that Biden has neither the historical nor moral authority.

Above is a photo labeled “The corpses of Armenians beside a road, a common sight along deportation route.”

Witch Trials Of Europe

Valais: France/Switzerland, 1428–1447

Often considered to be the first in Europe, the Valais trials began in the French-speaking southern region of Valais and spread to German-speaking Wallis. The trials claimed at least 367 victims (the actual toll may be higher), with just as many men as women killed. It all began in August 1428, when delegates from seven different districts demanded investigations into any accused witches or sorcerers. They established a rule that if any single person was accused of witchcraft three times, they were to be arrested. Once arrested, there was no way to escape; those that confessed were burned at the stake and those who didn’t were tortured until they did confess. While the trials were poorly documented, there are a few records that remain from the local clerk of the court, Johannes Fründ.

Trier: Germany, 1581–1593

One of the largest witch trials in European history started in the rural diocese of Trier in 1581, eventually reaching the city itself six years later. The motives behind this massive witch-purging were likely political. Wanting to prove his loyalty to the Jesuits, the newly-appointed Archbishop Johann von Schöneburg ordered a purge of three groups of nonconformists: Protestants, Jews and witches. Very few of those accused of witchcraft were ever released. Between 1587 and 1593, 368 of the accused from 22 villages were burned alive, almost all confessing under torture. Almost a third of the victims were nobility or held positions in the government or local administration, including judges, burgermeisters, councilors, canons and parish priests.

North Berwick: Scotland, 1590–1592

When King James VI of Scotland sailed to Copenhagen to marry Princess Anne of Denmark, a severe coastal storm forced him to land in Norway and take refuge for several weeks. The storm was blamed on witchcraft, which brewed the king’s obsession with eliminating the practice. He became so obsessed he even penned a book, Daemonologie, endorsing witch hunting. The first to fall victim was Gilly Duncan. Accused of using healing cures and subject to prolonged torture, Duncan confessed to having a contract with the devil. She was burned at the stake for her crime. In total, 70 people were accused of witchcraft, including several members of Scottish nobility, although the actual number of those killed remains unknown. These events had such a profound effect that it’s believed Shakespeare adapted parts of the trial—including the torture rituals—into “Macbeth.” The North Berwick witch trials were the first major trials in Scotland, but many followed, claiming an estimated total of 3,000-4,000 lives between 1560 and 1707.

Fulda: Germany, 1603–1606

After returning from a 20-year exile from his post, Balthasar von Dernbach, the prince-abbot of the Fulda monastery, joined the ongoing efforts of the Catholic Counter-Reformation to thwart perceived religious liberalism. Dernbach launched an aggressive investigation into witchcraft and sorcery to purge the city of Fulda of “improper” things. The most well-known victim was a pregnant woman named Merga Bien. Accused of murdering her second husband, their children and a family member of her husband’s employer, she was tortured and forced to confess. Found guilty, Bien was burned at the stake. The witch hunts were stopped upon the death of Dernbach in 1605.

Pendle: England, 1612–1634

Taking place in Pendle Hill—a poor, lawless region in Lancashire, England, where begging and magical healing were common—these trials were among the most famous and well-documented of the 17th century. The previous decades had been rife with a fear of witchcraft, which was only magnified by the obsession of James VI (now also King James I of England) in purging his lands of witches and sorcerers. Required to report anyone who refused to attend the English Church or take communion, the local Justice of the Peace, Roger Nowell, was also tasked with investigating claims of witchcraft. One such claim was made by a local Halifax peddler who accused a local woman, Alizon Device, of giving him a stroke through witchcraft. Device freely confessed to the crime and implicated many of her family members. Other locals implicated their families, only later to be accused themselves. Altogether, 12 were accused of using witchcraft to murder 10 people. Eleven of the accused went to trial—nine women and two men—and 10 were found guilty and hanged.

Torsåker: Sweden, 1674–1675

The largest witch trial in Swedish history—and one of the largest mass killings of witches in recorded history—saw 71 accused witches, including 65 females, or roughly one-fifth of all women in the region, beheaded and burned in a single day. The bloodshed began when minister Laurentius Christophori Hornæus of Ytterlännäs was instructed to investigate witchcraft within his parish. He ordered two young boys to stand at the doors and identify witches by the invisible devil’s mark on their forehead as they walked into church. Much to the dismay of Hornæus, one of the boys identified the minister’s wife, a situation that was quickly hushed up. The accused were suspected of abducting children and taking them to Satan’s Sabbath (eight festivals celebrated by Wiccans and Neopagans) at Blockula (a meadow popular in Swedish folklore where the devil held court). Relying mostly on children, testimonies were extracted through whippings, forced bathing in frozen lakes or by threats to bake the children in an oven. There were very few records of these trials, and the primary source was recorded 60 years after their conclusion by the grandson of minister Hornæus, who recorded his grandmother’s eyewitness account to the proceedings. The trials were thought to have shaky legitimacy since the commission and local courts failed to report the death sentences to a higher court before carrying them out.

Sources: history.com, Cultures of Witchcraft, The Witch Hunts