The Younger Futhark

The runic alphabet that was used during the Viking Age is called Younger Futhark. These runes can be found on hundreds of runestones throughout Scandinavia. This alphabet does not consist of many runes, and that is because the Norse language evolved a lot during the Iron Age, which meant that the runic alphabet was reduced from 24 to 16 runes.

Each rune has its own name and sound. Some of the runes are used to spell the same letter, for instance, the Týr rune is used for the letters “t” and “d”, and kaun is used for “g” and “k”. 

The names on this list of the Younger Futhark runes have been taken from the website of The National Museum in Copenhagen. The names of the runes may vary slightly depending on the language and on which runologist has conducted the research.

Kjeragbolten (Forsand, Rogaland – Norway)

Kjeragbolten (Forsand, Rogaland – Norway)

Kjeragbolten is a boulder wedged in a mountain crevasse, 3,228 feet (984 m) above the ground. It is a favored spot for BASE jumpers, who hurl themselves from the cliff toward the spectacular fjord below. Visitors without vertigo are welcome to step onto the boulder for a unique photo opportunity—there are no fences restricting access.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Longyearbyen, Svalbard – Norway)

Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Longyearbyen, Svalbard – Norway)

A winter night in Longyearbyen lasts four months. In the ice-covered mountains, the darkness is broken only by a slim concrete building that emits a pale blue glow as it overlooks the 1,000-resident town. The simple structure offers no hint as to what’s protected inside: a collection of seeds that could save humanity.

Due to the loss of genetic diversity among commercially cultivated crops, which tend to be grown from clonal monocultures, many worldwide food crops are at risk of disease. Mutated strains of fungus, or a new bacterium, could potentially wipe out an entire world crop in a matter of months, causing massive food shortages. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established by the Norwegian government in 2008 to function as a sort of genetic safe-deposit box.

The facility has the capacity to conserve 4.5 million seed samples. Under the current temperature conditions in the vault, which are similar to those in a kitchen freezer, the seed samples can remain viable to begin new crops for anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 years.

Svalbard was chosen as the location because it is tectonically stable and its permafrost provides natural refrigeration in case of a power failure. There is no permanent staff at the seed bank, but it is monitored constantly using electronic surveillance. Access to the vaults, open only to employees, requires passing four locked doors protected by coded access keys.

Sources: Atlas Obscura

Icelandic Elf School (Reykjavík, Iceland)

Icelandic Elf School (Reykjavík, Iceland)

When Icelandic member of parliament Árni Johnsen escaped unharmed from a car crash in 2010, he knew whom to credit for his survival: elves. After rolling five times, the politician’s SUV came to rest beside a 30-ton boulder. Johnsen, believing that multiple generations of elves called that boulder home, concluded that they used their magic to save him. When roadwork later required the removal of the boulder, he claimed it for himself, transporting it to his home to ensure the elves would continue to watch over him.

Johnsen’s beliefs are not unusual. According to Icelandic folklore, thousands of elves, fairies, dwarves, and gnomes—collectively known as “hidden people”—live in rocks and trees throughout the country. It is no wonder, then, that the world’s only elf school is located in Reykjavík.

Historian Magnús Skarphéðinsson, who has spent decades documenting people’s encounters with elves, established the school in 1991. Classes focus on the distinguishing characteristics of Iceland’s 13 varieties of hidden people. The school also offers five-hour classes for travelers, which include a tour of Reykjavík’s elf habitats. Students receive a diploma in “hidden people research.”

Skarphéðinsson has never seen an elf. His knowledge of their appearance and behavior comes from the hundreds of testimonies he has collected from people who claim to have made contact with hidden people.

Though Skarphéðinsson has devoted 30 years to the subject and considers himself the foremost authority on elves, he maintains a sense of humor about it all. At the end of class, he serves homemade coffee and pancakes and tells stories about the people who come up to him to say, “I swear I’m not on drugs, but I saw the strangest thing . . .”

Source: Atlas Obscura

Tollund Man (Silkeborg, Central Denmark)

Tollund Man (Silkeborg, Central Denmark)

Walking around the Bjældskovdal bog in 1950, brothers Emil and Viggo Højgaard (along with Grethe, Viggo’s wife) stumbled upon a body. Believing the man to be the victim of a recent killing, they called the police. Further investigations revealed that he had indeed been murdered—some 2,300 years earlier.

The Tollund Man was found curled in the fetal position with his eyes closed and a serene expression frozen on his face. The cold, acidic, oxygen-starved conditions of the peat bog had kept him remarkably well preserved. His hair, beard stubble, eyelashes, and toenails were all intact, and he was nude, but for a sheepskin cap and wide belt around his waist. A rope was wound tightly around his neck. The Iron Age man had been hanged, likely during a ritual sacrifice.

In 1950, it was not yet known how best to preserve discoveries like Tollund Man. Accordingly, only the head of the original specimen was kept intact. The rest of the body was subjected to various tests to determine his probable age (probably around 40, due to the presence of wisdom teeth and wrinkles) and the conditions surrounding his life and death. Among the details found: Tollund Man was 5 feet 3 inches (1.6 m) tall, his final meal was a gruel made from barley and flaxseed, and his “sacrificers” (read: killers) took the time to close his mouth and eyes after death.

Thousands of “bog bodies” have been discovered in sphagnum swamps across Northern Europe, but the Tollund Man remains the best preserved. His original head and reconstructed body now reside at the Silkeborg Museum. The rope used to end his life is still wrapped around his throat.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Svanslös Crosswalk

Svanslös Crosswalk, showing an unusual “cat crossing” sign in the town of Uppsala, Sweden:

The road signs in front of Carolina Rediviva Library in Uppsala have something unusual: cats. On closer look, you might notice the adult cat leading kittens has no tail. He isn’t just an ordinary bobtail cat. He’s Pelle Svanslös (“Peter No-Tail” in English), a popular character from a children’s book series with the same name.

The Pelle Svanslös series—there are 12 books in total—was written by Gösta Knutsson between 1939 and 1972. As his name suggests, Pelle has no tail. A rat bit his tail off when he was a kitten. But despite this mean mishap, Pelle grows into a kind-hearted young cat. He has been loved by many Swedish children for decades.

Pelle and his feline friends live in Uppsala, Sweden, where the author also lived for many years of his life. To mark the cat’s popularity, Uppsala added some features related to the children’s literature star around the city, such as a statue, a peep-hole (his residence), and these crossing signs.

The Arctic Henge (Raufarhöfn, Iceland)

The Arctic Henge (Raufarhöfn, Iceland)

Located in one of Iceland’s most remote northern villages, the Arctic Henge is a colossal piece of stone construction that, when finished, will make Stonehenge look like amateur hour.

Started in 1996, the Arctic Henge project is a monument not only to the country’s nordic roots, but also to some of the neo-pagan beliefs that have arisen in certain areas. The piece was inspired directly from the eddic poem Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress), taking from it the concept of 72 dwarves who represent the seasons in the world of the poem, among other symbolic queues. In the Arctic Henge, 72 small blocks, each inscribed with a specific dwarven name will eventually circle four larger stone monuments, which in turn will surround a central balanced column of massive basalt blocks. Each aspect of the deliberate layout corresponds to some aspect of ancient Norse belief and when each piece of the monument is installed, visitors will be able to “capture the midnight sun” by viewing it through the various formations at different vantage points depending on the season.

At current, only the imposing central tri-column and one of the four larger gates have been constructed, along with a smattering of the smaller stones, but it is still a work in progress. When it is complete, the Arctic Henge could easily become the premiere site for Paganism in the entire world and millennia from now it might seem as mysterious as Stonehenge seems to us today.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Daily Life in Winter

“The winter is so beautiful, and yet it can be so hard sometimes that it makes me cry happy-tears thinking about the summer. This winter has been extra hard. Crazy amounts of snow and extreme cold weather for over 3 weeks. It takes a lot of energy to keep up the normal life. But it also gives a lot of energy with all the beauty that the winter brings. It’s a love-hate relationship.

In this video I share glimpses of what I’ve been up to for the past month. Both the struggles, but also all the beautiful moments. I also share some behind the scenes of my previous video, when I went on a road trip to the very North of Sweden to record some footage.”

~ Jonna Jinton

Viking Era Jewelry

Most of our knowledge of Viking Age jewelry comes graves and hoards. Because accompanied burials ceased after the conversion to Christianity, we know more about earlier Viking Period jewelry than we do of the later Viking era.

Viking age jewelry tends to be dated according to the art style that is used for decoration.

Jewelry was worn by both men and women. It was a means of fastening cloaks, belts and dresses, And it was an adornment and a means of displaying visible wealth, even as a means of carrying wealth. It could be used as a means of exchange, and as a means of cementing an alliance.

Gold was used for the most prestigious jewelry, but gold was relatively scare in Scandinavia, so most jewelry was made of silver or gilded bronze. Gold and silver items would have been individually made, but bronze jewelry would have been mass produced, using clay moulds from a single master prototype.

In addition to brooches and buckles, silver neck and arm rings were common items of jewelry. Many were made from melted down silver Arabic coins, and were made to standard weights so that their value was easily assessed.

”Silver arm-rings were by far the commonest products of the Hiberno-Viking tradition…Over one hundred are known from silver hoards in Ireland, where they were sometimes cut into fragments which could later melted down and recycled. Several different types have been identified, the most important in terms of sheer numbers being the broad-band type. Like the neck-rings, they seem to have been manufactured for the storage and circulation of silver, and their target weight of 26.15 grams (0.92 ounces) is very close to the most important weight unit of the lead scale-weights from tenth-century Dublin. Their purity was obviously a matter of concern, because they sometimes display small nicks and pecks.”

Source: Netherton, R. and Owen Crocker, G. R. (eds) (2006), “Medieval Clothing and Textiles vol 2″

Lucia Buns (Swedish Lussekatter)

½ gram saffron

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

⅓ cup sugar, plus a pinch for proofing the yeast

3½ cups flour

½ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon table salt

4 tablespoons butter, softened

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

36 dried, sweetened cranberries

Swedish pearl sugar (optional, but so good – available at King Arthur Flour or Sur La Table) for sprinkling

On a small plate, grind the saffron with the back of a spoon until it is powdered. If you have a mortar and pestle, that will work wonderfully.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the milk until just beginning to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, add the saffron, and stir. Allow the mixture to cool to the temperature of a warm bath. When the milk is warm but not hot, add the yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Allow the mixture to sit until it is bubbling and has grown in volume, about 5 minutes

While the yeast mixture is proofing, in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the sugar, flour, sour cream, and salt.

Add the yeast mixture, and knead until the dough is nice and smooth, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue kneading the dough until it again pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It might seem like this is never going to happen, but all of a sudden, you’ll have a nice, smooth ball of dough.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise until doubled in size.

Punch down the risen dough, knead it briefly on a lightly floured counter, and divide the dough into eighteen equal portions.

Roll each piece of dough into a long, skinny strip, about 12 inches long. Roll the left end of the dough up and clockwise until it reaches the middle, then roll the right end down and clockwise until it reaches the middle. Your dough should now look like a very tightly rolled S.

Place the Ss on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and allow them to rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. While the buns are rising, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water. Just before baking, lightly brush the tops and sides of each lucia bun with the egg wash, place a cranberry at the center of each swirl, and sprinkle the tops with pearl sugar.

Bake the lucia buns for 8 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the buns to cool. Store leftovers in an airtight container.