Large-scale whaling in north Scandinavia may date back to 6th century
13 June 2018
The intensive whaling that has pushed many species to the brink of extinction today may be several centuries older than previously assumed. This view is held by archaeologists from Uppsala and York whose findings are presented in the European Journal of Archaeology.
Museum collections in Sweden contain thousands of Iron Age board-game pieces. New studies of the raw material composing them show that most were made of whalebone from the mid-6th century CE. They were produced in large volumes and standardised forms. The researchers therefore believe that a regular supply of whalebone was needed. Since the producers would hardly have found the carcasses of beached whales a reliable source, the gaming pieces are interpreted as evidence for whaling.
Apart from an osteological survey, species origin has been determined for a small number of game pieces, using ZooMS (short for Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometer). The method shows that all the pieces analysed were derived from the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), a massive whale weighing 50–80 tonnes. It got the name because it was the right whale to hunt: it swam slowly, close to shore, and contained so much blubber as to float after being killed.
Whalebone gaming pieces appear at the same time as production features for blubber and large boathouses were multiplying in northern Norway. The gaming pieces were probably made in this region, from where they were transported south and ultimately used as burial gifts in Sweden.
The origins of large-scale whaling in northern Europe have long been shrouded in mystery. Written sources refer to whaling on a large scale during periods corresponding to the Viking Age in Scandinavia. Ninth-century sagas about the Norwegian merchant Ohthere/Ottar (a guest and informant at the court of King Alfred the Great) mention his extensive hunt for large whales, but these stories have long been controversial as factual sources.
The gaming pieces not only indicate early whaling. To the archaeologists, they are an important component in research on extensive early trading networks. These were well-functioning several centuries before the formation of towns in Viking times. The new study, along with several other archaeological studies over the past few years, shows increasingly substantial exploitation of marine resources, and also of inland resources in northern Scandinavia. In a supplementary in-depth study, the results will also be used to study human influence on the marine ecosystems in relation to whale population trends, since it is now realised that the inception of large-scale whaling took place further back in time than was previously known.
Full article: Andreas Hennius, Rudolf Gustavsson, John Ljungkvist and Luke Spindler (2018) Whalebone Gaming Pieces: Aspects of Marine Mammal Exploitation in Vendel and Viking Age Scandinavia, European Journal of Archaeology, https://doi.org/10.1017/eaa.2018.15 (Open access)
Fallen in battle, these Swedish Vikings are part of a larger genetic puzzle
17 september 2020
In a recently published article in the journal Nature, 90 researchers from various countries have collaborated to develop new knowledge about the Viking-era population. Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University, has contrib...
The VR game that takes you to medieval Visby
14 augusti 2020
Using a VR helmet, you can try your hand at archery in 14th century Visby. This new VR game has been developed by the game company Disir, which was founded by a game developer and three archaeologists, of which two research at Uppsala University.
“The American dilemma is far from resolved”
15 juni 2020
The police violence in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd has once again thrust relations between black and white Americans onto the agenda, a dilemma that will most likely play a central role in this autumn’s presidential elec...
Social graces and etiquette vital for Carl Linnaeus
04 juni 2020
What would have become of Carl Linnaeus if he had remained single? Would science have missed out on one of its major lodestars without his well-functioning household? And was his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, really the ne’er-do-well he was repu...
Medieval manuscript fragments acquired
26 maj 2020
A group of fragments of medieval manuscripts has been acquired by Uppsala University Library. Among these there is a fragment related to Saint Bridget of Sweden. This particular fragment may have been written at or owned by the Vadstena Abbey.
She studies AI as existential media
30 april 2020
How are we influenced when smart digital assistants, like Siri and Alexa, become part of our homes? And what happens when we begin to track deviating individuals through biometrics? “More research is needed on what it means to be human in a digita...
New study reveals unknown side of Astrid Lindgren’s creative process
21 februari 2020
Why did Jonathan Lionheart’s pitch-black hair suddenly turn golden? And how did Master Detective Kalle Blomqvist get his proper name? In the “Astrid Lindgren Code”, literature researcher Malin Nauwerck lifts the lid on some of the literary world’s...
History professor given prestigious assignment
22 januari 2020
Maria Ågren, professor of history, has been awarded a distinguished professor grant of SEK 50 million over 10 years by the Swedish Research Council. The council awarded grants totalling some SEK 380 million to eight applicants.
Winner of the 2019 Geijer Prize Named
14 januari 2020
The Geijer Prize for history 2019 has been awarded to Mia Kuritzen Löwengart for her doctoral thesis A Matter of Social Urgency: The emergence of a symphony orchestra and concert house in Stockholm, ca. 1890-1926 and Hedvig Widmalm for her doctora...
Legendary runestone bears witness to climate anxiety 1,200 years ago
08 januari 2020
After more than 1,000 years, one of the greatest mysteries of the early Viking Age, the Rök runestone which bears the world’s longest runic inscription, appears to have been solved. According to four Swedish researchers, the puzzling inscription h...
Martin Henriksson Holmdahl Prize goes to Afaf Doleeb and Patricia Lorenzoni
21 november 2019
The Martin Henriksson Holmdahl Prize is Uppsala University’s foremost award for contributions to the promotion of human rights and liberty. This year’s prize is shared by graduate student Afaf Doleeb and researcher Patricia Lorenzoni for their com...
Large-scale cadastral maps on parchment digitised
08 november 2019
Uppsala University Archives holds a large collection of hand-drawn seventeenth century maps on parchment. These maps are of significant historical value and a valuable source of information on the University’s agricultural properties at the time.
New Honorary Doctors Appointed at Uppsala University
21 oktober 2019
The nine faculties at Uppsala University have decided on who they wish to appoint as honorary doctors this academic year. The new honorary doctors include researchers in fields as diverse as string theory, maternal healthcare, evolutionary biology...
Excavation documentation from Labraunda digitised
21 oktober 2019
Uppsala University Library's part of the project Mötesplats Medelhavet ("Labraunda") - a research platform for digitised archaeological collections and archives at the Swedish institutes in Athens, Rome and Istanbul, is now being started. The aim ...
Aristocratic family trees became scientific model
01 oktober 2019
Before the French Revolution, family trees were reserved for the feudal upper classes, who used them to consolidate their social status. While feudalism broke down and family trees lost their old roles, the trees gained new functions as scientific...
Uppsala philosopher elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
19 september 2019
Folke Tersman, professor of practical philosophy at Uppsala University, has been elected as a member of the class for humanities and for outstanding services to science at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Johan Ihre’s dissertations now in digital form.
06 september 2019
Johan Ihre (1707-1780) was professor of Rethoric and Politics at Uppsala University for 42 years. During this time he managed no less than 453 dissertations, the theses of the time. These dissertations are currently a widely used source material i...
Sustainable urbanisation requires collaboration
10 juni 2019
On Sunday, 30 June, six seminars on sustainability and urbanisation focusing on India and Sweden will take place in Almedalen. To find out more, we talked to Swaminathan Ramanathan, visiting research fellow, and Owe Ronström, professor of ethnolog...
Races for women play an important role
06 maj 2019
Participating in a race for women plays an important role for women and increases self-confidence among participants. Women aim to perform as well as they can, and they place most emphasis on their physical performance, despite the organisers’ oft...
Award for research and teaching on the Holocaust
11 april 2019
Tomislav Dulić, Senior Lecturer in History and Director of the Hugo Valentin Centre, has been awarded the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Award 2019.