Stone Age hunter-gatherer slate rings: The oldest currency or bands of friendship or ritual?

Around 6,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer communities in northeast Europe produced skillfully manufactured slate ring ornaments in great numbers.

While these ornaments are commonly referred to as ‘slate rings’, they were rarely used as intact rings.

Instead, the ornaments were fragmented on purpose, using pieces of rings as tokens. These fragments were further processed into pendants.

According to new research from the University of Helsinki, in Finland, the fragments were deliberately broken and most likely served as symbols of the social relations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.

As most archaeological material is found in a fragmented state, the phenomenon has been considered a natural consequence of objects’ having been long buried underground.

However, according to Postdoctoral Researcher Marja Ahola from the University of Helsinki, not all objects have necessarily been broken by accident.

Instead, it is possible some were fragmented on purpose as part of maintaining social relations, bartering or ritual activities.

New research could demonstrate a widespread Stone Age exchange network.

With a substantial number of ornaments found in central locations of what is now Finland.

As some of the ornaments originate in the Lake Onega region and have been transported to Finland it is possible that they symbolise cordial connections established within the network.

By matching pieces of slate ring ornaments, analysing their geochemical composition and investigating traces of use and manufacture in the objects, a research group at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku demonstrated that the ornaments had not only been worn, but also intentionally broken.

Because fragments from the same ornament were found in two different locations, it is possible that they were worn by two different individuals.

Another indication of this is the fact that one of the fragments had been worked on more finely than the other.

Marja Ahola said: “These fragments of the same object may show the handprint and preferences of two individuals.

“Perhaps they wore the ornaments as a symbol of a connection established.”

A similar link was found in slate ring ornaments created during the same manufacturing process, one of which was found in a settlement-site context and the other in a burial site investigated near the settlement.

Ahold added: “What we see here may be one way of maintaining connection between the living and the dead.

“This is also the first clear material connection between a certain place of residence and a burial site.

“In other words, the people who lived there most likely buried their dead in a site close to them.”

An X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) of a little over 50 slate ring ornaments demonstrated that some of the ornaments or fragments thereof had been imported from the Lake Onega region, Russia, hundreds of kilometres from the site where they were found.

XRF analyses can be used to determine the element concentrations and raw materials of inorganic archaeological materials with a very high precision.

The technique can be applied as an entirely non-invasive surface analysis, which makes it perfectly suited to the study of archaeological objects.

Docent Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä said: “By comparing the elemental concentrations of the objects under investigation with findings published on the basis of international datasets, we were able to demonstrate that some of the ornaments or the stone material used in them was transported to Finland through an extensive exchange network, primarily from the Lake Onega region.

“There was also variation in the chemical composition of the objects, which correlates with their design.

“These factors indicate that the ornaments were produced at Lake Onega region in several batches, most likely in different locations and by a number of makers.”

Stonehenge Mesolithic landscape BEFORE the stone circle revealed

A new study has revealed the incredibly ancient pre-stone circle landscape, upon which Stonehenge now stands.

New research by the University of Southampton has plotted the Mesolithic environment of the now Salisbury Plain, 4,000 years prior to the construction of the world famous sarsen and bluestone monument.

A team of academics explored Blick Mead, a Mesolithic archaeological site within a chalkland spring area about a mile from Stonehenge.

They discovered evidence that the landscape was not covered in dense, closed canopy forests during the later Mesolithic period, as was previously theorised.

Instead, it was only partially wooded and was a grazing ground for huge bovine aurochs, red deer, elk and wild boar.

This would have made it an attractive hunting ground for ancient human hunter-gatherers, before the arrival of the Neolithic farmers, who would go in to build Stonehenge and a host of similar monuments.

Lead researcher, Samuel Hudson, of Geography and Environmental Science at Southampton said: “There has been intensive study of the Bronze Age and Neolithic history of the Stonehenge landscape, but less is known about earlier periods.

“The integration of evidence recovered from previous excavations at Blick Mead, coupled with our own fieldwork, allowed us to understand more about the flora and fauna of the landscape prior to construction of the later world-famous monument complex.”

He added: “Past theories suggest the area was thickly wooded and cleared in later periods for farming and monument building.

“However, our research points to pre-Neolithic, hunting-gatherer inhabitants, living in open woodland, which supported aurochs and other grazing herbivores.”

The researchers studied pollen, fungal spores and traces of DNA preserved in ancient sediment, alongside optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon dating to map an environmental history of the site. 

Their findings enabled them to produce a picture of the habitat in the area from the later Mesolithic (5500 BC) to the Neolithic (from 4,000 BC).

The research indicates that later Mesolithic populations at Blick Mead used the open and expansive conditions to repeatedly exploit groups of large ungulates (hoofed mammals), until a transition to an agrarian and monument-building society took place.

These practices over the centuries made the site perfect for the construction of the breathtaking megalithic site and other large-scale monument building, as the land was pre-cleared.

The team suggested there was continuity between the inhabitants of the two eras, who used the land in different ways, but understood it to be a favourable location.

I would note that the lingering presence of the hunter-gatherer caste, which was revered in similar and broadly contemporary Neolithic sites, like Newgrange, in Ireland, may have also rendered the location one of ritual or spiritual significance.

The hunt was of supreme importance, not just for survival, but for religion, with Mesolithic societies donning horned headgear as part of shamanic-style worship.

The conclusions of the team from Southampton, working with colleagues at the universities of Buckingham, Tromsø and Salzburg, are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team is now planning further exploration of the Mesolithic history of the area, which they hope to begin at the end of this year.

Are Vikings really ‘winning the culture war’?

An interesting article appeared in the British magazine The Spectator this week, which made the claim that Vikings were “winning the culture war”.

For those unfamiliar with the publication, The Spectator is the oldest English-language magazine in the world and is often at the leading edge of national and international political and cultural conversations. So this article is meaningful in terms of where the Norse raiders currently are in the cultural zeitgeist.

In it author Ed West reproduced one of his Substack posts where he looked at the modern obsession with the Northmen and sought to explain why this was happening.

(Links to the Spectator article and original Substack post are in this paragraph.)

So, what did the article say?

Well Mr West begins by recounting the horrific treatment of a sacrifice victim, as reported to his masters at the Abbasid Caliphate, in Baghdad, by the Arabic diplomat Ahmad ibn Fadlan from the year 922.

This is to, presumably, demonstrate the brutality and backwardness of this Northern European pagans in contrast with the monotheistic Muslims of the Arab world at the time.

This theme continues throughout, when the Norse are contrasted with Anglo-Saxon and Frankish Christians – although the author does allow himself to criticise Charlemagne for his promiscuity and brutality in converting the Germanic peoples at the point of a sword.

There is no mention of the outrage of the destruction of the continental Saxons’ sacred Irminsul tree, by the Holy Roman Emperor’s forces during the Saxon Wars, though.

He cites the new Robert Eggers film They Northman’ as an example of the gratuitous violence and ritual murder of the Scandinavians at this time, which reflects the account ibn Fadlan made.

So why does Mr West believe Vikings are winning the culture war?

Two main themes are at the root of his contention: modern-day attitudes to sex and TV and movie audiences’ seemingly voracious appetite for Viking-based content.

West wrote of the allure of Christianity and the Viking defeat in the original, Medieval, culture war: “… being linked to a wider European civilisation and far more literate, had immense advantages and would win, despite their belief in peace and male sexual restraint being so weirdly counter-intuitive.

“The losing polytheists had their worldview confined to history as Christianity swept across Scandinavia.

“Yet today the Norsemen, or Vikings (a historically imperfect but impossibly attractive term) are themselves embroiled in a new culture war. And this time they might win, from beyond the grave.

“The Northman is part of a wider Viking cultural renaissance of recent years, with The Last Kingdom, the adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s book series; the Netflix show Vikings, as well as three Thor films, a fourth coming out this summer.”

Where West believes sex has a role in this new phenomenon is in the apparently free and easy attitude the Norse had in this regard.

He contrasted this with traditional Victorian values, which harked back to the alleged morality of Alfred the Great of Wessex.

He wrote: “The fact that Alfred was tormented by sexual desires, which he prayed to God to free him from, made him all the more virtuous and relatable to Victorians. He was a hero for a pre-ironic age.

“Today such an internal sexual struggle is looked down upon, seen as unhealthy and hypocritical, positively weird. English nationalism is worthy only of thralls.”

To prove the Norse we’re comfortable being promiscuous he wrote: “The behaviour of Freyja, the goddess who represented womanhood in Norse mythology, is illustrative; she took many lovers, and is said to have slept with every elf in Asgard, without any sense of shame.

“To many post-Christians there is huge attraction to such a society. Sympathetic historians point out the prejudices of sexually-frustrated Medieval monks whose lack of a healthy outlet resulted in lurid fantasies about pagan behaviour, as well as misogyny.”

Is Freyja really the benchmark upon which Norse women should be judged – I think not and there is little real substance to the notion of the freewheeling, bed-hopping, town-raiding shield maiden.

On occasions when women did accompany men on raids, they were unlikely to be involved in any of the fighting, and would have been restricted to provisioning the warriors or, potentially, performing rituals and magic to aid the menfolk.

And does ubiquity really represent victory?

The Northman faced a barrage of criticism from those on the left for it’s realistic portrayal of gender roles in Norse society, and its historically-accurate casting choices, which only featured white actors.

The same cannot be said of TV shows like ‘Vikings’, the spin-off ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ and ‘The Last Kingdom’, which have featured a number of female warrior characters and more diverse casting.

So are Vikings really winning a culture war – or have they been subsumed and conquered by it?

Furthermore, it is bizarre to use the Marvel franchise’s ‘Thor’ films as evidence of a Viking victory in the so called culture war.

There are many things one can say about these, but that they are a fair and accurate portrayal of Norse history is not one of them.

Yes, nominally Viking-connected content is currently popular, but if these shows and films are inaccurate caricatures of the real history, often with the addition of plot themes based on modern day social issues, is this really a win for them?

I suppose there is a chance that, after watching these shows, people may seek out the Eddas or study the history of the Vikings and their precursor Bronze Age traditions.

And it is certainly true that books on Vikings are also popular, but these are sometimes fairly revisionist efforts, aiming to amp up controversial new theories to ensure often sensationalist media coverage and generate book sales.

I think in reality Norse history and mythology is a rich source of story and intrigue for unimaginative TV and movie execs to plunder. It is the Vikings who are now being raided – and that doesn’t sound like a victory to me.

May Day, Robin Hood, Maid Marian… and Merlin

Robin Hood and his legendary wife Maid Marian began as separate folkloric entities and were strongly associated with May Day customs.

May Day itself has pagan origins and centres around abundance and vegetation as the start of the summer. With the Beltane festival seen as a fire blessing of cattle and other livestock.

This, in turn, had similarities to the Roman festival of Floralia, a celebration of the goddess of flowers, and Maiouma, which hailed Dionysus and Aphrodite.

This highlights that these ceremonies and rituals, such as the Queen of the May and dancing around the, clearly phallic, maypole have echoes of fertility rites that are truly ancient and inextricably wedded to nature.

There are many tellings, re-tellings and embellishments of the Robin legend. But his woodland dwelling after a fall from grace of some kind mirrors the tale of Merlin, or Myrddin Wilt, and his retreat to the forest.

The ‘Vita Merlini’, or ‘Life of Merlin’, strongly thought to have been penned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in around 1150, details how this occurred.

His hermit-like existence in the wilderness was as a result of what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder where he struggled to come to terms with a brutal battle.

This conflict has been suggested to have been the Battle if Afderydd, where the King of Alt Clut, otherwise known as Strathclyde, inflicted a crushing defeat on the forces of Gwenddolau.

Myrddin was said to have been driven mad after witnessing the slaughter which, according to the Annals of Wales, took place in the year 573 AD.

Whether this tale contributed to the Robin Hood legend is not certain, but the parallels are there.

Whatever the connection, or lack thereof, happy May Day to all.

The Northman: a riot of Viking ritual and brutality

I managed to see the wonderful film ‘The Northman’ the other day.

Having been looking forward to the spectacle after witnessing the vivid and ritual-heavy trailer the other week, I can attest the film did not disappoint.

On an objective level this is a very well-made film; artistically beautiful and cleverly shot, albeit in a slightly odd aspect ratio.

This has to be the most realistic portrayal of Norse Pagan practice ever committed to the screen.

There was, for example, an extended, fire-lit Úlfhéðnar berzerker ritual with a living rendition of the Odinic spear dancer from the Torslunda plates.

The avenging protagonist, Amleth, was referred to as a “beast wearing man flesh” at one point, alluding to the wolf or dog shapeshifting of the ancient Indo-European Koryos tradition, that continued into Norse society and the Germanic Mannerbund warbands.

There was Valkyrie iconography, the presence of Hugin and Munin or Thought and Memory – Odin’s ravens – who act as spies for the one-eyed god.

The importance of oaths, especially blood oaths and blood feuds punctuated this morality tale, for a morality that no longer exists in our Abrahamic-influenced world.

There was a vision of the terrifying undead Draugr as well as the always excellent Willem Dafoe chewing up the scenery, as a mischievous Loki-like trickster, with a deep religious purpose.

Dafoe’s embalmed skull appears later, in echoes of the beheaded Aesir god Mimir, who advised Odin.

The disembodied head also called to mind that of Yorrick, from Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Hamlet’, upon which this blood and mud-drenched epic is loosely based.

Also echoing the Bard’s play there is a frisson of Oedipus complex exhibited in Amleth’s reunion with his faithless mother, in the desolate wastes of Iceland.

The violent ancient pre-Christian sport of hurling, from Ireland, is represented. This is interesting as it alludes to the genetic makeup of Icelanders, who trace their ancestry to Norse males and British and Irish females taken as slaves even to this day.

The overall plot and pay-off, which I won’t spoil here, is a callback to the brutal playfulness of the Poetic Edda.

This rich assault on the senses also includes the sexual abandon of Slavic and Norse folklore and mythology, with all of its animistic or shamanistic religious practices, which are possibly of Sami origin. This is complete with the use of mind-altering fly agaric mushrooms and the mead of poetry.

There was throat singing, which would impress the Sardaukar of the Dune film, and may have been present in Norse ritual – especially if one believes the attestations of Abraham Ben Jacob, a Muslim chronicler of Sephardi Jewish descent, from Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain.

Ben Jacob travelled to Hedeby, which is now part of the historically-contested territory of Schleswig-Holstein, on the now German-Danish, border in the year 961.

His original account is lost but a few translations, which may or may not be accurate, paint a fascinating and slightly comic picture.

One read: “Never did I hear singing fouler than that of these people, it is a rumbling emanating from their throats, similar to that of a dog but even more bestial.”

The realism of the grimly dark mead halls and fiery boat burials and human and horse sacrifice is a bloody feast for the eyes.

There is also higher prophesy in the form of visions of Yggdrasil and hanging sacrifice on the world tree.

In short, it was a pulsating tour de force. A visual and audible nightmare of a brutish and short lifetime of duty, revenge, violence and longed-for ascent to Valhalla.

If you want to witness what Norse society and religion was (probably) like then this film is a must.

Is this the home of King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake?

Is this body of water in Cornwall the home of the mythical Lady if the Lake?

The lake is Dozmary Pool, on Bodmin Moor, one of the sources of the River Fowey.

The lake has been significant to people since prehistory, with the antiquarian and folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould saying it was abundant in fish and surrounded by numerous remains of Stone Age flint working.

Dozmary Pool is one site that is claimed to be the watery residence of the Lady of the Lake.

According to legend Arthur, King of the Britons, rowed out to the Lady of the Lake, sometimes called Nimue, and received the magical sword Excalibur at Dozmary Pool.

After Arthur was mortally wounded, at the Battle of Camlann, the blade was said to have been returned to the water by Bedivere.

The act of deposition of sacred or valuable objects – particularly arms – alluded to in the legend recalls very real religious and cultural practices.

At the time Arthur is supposed to have lived there were still practitioners of Druidic belief or at least knowledge of them.

Added to this there is also the possibility that Merlin described, perhaps colloquially or cryptically, as a ‘bard’, was a Druid.

Druids, known to the Classical World from the 4th century BC, could have continued traditions and practices from as far back as the second and third millennia BC.

In this context deposition to the Chthonic deities took place in the earth, or bodies of water.

Examples of earth deposition include pits at Woodhenge or Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, or the stone circle and henge at Avebury.

The concept can be seen as being continued into the Bronze and Iron Ages in the form of grave goods deposited in burial mounds.

Objects deliberately placed in water include the ornate Battersea Shield and the Waterloo Bridge Helmet, as well as the far older Dagenham Idol.

The deposition of votive objects and also defixiones, or requests for divine damnation of enemies, also took place at the sacred waters of Bath.

These were offerings or appeals to the deity Sulis, later amalgamated with the Roman goddess Minerva, to form the compound deity Sulis-Minerva, via the process of ‘interpretatio Romana’.

A rich earth deposition was discovered in Folly Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1991-92, which was part of the burial rites of a late Iron Age Catevellauni chieftain.

The complexity of the funerary chamber, burial mound and enclosure at the site pointed to complicated rituals having taken place. It was determined the site was the tomb of a client king who died in the years immediately following the Rome’s invasion of Britain, in AD 43.

Treasures discovered with the cremated body included enamelled horse equipment, a chariot, a tunic of iron mail armour and at least 15lbs of silver. 

It was said that all the grave goods were burned on the funeral pyre with the body.

David Thorold, Curator, Pre-historic to Medieval at Verulamium Museum, said of the discovery: “The whole site is exceptional; the evidence of an elaborate ritual, the imposing character of the enclosure and its position overlooking the Roman town, the wealth of the grave goods and the fact that a Romano-Celtic temple was subsequently built on the site of the funeral pyre, are all proof that the rites and ceremonies performed here were of overwhelming significance to the local population.”

Returning to Dozmary Pool, it is clear this atmospheric location within the ruggedly beautiful Bodmin Moor is the kind of place that should attract association with legends.

And, so it is, that the lake is also linked to a sinister deal with the Devil.

The tall tale goes that Jan Treageagle, a 17th century steward and cruel magistrate under the Duchy of Cornwall, was on the trail of deviant activities and made a so-called Faustian pact with Satan to gain wealth and influence.

The deal dictated that on his death Treageagle would be damned to forever attempt to empty the allegedly bottomless Dozmary Pool with a leaky limpet shell.

But in death, as in life, Treageagle was not a man to discharge his duties faithfully.

He was said to have escaped from his endless task fleeing to Roche Rock with demons giving chase, before being set another impossible task.

This time he had to weave ropes from sand. Tales abound that Treageagle’s tormented ghost still wails across Bodmin Moor.

Whatever the truth or allegory of these tales their very existence proves a spiritual and potentially historical significance for this eerie place.

Is it the home to the Lady of the Lake? Who knows, but it’s as good as any.

Exploring ancient Roman ‘vampire’ graves and an abandoned church

Welcome to Fleet Marston.

This small dwelling close to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire has come to prominence recently after it was revealed to hold a dark secret.

Previously I made a post on an incredible Roman-era discovery at the site, which included a number of decapitated skeletons and other artefacts.

My contention is that these unfortunate bodies may have belonged to suspected vampires.

The Romans and other classical civilisations, like the Ancient Greeks, believed in entities known as strix or strigoi.

These mythological beings continued into Slavic folklore as the strzyga.

Archaeologists working alongside railway workers , building the new HS2 high-speed rail link in England, have unearthed a number of intriguing finds recently.

At or close to Fleet Marston 425 burials were unearthed at a Roman cemetery.

But it was the manner in which 40 skeletons were discovered that made me consider a dark possibility.

To the Romans Britannia was a mystical and terrifying place. A land of strange people and rituals and maybe even giants.

Therefore it is not inconceivable that, in the superstitious mind of the Roman conquerors, there were otherworldly entities abound in this far-flung peripheral part of the Empire.

And it is with that in mind that the bizarre nature of the burials administered to those 40 skeletons comes into sharp focus.

Burial was even more significant in the bronze and iron ages, with grave goods attesting the idea that the dead were going on a journey.

It is clear that the people who buried the 40 bodies were keen to ensure that this would not be a return journey.

They were found interred with their heads removed and placed between their legs.

Anyone with an understanding of folklore will know that this method of burial is one of the methods by which the vampiric strix are allegedly prevented from coming back to the land of the living.

Obviously the HS2 archaeologists, perhaps keen to avoid a sensation in their work on the controversial and hugely expensive new rail link, did not allude to the possibility that this was an effective vampire burial.

They merely mooted the likelihood that these skeletons belonged to “criminals” or “a type of outcast”.

It is interesting to note that the use of bells, which were also discovered, was another method of stopping reanimated corpses from returning. As was placing small items near the vampire to make them count them and so keep them occupied. A number of these were found at the site.

Other examples of preventative measures against strix predations include putting rocks to the mouths of the deceased, reburial outside of the village, pinning bodies down with large rocks and hammering nails or stakes into corpses.

A press release issued by HS2 said of the strange burials: “There are several instances of the head being placed between the legs or next to the feet.

“One interpretation of this burial practice is that it could be the burial of criminals or a type of outcast, although decapitation is well-known elsewhere and appears to have been a normal, albeit marginal, burial rite during the late Roman period.”

I visited the site recently to see how close I could get to the graves. Unfortunately I could view and photograph the suspected area through binoculars, but could not get any closer than the surrounding farmland and entrance to the railway works.

What I did discover nearby was an abandoned church – the Church of St Mary, which is said to date back to Anglo-Saxon times.

However it lies on a circular, raised area which lends weight to the possibility that this is a very ancient religious site, with a newer church placed on top.

Once inside the fairly inaccessible church I found a font, which is around 700 years old, placed in the small vestry. The rest of the interior was sparse and beset with cobwebs.

There were a few scattered gravestones outside the building, which lent the place a rather spooky air.

The nearby town of Aylesbury has a long history, once being an Anglo-Saxon site called Æglesburgh.

There is some dispute over the etymology of the Æglesburgh, with some claiming it derived from the Old English for church-burgh.

Was this focus on religion and consecration a folk memory of a darkness that needed to be guarded against?

Intriguingly, the Fleet Marston discovery is not the only brush Buckinghamshire has had with alleged vampires.

The curious 12th century case of the Buckinghamshire Vampire was recorded by William of Newburgh, following an oral account by Stephen, the archdeacon of the diocese of Buckinghamshire.

The vampire was said to be the restless ghost of a dead man who acted in a vampire-like manner.

The entity was not referred to as a “vampire”, because the term was not known in the English language until the 18th century.

The story goes that the unnamed man died in 1192, somewhere in the county and was properly buried on the eve of Ascension Day.

But the night after burial, the corpse left his grave and visited his wife, leaping upon her while she slept and nearly killing her with the press of his weight.

The following night he did the same thing.

On the third night the wife had made preparations and recruited friends to keep a vigil for her.

When the vampire, referred to as a ‘revenant’ arrived, he was driven away by the loud shouts and cries of the wife and the others.

He was said to have turned his ire on his brothers who lived in the same town.

They adopted the same tactic and so the revenant was forced to target other people while they were asleep as well as harassing animals at night.

Eventually the creature began to appear during daytime hours and Archdeacon Stephen was called in.

He convened a synod, and wrote a letter to St. Hugh, the bishop of Lincoln, asking what should be done.

After some theological study it was found that similar incidents had allegedly taken place in other towns.

Learning from the experiences of others, it was said that the corpse had to be dug up and burned.

But the Archdeacon did not have the stomach for this so Hugh wrote out an absolution to be placed on the corpse’s chest.

When the tomb was opened, the body was found to be in surprising state of preservation. The absolution was laid on the cadaver’s chest and the grave was closed. This apparently worked as the vampire never returned.

The part of Buckinghamshire that this incident referred to has not been determined, but one can’t help but wonder if this is some oral tale passed down through the ages and embellished through the centuries, but ultimately refers to Fleet Marston in the first century.

We will probably never know.

‘The Northman’ trailer and Viking accuracy

I went to the cinema earlier (I was seeing ‘Morbius’ – we can’t be intellectual all the time!) and, as is not often the case, was early enough to see the trailers.

One stood out – that of ‘The Northman’.

I was instantly struck by the gritty realism of the struggle for survival and precarious maintenance of political power in Medieval Iceland.

This is despite the fact that the film, written by Robert Eggers, is only loosely based on Norse Sagas and took some inspiration from Shakespeare’s “incestuous, murderous damned Dane” Hamlet.

What I can glean if the plot is that this is a brutal, gutsy revenge thriller.

A young boy witnesses the murder of his father, a king, at the hands of his uncle and swears an oath – no small undertaking in Norse traditions – to avenge the killing.

Presumably the revenge would restore him to his rightful place as king also.

But one scene in particular stood out and that featured the now grown up protagonist and his retinue clad in wolf skins as they prepare to storm a fortress.

This speaks to deep traditions in the Nordic and it’s ancestor Indo-European Koryos mythology.

It was a detail which may have been done simply for aesthetic purposes, but I think not because of the context.

This son has clearly existed outside of the civilisation of his birth as he built up his strength and fighting abilities beyond the walls of normal society.

His only human contact seems to have been as part of a mannerbund warband.

This is echoed in history and mythology.

The Norse had a warrior class known as Berzerkers, who were sometimes referred to as úlfheðnar or ‘wolf-skinned’.

Warriors donned animal pelts, used mind-altering drugs and danced themselves into a frenzy to imbue them with the natural ferocity of wolves or bears.

And the wolf aspect goes even further back to the Proto-Indo-European Koryos.

These were male war bands, which consisted of allegedly shape-shifting warriors, wearing animal skins to assume the nature of wolves or dogs.

They were said to have been ostracised by society as the undertook a right of passage, dwelling outside of civilisation for a period of time.

Evidence shows that they may have performed ritual dog sacrifice and eaten animals they raised from birth in a symbolic transition into adulthood.

Eating dog meat was a taboo in these societies as there were other food sources available for the Steppe herders, who ate meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, and soups made from seeds and wild vegetables.

This callback to the culture of the Yamnaya and similar cultures affords The Northman a greater depth than other Viking-based fiction around today.

And all this is evidenced from a short trailer – I’m very much looking forward to seeing the whole film.

When it is released I’m sure to cover it in some way, looking at these themes and other ritual elements in due course.

What is the Hidden History channel?

Paul Christian set up Hidden History, in a meaningful sense, at the start of the lockdown as something to do in some very dull times. With the present and future looking a bit bleak he looked to inspiration from the past.

It is a channel dedicated to bringing history to light and to life. The channel covers anything of interest with history news and new discoveries featuring as shorter videos and longer documentary type uploads, often with a particular focus on folklore and comparative mythology.

Away from the channel Paul has written a number of books about subjects that have piqued his interest, including Jack the Ripper, the Dyatlov Pass mystery and a historical travelogue called ‘Dark Secrets of Central Europe: A Tale of Three Cities’.

Social media:

Twitter: @H1ddenH1story

Instagram: @H1ddenH1story




Stonehenge insulted by visiting tourists – ‘Just a bunch of rocks…’

Stonehenge has been insulted by visiting tourists.

The incredible Neolithic stone circle was voted one of the top three worst tourist attractions in the world for value for money, but also derided as “just a bunch of rocks”.

The other two in the top three list were Buckingham Palace and the Empire State Building, in New York.

A survey of visitors’ reactions by the Park Sleep Fly travel company revealed that while many marvel at the Salisbury Plain monument, some tourists were utterly unimpressed.

One visitor complained about the £19.50 ticket price, saying: “It is a rip-off, typical British management, unfriendly sociopathic people greedy for money and adverse to culture.”

Despite the breathtaking site being the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum, it stone circle and associated landscape turned off some tourists.

One said: “If you want to see a bunch of old stones piled on top of one another, go to your local cemetery” and another tourist added: “It really isn’t as impressive as you would think or imagine, the stones are a lot smaller than expected.”

Park Sleep Fly commented: “Stonehenge is a famous UK landmark, although it appears that a number of its visitors aren’t too impressed, with eight per cent of reviews being negative.”

Buckingham Palace scored fewer bad reviews than Stonehenge, with 3.3 per cent complaining about their experience for the £30 entry price.

One visitor wrote on Trip Advisor: “Waste of money, most of the garden roped off, extra to see the rose garden. I would not recommend this experience, more time is spent in the queue getting through security.”

And another, after touring the palace last August, said: “This should be a zero rating. Most of the garden is cordoned off and I would say the garden is shabby at best.

“They suggest you spend two or three hours there. You won’t be there that long because it’s boring, unless you picnic on the lawn. The Queen is definitely not a gardener.”

But at least the two UK landmarks did not rate worst on the list.

According to the 4.2 per cent of visitors who resented the £32.57 price of experiencing a trip there, the Empire State Building is the number one worst-value tourist attraction in the world.

One TripAdvisor reviewer said of the New York landmark: “The view is terrible.”

I have not been to the Empire State Building. And I have to say I’ve never had much regard for Buckingham Palace and think it is gaudy and unimpressive.

But Stonehenge is a captivating place that is well worth a visit.