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Showing posts from 2015

An Ancient Stave Church in the Fjords and an Archetype of Viking Age Art

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Perhaps the most iconic piece of Viking Age art is the carved decoration on the Urnes stave church, the main exemplar of the late Viking Urnes art style. Finding myself in Norway for work, I planned a weekend trip to Sogndal and surroundings, in the upper reaches of Sogneforden, with the Urnes church being the main objective.

The celebrated late Viking Age Urnes style art of the Urnes stave church.

A flight from Stavanger to Bergen and then another on to Sogndal (after some delays due to weather) delivered me to the area. Before coming in to land, I had a view in the winter dusk of Nærøyfjorden, famous UNESCO world heritage site.

Seen in the Google earth image below, this area, at the very head of the mighty Sogneford, seems to have an epic setting. I was excited to see what this would look like from ground level.
Sognefjorden with Lustrafjorden and the Urnes stave church in its upper reaches.

Zooming in, this is the area in the upper reaches of Sogneforden, from Nærøyfjorden to Lustr…

A Viking Sword Chape and the Hávamál Story of Odin's Self-sacrifice

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A distinctive style of 10th century Viking sword chape is decorated with a wonderful piece of Borre-style art. An anthropomorphic figure is intertwined with a living tree, hands together at its own throat, its mask-like face having ears at the top (like a bear). The design is repeated on both sides of the chape. The human/animal face mask suggests a shamanic character.


Sword chape, copper alloy, 69 mm, Paulsen (1953) type B, 10th C. An anthropomorphic figure is intertwined with a living tree, hands together at its own throat, its mask-like face having ears at the top (like a bear). 
This form is discussed at length in Hedenstierna-Jonson (2002). The closest published match is an example from Koroston, Ukraine (Figure 4, 2 in Hedenstierna-Jonson 2002). Photographs of this well known example (from "Igor's grave") have been recently published in Androshchuk & Zotsenko (2012, pg 155) and in Williams et al. (2014, pg 107).

Hedenstierna-Jonson writes that the locations of…

A Viking Bound Gripping Beast Pendant and the Lokasenna Story

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A very distinctive 10th century Viking Borre-style gripping beast pendant portrays a four legged figure with an impish cat-like face, two arms bound to a framing structure and one paw gripping part of the creature's own contorted back.

The figure itself is hard to interpret, lacking a tail, apparently a quadruped and bearing a forward-facing short mischievous face with long ears. The creature appears on the older "Carolingian" animal-head post from the Oseberg burial (Graham-Campbell 2013) and in a number of later Borre-style designs. A distinctive feature of the design in this pendant, however, is the binding of two of the creature's arms to the circling frame.

The motif was widely used in pendants in the tenth century, with findspots ranging from Scandinavia to England to Ukraine and Russia (e.g. Graham-Campbell 2013), which makes me think that it may refer to a well known story. The two main clues may be that the creature is bound and that, given its lack of cons…

A Journey to the Peruvian Amazon: "From the Andes to the Amazon"

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Admiring the evolution of the active rivers in the headwaters of the Amazon on Google Earth Engine the other day, I remembered this 1995 journey to Manu. I was particularly interested to see the eventual cut-off of the meander loop where we saw water flooding over the meander neck and trees toppling into the river on December 11th 1995 (near the macaw clay-lick).

My original photos are lost, but I'll see what I can rescue from copies (the small images). The text below is from a 1996 article in "Le Perroquet", Gabon. I have added images from Google Earth.

The terrain between Cusco and Manu. 

From the Andes to the Amazon