What You Don’t Know about the Vikings



A cold drizzle falls as we shiver in the streets, waiting for the Viking lord and his band of raiders to appear. It’s a raw January night in the old Shetland town of Lerwick, but there’s euphoria in the air. Beside me, a man with two young children laughs as he spots a red smoky haze rising behind the town hall. “Looks like they torched the whole building,” he shouts, to grins all around. Fire, after all, is why we are here. It’s Up Helly Aa, the great incendiary celebration of the Viking past in Shetland. Like everyone else, I’ve come to see a Viking ship burn. Read more at National Geographic Magazine


Image:  Viking sword pommel from Haithabu Museum, Germany.  Courtesy Keeshu and Wikimedia Commons.

From Vilified to Vindicated: The Story of Jacques Cinq-Mars


What I remember most about Jacques Cinq-Mars the first time we met was his manner—one part defiance, one part wariness. It was 1994, and I had just flown into the small village of Old Crow in northern Yukon; Cinq-Mars was waiting in the tiny airport. Tall, grizzled, and unshaven, the French-Canadian archaeologist looked every bit the old Yukon hand. Still fit in his early 50s, he worked as a curator at what is now called the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. But Cinq-Mars lived for summer fieldwork, combing Yukon riverbanks and rock shelters for traces of Ice Age hunters. In three hollows known as the Bluefish Caves, he and his team had discovered something remarkable—the bones of extinct horses and wooly mammoths bearing what seemed to be marks from human butchering and toolmaking. Radiocarbon test results dated the oldest finds to around 24,000 years before the present.  Read more at Hakai Magazine.

Image from Iconographia Zoologica, Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Amsterdam, and Wikimedia Commons.

The Little Man Who Soared


To modern eyes, the carved man looks like a steampunk messenger from an earlier time. Flying through space like a Jules Verne character, he is part human, part automaton; part lord of the winds, part humble servant. But he is all masterpiece. His maker was a 19th-century artist from the islands of Haida Gwaii off the northwest coast of British Columbia. A carver of wood and ivory, this unknown Haida master had closely observed the European and American sailors he had encountered, right down to the seams of their sensible shoes.  Read more at Hakai Magazine

Image courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive collection at the Library of Congress.

Mysterious Markings May Hold Clues to the Origin of Writing


For decades, archaeologists have pored over the spectacular images of stampeding horses and charging bison left by Ice Age artists on European cave walls more than 10,000 years ago. But few researchers have paid much attention to the simple geometric signs that often accompany the art. Unable to interpret or decipher these markings, many archaeologists dismissed them as mere decorations. Read more at National Geographic News


Image of Cave painting at Pech Merle cave,  France, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.