Archaeologists search for the lost Vikings of Spain

19/12/14 .-

Archaeologists search for the lost Vikings of Spain

A CHANCE discovery thrown up by a storm has set a Scottish-based archaeologist on a quest to uncover the secrets of Vikings who raided far from their Scandinavian home more than 1,000 years ago.

The fearsome attacks by the Norsemen changed the face of medieval Scotland and cast a wave of terror over western Europe for hundreds of years.

But now the extent of their incursions into Spain is to be explored by a team from the University of Aberdeen, after a set of anchors from a host of Viking longships was uncovered by a spring gale.

Viking raids on many countries in Europe are well-documented, but the extent of their presence on the Iberian peninsula is shrouded in mystery.

Dr Irene García Losquiño, from the University of Aberdeen's Centre for Scandinavian Studies, plans to dig up the 'Spanish Vikings' for the first time and shed light on their elusive past.

She said: "There are written accounts of Viking raids in northern Spain but, archaeologically, absolutely nothing has been done on an academic scale.

"Internationally, there is only a vague knowledge that the Vikings went there. They visited the area from around 840 until the 11th century but there is no realisation that there is this vast history to be explored. Most of the studies focus on their activities in other countries such as Britain and Ireland."

Dr García Losquiño, who is from the region, travelled to Galicia in northern Spain after hearing about the anchors when they were washed ashore in a storm in March.

She said: "I don't believe in fate, but I had been writing about Galicia at the time of the storm, and when I read that these anchors had washed up, I dropped everything and went to investigate for myself, with the invaluable help of two knowledgeable archaeologists, Dr Jan Henrik Fallgren, from University of Aberdeen, and Ylva Backstrom, from University of Lund.

"On the beach where the anchors were found there was a big mound which locals thought might have been a motte-and-bailey construction, which was used by the later Vikings in France.

"But with the help of a geographer using tomography we now think this was a 'longphort', a Viking construction only found in Ireland during the early Viking age, and very similar to English Viking camps, where they would winter, after taking over the harbour."

The Vikings, were seafaring warriors from Norway, Sweden and Denmark who first appeared in the eighth century and became a source of terror for much of the medieval world for around 400 years.

Records show that they periodically attacked northern Spain, but evidence of their activities is thin on the ground.

Dr García Losquiño plans to study areas around Galicia and Seville where a Norse warband was said to have been active for three years.

Some of the sites are marshlands, which Dr García Losquiño says are perfect conditions for preserving archaeological treasures.

She said: "Excitingly, I am preparing a dig in spring. We are going to several sites that have very unusual shapes with metal detectors. We have been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with up-to-date satellite images and they look exactly like Viking camps that have been found elsewhere.

"We want to find something datable and trace their movements, through where they established camps."

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