How Norwegians made sure criminals went to hell

From Science Nordic: How Norwegians made sure criminals went to hell.

Skulls buried in a half-circle, facing southeast. A decapitated skeleton, with its head buried between its thighs and the feet cut off. Skeletons where the skulls have been removed and heads buried separately, upside down.

These might sound like the ingredients of a Hollywood horror movie, or perhaps a pagan ritual, but they are not. Instead, they are all examples of ways that Norwegian society from 500 years ago tried to guarantee that criminals and other bad people got the punishment they deserved, not only on Earth but also in the eternal afterlife.

All of these examples have been excavated over the last 20 years in Norway from an area southwest of Oslo, in a town called Skien. Archaeologists recognize an area in the town as one of first Christian burial grounds. Later, the same area was a place where criminals were executed. [continue]

Icelandic drinking horn changes our historic understanding of St. Olav

From Science Daily: Icelandic drinking horn changes our historic understanding of St. Olav.

After the Reformation, Norway’s Olav Haraldsson was no longer supposed to be worshipped as a saint. An Icelandic drinking horn offers some clues on how the saint’s status changed over time.

Drinking horns were considered valuable objects, and were imbued with great symbolic value in the Middle Ages. Among other things, it was said that these kinds of horns came from the foot or claw of the fabled griffin. Drinking horns often had names, and were status symbols and collector’s items. Some were stolen and many ended up in princely cabinets.

“Mediaeval drinking horns are scattered in collections throughout northern Europe. They were coveted collectibles. Mediaeval art often remained in churches until it went out of fashion or was removed due to errors in iconography, whereas drinking horns ended up in princely collections and cabinets and have kept their status to the present day,” says Associate Professor Margrethe Stang, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Art and Media Studies. [continue]

Scandinavian words you’ll want to steal

There are some fun Scandinavian words in an article the Guardian published today: Fancy a beer outside? There’s a Scandi word for that – and so much else. Here are just two:

Texas

Norwegians love metonymy, or substituting a word for a concept. They also don’t mince their bald etymological insults. Texas translates as “crazy”. Helt Texas, then, means “total craziness” or “peak mayhem”. It goes on like this, incrementally. Indicative, perhaps, of the powerful impact American culture had on those Norwegians who grew up watching westerns.

Sisu

This is a quality unique to Finns and it translates as strength, determination and guts. Etymologically, the word actually translates as insides (of a person) or interior, but the concept itself is a mite sexier. Sisu is inner strength and then some. If you have sisu, you are a real man. If you have sisu, you’d sooner die than lose. Imagine Odysseus if he hadn’t been so bothered by the elements. [continue]

You might like some of the other ones even more.

Marcus Selmer’s photographs of 19th-century Norwegians

This is gold. If you’ve got Norwegian ancestry, or just happen to be interested in what life was like in 19th century Norway, you’ll love what The Public Domain Review has posted: Marcus Selmer’s Photographs of 19th-Century Norwegians.

It is not immediately clear what drew Marcus Selmer (1819 – 1900), a Danish portrait photographer, to spend most of his life working in Norway. He trained as a pharmacist in his native Denmark, and was working in a chemist owned by his uncle when he discovered daguerreotype photography. He experimented with this new technology in his spare time and began sending his pictures in to local exhibitions. In 1852, Selmer travelled to Norway, to visit some of his uncle’s family in the city of Bergen. He never returned.

He soon found work as a photographer in Bergen and, within a year, was able to establish his own studio. This became the first permanent photographic studio in Bergen, as few photographers who visited would stay all year round. Photographers often visited Bergen in the summer, hoping to capture the fjords and mountains that surround the area, but, as they needed good light for their work, the dark and cold weather had driven most of them away by the time winter rolled around. Selmer ingeniously built his studio almost entirely out of glass, allowing enough light into the space, which enabled him to continue working throughout the year.

Selmer’s work quickly became well-known throughout Norway. He sold many books of his photographs, and sold individual images to the press and the burgeoning tourist industry, before eventually being appointed the royal photographer in 1880. Although his career was varied, Selmer is primarily remembered today for his portraits of local people in national folk costume, as shown here. These photographs depict the customs, traditions and culture of the Norwegian people, and reflect Selmer’s interest in his adopted home. One of Selmer’s most notable portraits is of a local folk hero named Ole Storviken. [continue, see photos!]

To see more of Marcus Selmer’s photos, visit these sites:

Norwegian ‘anti-troll’ site makes you read before commenting

From phys.org: Norway ‘anti-troll’ site makes you read before commenting.

A Norwegian site may have found the key to muzzling malicious commenters on the internet: requiring people to read an article before discussing it.

As an experiment, NRKbeta, a media and technology subsidiary of public broadcaster NRK, has since mid-February required viewers to correctly answer three questions about articles before being able to comment on them. [continue]

That’s an interesting approach. Do you think it will work?

Meanwhile, Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, has this absurd comment policy:

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada’s online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

How crazy is that? It would take zero effort for me to post a comment under your name, or some fictitious name. And what evidence is there, anyway, that a ‘real name required’ comment policy does any good? Grr.

But back to the Norwegian site. It’s at https://nrkbeta.no, so take a look at it if you like. But of course it’s all in Norwegian.

Fire-scarred trees record 700 years of natural and cultural fire history in a northern forest

I have all kinds of reasons for being interested in the effects that fire has on forests, so this grabbed my attention. And look, it’s full of interesting historical info, too! From phys.org: Fire-scarred trees record 700 years of natural and cultural fire history in a northern forest.

From AD 1300 to 1600, wildfires ignited during late summer, with about 5-10 ignitions per quarter century, generally occurring during warm, dry summers.

In the next two centuries, fire frequency rose dramatically, particularly in the mid-17th century. Early summer fires grew in prevalence. Books and other documents from this time period record a rising use of slash-and-burn cultivation and rangeland burning, explained author Ken Olaf Storaunet. The population was recovering from the devastation of the Black Death and several subsequent epidemics. People returned to abandoned lands and began using fire to improve land for grazing animals and to cultivate crops. The average length of time between recurrences of fire in the same location fell by half, from 73 to 37 years.

Increasing demand for timber in Europe raised the value of forests and discouraged slash-and-burn cultivation practices. The fires legislation banning the use of fire in Norway came in 1683. After AD 1800, fire frequency and size dropped precipitously, with only 19 fires occurring in the study area during the last 200 years.

Ecologically, the period from 1625 and onwards to today is probably unique, and something that perhaps has not happened in thousands of years, Storaunet said. [continue]

1000-year-old toy boat unearthed in Norway

Have you read anything about the Ørland Main Air Station dig? Ancient Origins describes it in this article: “a pre-Viking Iron Age settlement dating back around 1,500 years ago on the Trondheim Fjord on Norway’s coast.” That is certainly worth a read.

Today an update on the dig comes from Science Daily: The toy boat that sailed the seas of time.

A thousand years ago, for reasons we will never know, the residents of a tiny farmstead on the coast of central Norway filled an old well with dirt.

Maybe the water dried up, or maybe it became foul. But when archaeologists found the old well and dug it up in the summer of 2016, they discovered an unexpected surprise: a carefully carved toy, a wooden boat with a raised prow like a proud Viking ship, and a hole in the middle where a mast could have been stepped.

“This toy boat says something about the people who lived here,” said Ulf Fransson, an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum and one of two field leaders for the Ørland Main Air Station dig, where the well and the boat were found.

“First of all, it is not so very common that you find something that probably had to do with a child. But it also shows that the children at this farm could play, that they had permission to do something other than work in the fields or help around the farm.”
[continue]

Why did Greenland’s Vikings vanish?

You need something good to read, and Smithsonian Magazine has come to the rescue, with this: Why Did Greenland’s Vikings Vanish? It begins:

On the grassy slope of a fjord near the southernmost tip of Greenland stand the ruins of a church built by Viking settlers more than a century before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The thick granite-block walls remain intact, as do the 20-foot-high gables. The wooden roof, rafters and doors collapsed and rotted away long ago. Now sheep come and go at will, munching wild thyme where devout Norse Christian converts once knelt in prayer.

The Vikings called this fjord Hvalsey, which means “Whale Island” in Old Norse. It was here that Sigrid Bjornsdottir wed Thorstein Olafsson on Sunday, September 16, 1408. The couple had been sailing from Norway to Iceland when they were blown off course; they ended up settling in Greenland, which by then had been a Viking colony for some 400 years. Their marriage was mentioned in three letters written between 1409 and 1424, and was then recorded for posterity by medieval Icelandic scribes. Another record from the period noted that one person had been burned at the stake at Hvalsey for witchcraft.

But the documents are most remarkable—and baffling—for what they don’t contain: any hint of hardship or imminent catastrophe for the Viking settlers in Greenland, who’d been living at the very edge of the known world ever since a renegade Icelander named Erik the Red arrived in a fleet of 14 longships in 985. For those letters were the last anyone ever heard from the Norse Greenlanders. [continue]

Seeds from Syria are returning to the Svalbard Vault

From Atlas Obscura: Seeds From Syria Are Returning to the Svalbard Vault.

In 2008, when the Norwegian Government and the Global Crop Diversity Trust teamed up to open the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, they thought they were planning far ahead. The vault—essentially a massive safe deposit box for the world’s seeds, kept safe and cold by Arctic ice—is meant to guard against future disasters, like nuclear war or climate change. If such a horror ever necessitates a total agricultural restart, these seeds will be, in the words of their caretakers, “the final back-up.”

But the future has a funny way of sneaking up on you. In 2015—much sooner than anticipated—the vault was turned from ark to library, issuing hundreds of thousands of seed samples to the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). Today, ICARDA is returning the seeds, successfully completing what amounts to the Vault’s first real-world run. [continue]

Re-tracing the Fram’s 1893 polar voyage

Now here’s a research trip I’d love to join: a re-tracing of the Fram’s 1893 voyage. Wow. It’s going to happen in 2019, so there’s plenty of time for the organizers to send me an invitation.

Do you know about the Fram? I’ve been on it, and that was a highly memorable visit. Here’s a bit about the ship from the Fram Museum website:

The Fram was the first ship specially built in Norway for polar research. She was used on three important expeditions: with Fridtjof Nansen on a drift over the Arctic Ocean 1893-96, with Otto Sverdrup to the arctic archipelago west of Greenland – now the Nunavut region of Canada – 1898-1902, and with Roald Amundsen to Antarctica for his South Pole expedition 1910-12. The Fram is now housed and exhibited in the Fram Museum at Bygdøynes, Oslo. [continue]

Wikipedia has more about the Fram.

Anyway, the Guardian tells us a bit about the 1893 voyage, and notes that scientists will repeat the Fram’s crossing of polar ice cap:

In 1893 the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen embarked on a mission of extraordinary boldness and ingenuity. He planned to become the first person to reach the north pole by allowing his wooden vessel, the Fram, to be engulfed by sea ice and pulled across the polar cap on an ice current.

Ultimately, Nansen ended up abandoning the Fram and skiing hundreds of miles to a British base after he realised he was not on course to hit the pole, but the ship made it across the ice cap intact and the expedition resulted in groundbreaking scientific discoveries about the Arctic and weather patterns.

Now, more than a century on, scientists are planning to retrace this epic voyage for the first time, in the most ambitious Arctic research expedition to date. [continue]

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

(Photo credit: Thanks to Ealdgyth for sharing the photo of the Fram at Wikimedia Commons.)

The church that transformed Norway

If you didn’t already have Trondheim on your ‘must visit’ list, perhaps this discovery will change your mind. From archaeology.org: The Church that Transformed Norway.

When King Olaf Haraldsson gave up the old Viking gods to become Norway’s first Christian ruler, he fundamentally changed his society. Part of that legacy is the church he built in his capital city of Nidaros (now known as Trondheim), which was recently discovered at the construction site of a new office building. The church’s stone foundation is remarkably intact. According to Anna Petersén of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the nave, choir, entrances, and foundation of the altar are still in place. The church was dedicated to Saint Clements the patron of slaves and seafarers and a popular figure among observant Norse raiders. A series of radiocarbon dates shows that the church was built in the early eleventh century, which affirms historical descriptions. [continue, see photo of dig]

Norway prepares for ‘biggest change to the church since Reformation’

From TheLocal.no: Norway prepares for ‘biggest change to the church since Reformation’

On January 1st, the Church of Norway and the Norwegian government will formally divorce after nearly 500 years together. (…)

When 2016 becomes 2017, Norway will formalize the separation of church and state that was set in motion eight years ago by parliament. As of January 1st, the Nordic nation’s 1,250 priests and bishops will no longer be government officials appointed by the king. And the Church of Norway will no longer be an agency of the state, but an independent business. [continue]

Independent business? Surely they mean charity.

I had forgotten that the Norwegian Lutheran church was so closely tied to the state.

The Norwegian town where the sun doesn’t rise

From The Atlantic: The Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn’t Rise.

In Tromsø, the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured. According to my friends, winter in Tromsø would be full of snow, skiing, the northern lights, and all things koselig, the Norwegian word for “cozy.” By November, open-flame candles would adorn every café, restaurant, home, and even workspace. Over the following months I learned firsthand that, far from a period of absolute darkness, the Polar Night in Tromsø is a time of beautiful colors and soft, indirect light. [continue]