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We might be a small island but we've got a big history.
Everywhere you stand, there are worlds beneath your feet.
And so, every year, hundreds of archaeologists across Britain
go looking for more clues into our story.
Who lived here? When? And how?
There was a blade in here...
So he's being attacked from all angles.
Archaeology is a complex jigsaw puzzle drawing everything together
from skeletons to swords, temples to treasure.
He's biting his shield.
Biting his shield, yeah.
From Orkney to Devon, we're joining this year's quest
on sea, land and air.
We share all of the questions,
and find some of the answers,
as we join the teams in the field, Digging For Britain.
Throughout its history, Britain has been divided and enriched
by invaders from overseas.
And none have gripped our imaginations
quite as much as the Vikings.
But how much of what we think we know about the Vikings
is just a stereotype?
Do they really live up to their savage reputation?
And how much did they influence and shape British culture?
This year's archaeology is enriching and challenging our vision
of the Vikings, with digs, artefacts and messages they left behind.
Wow! That is a beautiful object!
Like the fortress of a Norwegian Viking chief in Orkney.
This cup is absolutely extraordinary, isn't it?
The magnificent hoard of silver buried in a time of bloodshed.
And the victims of a vicious nationwide massacre.
But you're suddenly kind of connecting with this awful moment,
which is his death.
History paints the Vikings as illiterate, bloody raiders
bringing chaos in their wooden longships.
In monkish chronicles, these Norsemen are presented
as marauding pirates who attacked and plundered along Britain's coast
from the 8th Century onwards.
Their raids stretched from Orkney, to Ireland and beyond.
But in the past decades, archaeology has been throwing up complexities,
with a richer picture of these invaders emerging through what they left behind.
On the Isle of Harris, in the Outer Hebrides,
archaeologists are just starting to bring evidence of the earliest Vikings to light.
A team from the University of Birmingham is digging
at a site called Horgabost.
The name itself has a Norse origin.
A strong hint that the Vikings were here.
Just over these dunes is one of this season's targets.
Now, archaeologists have been digging here before
and they discovered an Iron Age settlement.
But there is some archaeological evidence that the Vikings
were here too.
A couple of burials threatened by erosion seem to have been Norse,
and small Norse finds have been discovered as well.
But the archaeologists are really hoping that they're going
to find evidence of a settlement,
and if they do that, it'll be the first of its kind on Harris.
OK then, Alice, what we have here is a very interesting Iron Age site
with a bit of a mysterious end to it,
which we're trying to come to terms with at the moment.
If you step this way...
Some very striking layers in the ground there.
'The team is being led by Kevin Colls, and I joined them
'right at the start of the digging season.
'The site may hold the key to the first contacts between incoming Vikings
'and the Gaelic people already living here.
'Will it be a story of destruction?'
What's slightly more mysterious, and slightly more interesting for me,
is this deposit here that's sealing everything else.
-What is that? It's a completely different colour as well.
It's almost demolition debris, full of very late Iron Age pottery.
-And lots of charcoal, lots of sort of waste material.
Sometimes archaeology works this way.
They're finding subtle glimpses within the soil of a time of abandonment.
We need to find out when this occurred.
And that's why we're taking samples for carbon dating and see if,
hopefully, see if it can be because of the Norse,
the Norse invasion, or when the Vikings came to the island,
and whether it sort of clashes with this site being abandoned.
Close by, a building is emerging that seems to be
rectangular in shape,
a style that is Scandinavian,
and unlike the roundhouses favoured by Iron Age people.
So could this be evidence of Vikings displacing the original inhabitants?
-Now, there's a nice corner here.
And there are lots of stones in this vicinity which suggest
the feature is running under the dunes.
I can see some here.
So they carry on going backwards in this direction.
Absolutely. There's more here.
Are you going to extend the trench back?
We will extend back and see
if we can get the full plan, and see if it is a rectangular house,
in line with a Norse long house.
And as the first traces of their buildings start to come to light,
the team is also coming across evidence of the people who died here.
But are they the remains of Norse invaders
or the island's Gaelic population?
I've got a very small fragment of bone.
-Oh, really? And that's just come out of here, has it?
Just from the centre down there.
And it looks like it could be human.
So what I think we're looking at here is a collapsed burial mound or cairn,
with a cist burial in the middle.
So these stones here...
-It's actually a stone-lined burial.
-Stone-lined grave. So these stones here are sealing
the actual grave itself.
If there is a skeleton in there, the body would have been laid out
presumably in an extended position in this grave.
So we're sort of hoping that the preservation of the bone
is going to be good.
Yeah. Well, that little fragment gives you hope, yeah.
It is... Even though it's so tiny,
the bone itself is actually quite well preserved.
So you never know.
With further analysis, this tiny piece of bone may emerge
as physical proof of one of the first Vikings on Harris.
But so far, perhaps the strongest evidence of the meeting of these cultures
comes from a scattering of objects found across the site.
So we have...the things on this side are late Iron Age in date.
So you've got a storage jar or a big cooking pot there made from ceramic.
We've also got this very strange...
It looks like a rock.
But if you feel the coarseness of the outside edge,
when compared to the flat edge, it's been used, and used constantly.
Yeah, so what's that been used for?
We suspect it's used for working animal hides.
And that fits so nicely in your hand, doesn't it?
It's very tactile, yes.
So these finds are intriguing because they could be later Iron Age, they could be Norse.
-You can't really distinguish between them.
-No, you can't.
'But from their early investigations comes the first conclusive proof
'of contact with the Vikings.
'A tiny scrap of steatite, or soapstone,
'a material often imported from Scandinavia
'and found in great quantities on Norse sites across Britain.'
What you can say from this fragment of soapstone bowl
is that this is typically Viking.
Either somebody who was already here learnt how to make such a thing
from a Viking, or they got it from a Viking, or it belonged to a Viking.
-Exactly. So the Vikings were here.
You can see why the Vikings might have felt at home here.
This is a landscape perfectly suited to their seafaring way of life.
You can just imagine their longships coming in
and then being pulled up on these flat, wide beaches,
ready to start a new life in a land that's completely surrounded by sea.
And the arrival of the Vikings would mark the beginning of a new phase in
this island's history, and one that would leave a lasting impression.
It's a history that is still frustratingly
just below the surface on Harris.
But I don't have to look too far to find more substantial evidence
of Norse culture.
Just up the road, on the adjoining Isle of Lewis,
is perhaps the most famous and iconic Scandinavian treasure ever discovered in Scotland.
It was found in the 1800s but dates from the 12th Century,
a time when Lewis was controlled by the kings of Norway.
Still shrouded in mystery,
it's a compendium of 93 ivory chess and gaming pieces,
known to us as the Lewis Chessmen.
A selection of the chessmen has come back to Lewis
some 180 years after they were first thought to have been found.
They are such charismatic little figures
and I've been fascinated by them since I was a child.
My grandparents had a replica chess set.
Well, now, they're on tour, following a new piece of research
looking into their origins and their story.
And it's so lovely to come here to Stornaway to see them,
close to where they were discovered.
The new research places the chessmen firmly at the heart
of the once powerful but now forgotten Kingdom of the Isles,
a hybrid Norse Gaelic state controlled by the kings of Norway.
The project has been led by Dr David Caldwell
from the National Museum of Scotland.
We've got all the characters you'd expect,
we've got kings and queens and bishops and knights, and who's this character here?
This is a warrior or warder,
and nowadays he's normally represented by a tower,
he's a rook, in other words.
Although this particular one, as you can just see there...
-He's biting his shield.
-He's biting his shield, yeah.
This, in fact, I think, is one of the key
bits of evidence that these pieces were made in the Scandinavian world,
because that's a reference to a cult in the Scandinavian world,
the cult of the Berserkers.
The Berserkers were warriors who got so high before going into battle
-that they had to bite their shields to hold themselves back.
And I don't think this chessman is really a Berserker
but I think it's the carver, in a way, just showing his cultural roots
or perhaps gently poking fun at some of his contemporaries
by showing that.
The finding of the chessmen is shrouded in mystery.
Tradition has it they were lost by a passing merchant.
But David thinks it's possible they were owned by
an important person living on Lewis.
Lewis was the centre, or one of the centres,
of a Scandinavian kingdom,
the Kingdom of the Isles,
which people have now forgotten about,
but it was a very important kingdom on a European model
which was here until 1266.
This was the year in which the Vikings handed the Hebrides
over to Scotland for the sum of 4,000 marks,
ending four centuries of Norwegian sovereignty on the islands.
But who made these beautiful figures?
Detailed study of their faces
has revealed that they fall into five different types,
which suggests they were made by five different craftsmen.
This face... this face is beautiful.
Yeah. That's one of my favourites.
The craftsman who made this was exceptionally good
and ivory is an amazingly tough material to carve.
It must have taken days to do this,
but just the subtlety of the expression there.
Just the look,
and even when you move away from the face
and you look at the knuckles, the detail there,
you can almost sense that the hand is actually gripping that sword.
Those hands are absolutely beautiful and the contours of the face,
there's even a change in contour
when we go from the cheek, down to the upper lip,
that crease between the nose and the mouth is shown.
These figures may be stylised, but there's every reason to believe
they're based on living Scandinavians.
The people who carved them
were paying attention to authentic details.
So the clothes aren't just figments of the imagination of a carver,
this is real attire that is being represented.
Yes, they clearly have a very good understanding
of what they're representing.
They understand the different layers of vestment a bishop is wearing,
the chasubles, the albs, and everything else,
and they represent that very carefully indeed.
These craftsmen probably worked in a major centre in Norway
where they could closely observe high-status Scandinavians.
Where they may even have had bishops or kings as their patrons.
You must feel very close to them.
You've looked after them for years and you've also initiated
this new research.
Yes. I think it's very important for lots of reasons,
but one obvious reason is that we've rather neglected or forgotten about
our Scandinavian heritage.
We've totally forgotten about this Kingdom of the Isles.
And I think restoring these chessmen to that,
and making people more aware of that is important.
You and I will inevitably have Scandinavian blood
flowing through our veins, and we ought to be proud of it
and think that it was our ancestors that had these
and valued these and carved these.
So the Vikings came to the Western Isles
and created a Scandinavian state to rival
the kingdoms of England and Scotland.
One that we've all but forgotten about.
And we have potent Viking legacies in the form of amazing craftwork
that reminds us of our shared Scandinavian genes.
But what lured the Vikings here in the first place?
Back on Harris is another site where the archaeology
is reminding us that they first came here to plunder.
It's a possible medieval monastery,
the ultimate temptation for a seafaring pirate.
History tells us that the riches of these Christian monasteries
are what drew the Vikings to our shores.
This site houses a ruined chapel, and there are traces dating
all the way back to an Iron Age broch, or tower.
'Professor John Hunter is overseeing excavations here.'
Anyway if we get... Stand here, and we just look round here.
-This is the outer face of the broch. Huge stones.
-Oh, that's fantastic.
And you can see the collapse has just fallen in.
Massive. Massively thick walls.
The walls...four metres thick, roughly.
If there was an early monastery here,
you're directly on the great sea routes,
that bring Norwegian Vikings all the way down to Ireland
and they would've seen this.
It would've been sweets for the taking, it really would.
Just outside the boundary of the possible monastery are some graves
that might be Norse.
And the team has discovered the first fragments of whoever
was buried here.
But is it a long dead Viking?
Oh, OK, so as well as these bits of bone, a tooth.
Tell us about that, then. Where's it from?
Well, it looks like a lower incisor,
I think, and it's very worn,
so all of the enamel on the top has been worn down.
It's somebody who's an adult
and who's been wearing that tooth down for many years.
Even if these are all that remains of a Viking,
does it necessarily prove that he or she lived here?
Or might this be the grave of a passing seafarer,
whose remains were brought to shore
before the ship continued on its way?
It's very exciting being here with archaeologists who are trying
to work out what Harris was to the Vikings.
As part of the Hebrides,
it's on that sea route between Shetland and Orkney in the north,
and Ireland, places that were all firmly part of the Viking world.
But what about Harris?
Was it just a stopping-off point,
were the Vikings here only transiently,
or did they actually settle here
and put down roots, as the place names seem to suggest?
Well, they're finding what look like Norse buildings
and we have that piece of steatite as well,
which suggests that the archaeologists are just on the brink
of finding the first hard evidence of Viking settlement here on Harris.
In England, there's one city that boasts
more evidence of Viking occupation
than anywhere else in Britain.
York, or Jorvik.
The first Viking to take the city was Ivar the Boneless,
a Danish Viking leader and reputed Berserker.
Jorvik became the capital of his new Danish territory in 866 AD.
For the next 20 years, the Danes continued
with their aggressive expansion
until the English king Alfred the Great
drew up a treaty with the Viking king Guthrum.
The country was sliced in two,
and the Danes were given their own territory in the north and east,
the Danelaw, with York at its heart.
Even though they only ruled here for 100 years,
York is still very much associated with the Vikings.
And an excavation in the '70s here at Coppergate dragged
York's Viking past into the present in a very vivid way.
Now all of that archaeology
is sealed beneath these shops and cafes.
But there's a current excavation going on
in another part of the city not far from here,
and again we're starting to see the buried history of this city.
So I'm going to visit the dig
to find out what more we can learn about the Vikings of Jorvik.
Archaeologists have been working in an area called Hungate
in the centre of the city for four-and-a-half years.
It's a huge, multi-layered excavation
but right now, the archaeologists are almost three metres below today's ground level,
and digging what I'm interested in - the Viking layer.
And they're revealing that they were not just about looting and fighting.
The Vikings were traders and builders of cities too.
Once the Vikings had taken York, they stayed here,
bringing up families and blending with the city's previous inhabitants,
creating a unique culture known as Anglo-Scandinavian.
And they remained even after the last Viking king had been expelled,
expanding their town and putting up huge, permanent buildings.
So are you into the final phase, really?
Yeah, this is the very final part.
'Peter Connelly is running excavations here
'for the York Archaeological Trust.'
It's landscape archaeology,
-it just happens to be in an urban environment.
Most of the buildings here sit on an organised grid layout,
unexpected evidence that the Vikings had a talent for urban planning.
There's a big sequence of posts,
and I'm going to ask you, if you just reach down into there, go on.
It'll just give you an idea of how deep they're driven.
I can't reach the bottom, actually.
These enormous post holes outline
the substantial foundations of the buildings that stood here
and are evidence of how the Anglo-Scandinavians
were using this area at the edge of their city.
'The land here slopes gently down to the river,
'making it an ideal loading and unloading spot.
'These buildings were probably storage warehouses.'
And right in the middle of these structures,
the Vikings built something that would have been totally indispensable.
Now the stuff that I'm digging through at the moment is
effectively human waste, it's poo.
Cos what I'm sat in at the moment,
it's the remains of a Viking toilet or cess pit.
All the bits of animal bone that we're finding in here as well,
it's been used as a general rubbish pit as well.
Although the majority of it is human waste,
you are getting other bits and pieces in here as well.
it's not just rubbish that's come out of the ground at Hungate.
Over the four-and-a-half years that the archaeologists have been working here,
they've turned up thousands of artefacts from the Viking period.
Most of them are pottery and bone, and represent household waste.
But there is a handful of intriguing small finds which provide us
with additional clues as to what the Vikings were doing in this part of the city.
The finds researcher at York Archaeological Trust is Nicky Rogers.
So, Nicky, this is a collection of finds
-that are all from the excavation at Hungate?
They're a fraction of what we've found over the five years we've been excavating there.
We've found over 12,000 individual artefacts.
What's this here?
Well, actually, this is a jet pendant.
It's quite sweet, I think,
because the hole... Well, it's a bit off centre.
I like the shape of it. That's quite modern-looking.
Well, it is, but that's a very typical shape of the period in fact.
Where would that have come from, the jet for that?
Probably from Whitby, from the north coast.
-What about these beads, are these amber?
-This is all amber here.
So where would that have come from?
That's going to have come from the Baltic area.
So the Vikings living in Hungate imported high-quality material.
Their trade routes stretched hundreds of miles away
across the Scandinavian world.
But they also used less exotic material to turn out huge numbers
of an item that's a little more surprising.
Well, these are actually skates.
They're effectively very easy to make
because the bone is already that size, that shape.
Very little has to be done to it to turn it into...
So what is the bone... this is a metapodial, isn't it?
Yes, they're usually horse or cattle metapodials.
All that's been done to this one, if you look at it is, well,
on the bottom it's been flattened and smoothed,
so that's a very smooth, flat surface.
-And that's been deliberately done.
-That has been deliberately done.
Your foot would have sat on here, your heel there, your toe there.
You couldn't take your foot off the ice, you pulled yourself with poles.
So they're not ice dancing, not pirouetting round,
they're keeping their feet on the ground, using them like cross-country skis.
These simple bone objects connect us to customs imported from the frozen Norse homelands.
But animal products could also be used
to make intricately-crafted items.
That is lovely, what is it?
It's a decorated buckle plate made of antler
and it's got this beautiful sort of plated decoration on it.
-Yes, that's really lovely.
-It is nice.
-It's an amazing connection with somebody 1,000 years ago...
..here in York. Oh, it's lovely.
The archaeology of Hungate,
the buried evidence of people who lived here in Jorvik 1,000 years ago,
is not about monumental remains.
We're not looking at the elite of society,
but we're getting an insight instead into the lives of ordinary people,
as they started to plan their town.
And we see how they adapted their buildings to suit the land
and the specific purpose they wanted them for.
These people lived in York but they kept a connection with their Scandinavian homeland,
through the objects that they bought, used and wore.
And, in a very real way, 1,000 years ago,
they were laying the foundations of the York that we see today.
While, in York, the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons learnt to get along,
throughout the rest of England, their relationship remained uneasy.
Although pockets of Danes lived and traded here,
they hadn't gained a permanent foothold
and full-scale Danish raids continued along the coast.
The English king, Ethelred the Unready,
was repeatedly forced to pay them off with huge sums of money
known as Danegeld.
And the growing tension between these clashing nations
led to a horrific act - the St Brice's Day massacre.
But the perpetrators of this slaughter were not Vikings,
they were Anglo-Saxon.
And what's more, the murder was sanctioned by King Ethelred.
He decreed that...
"All the Danes who had sprung up in this island,
"sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat,
"were to be destroyed by a most just extermination."
Some of the victims of this extermination
may now have been discovered by archaeologists in a pit in Oxford.
The skeletons of at least 35 people
lay in a mass grave, where they'd been dumped 1,000 years before.
It is very rare that archaeologists get the chance to examine
evidence from a particular historical event,
and one that the scholars agree did actually happen.
But I'm interested in the analysis of these bones.
Do the bones show evidence of violence,
could they indeed represent the victims of this massacre?
Osteologist Ceri Falys has been examining their remains
for signs of trauma.
This was actually the first skeleton we found.
But it wasn't until we placed his skull back together -
it was in hundreds of fragments - that we actually saw the trauma.
-There's at least ten...
-Oh, my goodness.
-Ten blade wounds.
So there's a blade wound here, here, there, so that's three.
There's a glancing wound here.
And what about these little triangular holes?
They're puncture wounds, made by maybe a spear,
-or something like that.
-It is awful, isn't it?
You hold these bones and these are the bones of someone
who died a very long time ago,
but you're suddenly kind of connecting with this awful moment, which is his death.
Radiocarbon dating has shown that these people died
between 998 and 1019 AD,
which means it's possible they were killed on St Brice's Day, 1002,
the day the Anglo-Saxons turned on the Danes.
And he also has two puncture wounds to his back.
There's one there and one a bit further down.
So these are quite tiny puncture wounds into the spine.
-What do you think they could have been caused by?
-Possibly by a spear,
something being thrust rather than thrown.
Yeah, so just the tip for the spear being pushed in.
Again, a young man, hacked to death...horrendous.
Most of these men were between 16 and 25 years old when they died.
Incredibly, the next skeleton I'm shown is that of a man
whose murder was even more vicious than the last.
His ear...just behind his ear has been sheared off.
Yeah, so straight through that mastoid process, that chunk of bone behind the ear.
The side of his mandible has been sheared off.
So there's evidence of blade injury here as well.
Two definite blade wounds on that side of the jaw.
He's got four wounds to his upper neck.
So that's been chopped through.
And the dens itself.
So chopping through just underneath the ear,
taking off the angle of the mandible and the blade carrying on through
and cutting into the vertebrae of the neck.
Other parts of this man's skeleton show further signs
of the frenzied nature of the attack.
He has three punctures to his pelvis.
There's two small wounds there.
But they've actually come in from the back.
You can see these very square-shaped puncture wounds,
which have gone all the way through the bone.
So these are the tips of a weapon of some kind,
-pushing all the way through to here.
So he was attacked from the back there,
so on the left side, somebody stabbed him just above the hip, from the back,
and then he's also been speared or stabbed through from the front
as well, from about here, going in and then hitting his pelvis
as it passes backwards. So he's being attacked from all angles.
And if the multiple stab wounds
weren't enough to finish this man off,
for good measure, he was set on fire.
His forehead has been burnt, which accounts for the missing bone
in the middle, and also his hand has been charred.
Is this the only skeleton who has signs of burning?
-No, quite a few of them have got charring.
It's mostly to their heads, their pelvises and their hands.
Ceri, were you shocked when you got these bones cleaned up and into the laboratory
-at how much violence there was represented on them?
-I've never seen anything like this before.
And just to have so many different weapons used on one individual.
These skeletons bore none of the wounds you'd expect to find
on people who tried to defend themselves,
so it's likely that they were murdered whilst running away.
But were they Vikings?
Isotope analysis was not conclusive
but did show their diet was rich in seafood,
suggesting they did at least live a Viking way of life.
And then they may have been hunted down and killed for it.
So what can we say for certain?
We have over 30 skeletons, all of them men,
all showing signs of extreme violence.
Whilst we can't be sure that they were the victims of the St Brice's Day massacre,
the types of injury and the date of the skeletons
makes it at least possible.
These young men were cut down,
were hacked to death in a frenzy of violence.
And 1,000 years on, this mass murder is still shocking.
Through trauma analysis,
archaeology has allowed us to explore the awful possibility
of the Vikings as victims.
But a different kind of archaeological discovery
has opened a window onto life
for a Viking whose luck had run out.
Every now and then, metal detectorists turn up interesting objects,
which have been lost, or abandoned, or even deliberately buried by their owners,
and then they've laid hidden in the ground for hundreds of years.
But it's extremely unusual to find a collection as diverse,
and which illustrates as many different aspects of a past society,
as the hoard I'm about to see now.
It's one of the most important Viking finds of the last 150 years
and it's so rich in content
that experts are still writing up their findings.
It's currently on display at the Yorkshire Museum.
So this is it.
This is the Vale of York Hoard.
It was found four years ago by a father-and-son metal-detecting team.
And it really is an astonishing collection of silver objects
with one piece of gold.
But what's really amazing is that most of those objects were found
inside that cup.
It really is spectacular and beautiful
but what I want to know is
can we learn anything of any real archaeological significance
from these objects?
And, given what we know about this period of history in this area,
might we be able to get an idea of the person
who had this sort of wealth in their possession?
The hoard comprises 617 coins and 67 pieces of silver,
including items of jewellery.
All objects which have a great deal to tell us
about the Scandinavian world at the time of their burial.
This cup is absolutely extraordinary, isn't it?
Yeah, it's, I think, probably the finest thing in the hoard
all on its own.
It's a gilt silver cup,
so it's silver and it's been gilded with gold.
It was also decorated with niello, a kind of alloy that's black.
So when this was first made it would have been,
if you think of a wasp, quite gaudy yellow and black contrast.
The detail would have showed up amazingly well.
-Would you like to hold it?
-I'd love to hold it.
If you sit it in your hand, it kind of gives you a real good impression
of what this might've been used for when it was originally made.
It feels like a cup which wants to be passed on to somebody else.
What do you think it was used for?
Given the way that you hold it in both hands,
the fact that it's been gilded and it may have had a lid,
we think it could be an ecclesiastical vessel, something used in a monastery.
So it's possible that this cup,
which experts believe came from the Frankish Empire,
fell into Viking hands as loot or in payment of tribute.
It was made in the mid-ninth Century,
predating the rest of the objects in this collection.
But it presumably had a lot of special significance and meaning
because it lasted another 100 years,
so I presume it was passed down through the family
and then came to, you know, hold the contents of this hoard.
This object gives us a rare insight into the mind-set of a Viking.
As an heirloom, it connects him back to his adventuring ancestors
and their ill-gotten gains.
But not all of the items in this hoard had sentimental value.
What about these objects that were inside it?
-Are these pieces of jewellery typically Viking in nature?
-They are, yes.
This is by far the most spectacular.
That's the only gold piece, isn't it?
This is the only gold piece in the hoard.
If you'd like to hold it.
-Gosh, that's heavy!
-It is, it's quite a chunky thing.
This single piece is a marker of extreme wealth.
Finding gold in Viking hoards is exceptionally rare.
Only someone of the highest social standing
would have had access to it.
And there are some complete items of jewellery
but then there seem to be lot of pieces. This bit in particular.
That looks like a brooch that's been cut in half.
It does, and this is very typical of the way the Vikings did things.
They had a lot of what we call hack silver.
The Viking economy was based on the barter and exchange of silver.
It was highly prized by the Vikings and valued by its weight and purity.
Before being chopped up and used as currency,
silver could be worn and transported as jewellery.
This is what we call a pennanular brooch.
-If you think of this as the terminal at one end...
..it would thin out,
come in a big spiral, and then fatten out again at the other end.
And you would have a huge pin through the middle.
And that would sit on your cloak to keep your cloak together.
And this is a particularly beautiful example.
It's got these lovely little roundels
and this really delicate, interlaced pattern.
And it's made of little...
like little beasts and they're chasing their tails around.
Very popular in Viking iconography, these little beasties.
The Vikings travelled thousands of miles
across vast, sweeping trade routes to get their silver.
And some pieces within this hoard
connect the Vikings here in Britain
with trading centres as far away as the Islamic world.
Oh, that looks like Arabic script on there.
It does. This is called a Dirham and it's an Islamic coin.
-It really is?
-It is, and it comes from Afghanistan.
So this is evidence of Vikings trading all the way over
-to the Middle East.
One other coin here sheds light on the moment this hoard was buried.
It's a coin of the English king Athelstan,
minted in 927 AD, just after he captured York from the Vikings.
And judging by the lack of wear on its surface,
it was placed in the ground almost immediately.
And if you look very closely, you'll be able to see that this coin
actually has the words "Rex To Brie", so R-E-X,
Oh, yeah, I can see that.
And that basically means "King of All Britain".
So this coin proclaims Athelstan as the king of all Britain.
So he used this coin to say that he'd got rid of all the Vikings
and he'd unified the country and made it into one kingdom.
But although the English king stamped his identity on his coins,
the name of the person who owned these riches is lost to us.
All we have are the clues passed down by his cherished possessions.
This hoard of beautiful objects raises the tantalising possibility
that what we're looking at is the treasure,
the life savings of a man whose days amongst the ruling classes
in northern England are numbered.
And the hoard dates from precisely the time when there's this changeover of power
between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons.
So are we looking at a Viking running away and burying his wealth for safety?
All that we can be sure about is that he never returned to dig it up.
200 miles to the north, near abandoned shipyards on the River Clyde,
is a different kind of forgotten collection.
One that lay neglected for years
because the sheer volume of material became completely unmanageable.
Govan in Glasgow might seem like an unlikely place to come looking for Viking archaeology
but I'm here to see what is perhaps the most extensive collection
of Norse artefacts from any Viking site anywhere in rural Britain.
Now, these objects are not treasure, they are domestic items,
things that Viking men and women would have used every day of their lives
and they're also at the beginning of their story
because they've been excavated but the examination, the interpretation of them
is very much still a work in progress.
So what I want to find out is the potential of this collection
for helping us understand Viking everyday life.
The actual material is fine, but as you see from the packaging...
Beverley Ballin-Smith has a huge archaeological task ahead of her.
The processing and recording of all the small finds
from a site called the Udal in North Uist,
the largest Norse settlement ever to have been excavated in The Western Isles.
It was a monumental project, which involved a dedicated group of volunteers
who returned to dig again and again over a 30-year period starting in 1963.
But the significance of the site is still only partially understood.
I don't think I have ever seen so many bone needles
and I imagine we're just starting.
So, you wanted to have a look at...
-That little poppy one, can we take it out?
Ooh, look at that, that's really lovely.
What are these made of?
I think that's a bird bone. It's pretty, isn't it?
It's really lovely, yeah.
'There are hundreds of decorated bone pins here,
'perhaps a reflection of their value in everyday life
'as something to fix a Viking's hair in place, or to fasten his cloak.'
In a sense, all these are lost objects.
Yes, things that have just dropped off people.
-Dropped off and not been recovered.
-"Where did that go?"
They trod it into the mud and then archaeologists found it.
'It's not unusual to find combs in a Viking settlement.
'They're commonplace personal objects.
'What's surprising about this collection, though, is the sheer number of them found on one site.'
Oh, that's fantastic. It's got a little animal on it!
It's a little horse's head, I think.
I love these roundels, which are kind of drilled in to the bone.
I think you look at things like this
and you have this immediate contact with somebody who lived centuries ago
and this was their comb
and you also know that you have the same kind of sensibilities
that, you know, I like to have things that are that are nice.
I like to have objects which aren't just functional but are quite attractive as well.
The massive task of excavating this site and all the finds buried there
was effectively the life's work of historian and archaeologist, Iain Crawford.
But unable to continue with his task, due to ill health, it's now fallen to Beverley.
But he ended up amassing a huge collection of finds
that you're still looking through now.
He obviously... What happened? Did he become overwhelmed with the amount he was finding?
I've been there myself.
You work on a massive site with complicated stratigraphy.
So he carried on digging, he produced interim reports for every year that he dug,
but then there's the next stage of actually writing up and getting the information out to the public.
And I think he was simply overwhelmed.
Even since my visit, fresh research has suggested the volume of beautiful combs
may be proof of a Viking comb-making industry here.
It reinforces just how important the research into the Udal will be in years to come.
It's great to see just a small part of this massive collection of everyday objects.
They seem mundane in some ways but they also show that,
just like us, the Vikings liked to have nice things.
And it's fantastic that this collection is being revisited.
Archaeologically speaking, there's still an enormous amount to be learned about this site
and all the artefacts it contained.
And there must be people on North Uist
who remember digging at that site in the dunes.
I imagine it's important to them to know that the last chapters in the story of Udal
are finally being written.
Off the northeastern shore of Scotland lie the islands of Orkney.
colonised by the Vikings in the 9th century.
Sailing from their Norwegian homelands,
it would have taken the Norse longships about a day to get here.
When they settled for good,
the islands became the centre of Norse power in Scotland,
right up until 1469, the last bastion of Scandinavian authority in Britain.
Today, these islands are home to a classic Norse archaeological find
and also to new excavations that are offering tantalising glimpses of the Vikings in Scotland.
My first destination is the dig currently taking place
in the east of Orkney's mainland, near its ancient capital, Kirkwall.
It sits on top of a 30-metre-high stack of sheer rock,
the Brough of Deerness, which, even today, is challenging to access.
This is such a wild place.
There's nothing here but cliffs, sea and birds.
I'm walking up a path that I can't imagine was here 1,000 years ago
so I do wonder how people got across from the land there, to the Brough.
This is such an exposed place, it's a lovely day today
but imagine this on a rainy, windswept day.
The Brough is totally exposed to the legendary Orcadian winds.
What an extreme place to choose as your home.
Whether coming from the mainland or from ships secured in a nearby bay,
getting here can't have been straightforward.
The old path up the Brough has disappeared into the sea.
So we're now coming up through the original entrance to the site?
-Can we have a look at some of the archaeology that you're exploring?
There was once a settlement of around 30 Viking houses up here
and Dr James Barrett and his team are excavating one of them this season
So would this have been the original doorway?
This is the original doorway of the phase that we're excavating now.
So there was a settlement here before the Vikings came
and the ground level, at that point, was at the top of that layer.
Then the Viking Age houses were literally dug into the ground
and lined with stone walls, what you see here,
and then above that, at ground level, the rest of the house would've been built in turf and timber.
It's likely that the Vikings dug their homes so deep into the ground
to withstand the extreme winds that often blow here.
Evidence of life inside one of those homes came to light during my visit.
Oh, wow! Oh, my goodness!
-We're just going to come in here and do a bit.
-That's just beautiful.
It's moments like these that make archaeology so rewarding,
discovering an unexpected find, a forgotten part of somebody's life.
If we start cleaning off most of this loose around it...
This is just brilliant. This is a Viking gaming board that was thrown away,
that was thrown into this rubbish pit, this midden,
that we've just found in the corner of the trench.
It's wonderful to hold something that was obviously a very personal object to somebody,
something that they would have enjoyed using 1,000 ago.
It looks like a board for playing the popular Viking game, Hnefatafl.
It's something that might have kept people occupied in place of looking after crops or farming animals.
A task that would have been impossible up here.
So their food must have been brought in from other farms or settlements nearby
and only someone of the highest status could have demanded this of their neighbours,
perhaps a Viking chief and his retinue.
But it does beg the question, why live in such a difficult spot?
The way it works is what you see.
It's a site that is all about seeing and being seen.
When people ask me "Why were they here?",
when I want to give a glib answer, it's, "To make a point."
It gives extraordinary control of the maritime vantage
and in addition to that, you will be seen.
So, if you imagine a large hall here
then if you were coming into the archipelago,
you immediately know who you have to go and talk to, you know who's boss.
I am quite taken by this ancient cliff-top settlement.
It seems such an extraordinary place to live,
so wild and windy, with these crashing waves all around.
The men and women who lived up here must have been very isolated in some ways
but, on the other hand, they can't have survived here on their own,
they depended on support from people living on mainland Orkney.
But who were they?
One of the reasons the Vikings seem so mysterious is that they left few written records in Britain,
but it's wrong to think they didn't write, they used runes.
And last year, James found a tiny bronze strip
with a mysterious message etched into its surface.
Professor John Hines examined it to see if he could make some sense of it.
It takes quite a while getting used to but once you get your eye
into these things, you start seeing certain letters
that we're familiar with. So if you look on it here,
we've got, see that letter, like that, that's fairly clear.
Then there's very clearly what we call an "I" and a "K"
and we've got an "U" at the end of that.
Some letters in the Scandinavian runic alphabet resemble our own
and others are more cryptic.
To make it even more difficult, they changed over time
and experts continue to discover new letters and symbols.
Unfortunately, going across all of the bits I can read,
I just cannot put enough together to form coherent words
and coherent strings of words.
Interestingly, practically every mark that we've got on that
we can identify as being the sort of things they were using as runes.
They've abbreviated what they're writing rather like...
people who are younger than me do when they send text messages
and I try and work out what they're actually saying there.
It's frustrating to be so close and yet so far away from knowing what's been written down by this Viking,
living on the Brough of Deerness.
A message from Scandinavian Orkney that we'll probably never decipher.
But it's not just writing, these seafaring people left behind
many other types of enigmatic clues
and archaeology can help interpret them hundreds of years later.
There's one more thing I really want to see before I leave Orkney
and it's a fantastic example of the importance of rescue archaeology.
A find of international significance
that would have been lost into the sea forever were it not for a dramatic rescue operation.
In 1991, a wooden boat was discovered
in eroding cliffs by the sea.
Known as the Scar Boat Burial,
it contained the remains of three people who died around the same time
in the 9th or 10th century - a woman, a man and a child.
They were buried with objects that are evidence of the high status
of the woman in particular.
I think it's quite clear that the lady was the primary burial.
-Why do you think that?
-She was in the centre of the boat,
the plaque was propped up at her feet in the middle of the boat.
-This beautiful plaque?
-Yes, that was at her feet.
It's such an extraordinary thing
and this is the really iconic find, isn't it, from Scar Boat?
It's absolutely beautiful, what's it made of?
It's the rib-bone of a whale.
-May I pick it up?
-Yes, yes, you carry on,
it's quite well conserved, so it's quite solid.
Oh, it's heavy!
And then they've polished this outer surface and engraved it.
This beautiful plaque, topped with dragons or mythical horse heads,
was probably used for smoothing linen.
It's a prestigious object that indicates this woman was special.
Something that's reinforced by other items here.
What about this extraordinary thing? This is proper treasure, isn't it? That's beautiful.
That was found on her chest.
It's an equal-armed brooch and it's covered in a style called Gripping Beasts.
-So all that kind of tracery is arms and hands?
-Yes, that's right.
-What an extraordinary thing.
I guess that would've held her cloak together around her.
What's the significance of the Scar Boat Burial to our understanding of the Vikings,
particularly the Vikings in Orkney?
Well, I think the whole meaning of this grave
is to affirm the Scandinavian identity of the lady
and her companions. Even the boat was caulked in Scandinavia.
So she is saying, "I'm Scandinavian". This is 150 years, maybe,
after the first Vikings came to Orkney,
and still we're looking back to Scandinavia.
Not only do these objects give us an insight into pagan Viking burial ritual,
they connect us to this woman
and ensure that, more than 1,000 years after her death,
her affinity with Scandinavia lives on.
The Norse archaeology that I've seen in Orkney
has shown me some of the purest evidence of that culture,
because when the Vikings came here, they transplanted their entire way of life from Norway.
This year's research has unearthed unexpected evidence of this Viking lifestyle,
of how they settled and shaped our landscape, as well as raiding here.
Evidence like the ivory chessmen, carved in a Norwegian workshop.
Tangible proof of a wealthy, forgotten kingdom.
The buried life savings of a powerful Viking,
whose wealth connects us to vast trading empires.
And the horrific St Brice's Day massacre
when men may have been killed just for being Scandinavian.
Through its invaders, Britain became firmly connected with the Continent and beyond,
and archaeology helps us understand how these outsiders came and enriched our culture,
and ended up becoming British.
And so the digging continues.
You can get hands-on with archaeology yourself
with BBC Hands on History.
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