Friday, November 24, 2017

The Philosopher-King of Ancient Rome: Marcus Aurelius' Imperium

Ancient Origins


Marcus Aurelius is famed for various accomplishments—his title as the last of the Five Good Emperors; his extensive study of and literary accomplishments in the field of Stoicism; and, last but not least, defeating numerous longstanding enemies of the Roman Empires: the Parthians, the Marcomanni and the Sarmatians, to name a few. Marcus Aurelius is, in fact, one of the few living examples of Plato's infamous "philosopher king" ideology—that is, a successful leader defined by his intelligence, reliability and appreciation of his people and status. Yet Marcus Aurelius' philosophical reign should also be remembered for its possible role in his one—albeit rather enormous—mistake: naming a legitimate son as heir to the Roman imperium.


The Statue of Marcus Aurelius (detail) in the Musei Capitolini in Rome (Public Domain)

End of the Adoptive Emperors
In some scholarly circles, this decision is not as catastrophic as it may seem. Marcus Aurelius not only named his son heir, but he was also the first emperor in almost one hundred years to actually have a legitimate son to pass imperium (the power of Emperor) on to. The Five Adoptive Emperors were "adopted" not merely because there was a fear of forming dynasties (though this contributed); it was also due to the fact that the emperors from the years 96-161 AD did not have legitimate sons. As noted in a previous article regarding the Roman Empire's imperial timeline, Emperor Nerva received leadership in 96, but in his old age, he had no children and only lasted two years before his death. Trajan followed, also childless; Hadrian, though he had a wife, was a homosexual who did not spawn any sons with his wife. Antoninus Pius was adopted by Hadrian, and subsequently adopted both Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus to serve as co-emperors after his own death in 161 AD. (It should be noted that Antoninus did have two sons by his wife; however, these boys both died before he took power in 138 AD.)

Thus Marcus Aurelius, while breaking a century old "tradition" was able to break this tradition because of his familial situation. Yet, what about the side of the coin where the Adoptive Emperors' system was appreciated by the Senate, as dynasties were prevented? That is where one finds fault in Marcus' reign. Unfortunately for the Roman people, Marcus Aurelius' eldest son was Commodus who would go down in Rome's legacy as one of the most mentally unstable leaders.


Statue of Emperor Commodus as Hercules (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Marcus’ Progressive System of Governance
Marcus himself ruled as co-emperor with Antoninus' other chosen heir Lucius Verus until Verus' death in 169 AD. Marcus was married to Antoninus' daughter Faustina the Younger (after his first marriage was, of course, annulled by the emperor), when he was formally adopted as Antoninus' heir. However, the two men butted heads over Marcus' philosophical inclinations and Antoninus' preference for, what some might call, an overly lavish court life. Though this author believes Marcus made an unforeseeable error in choosing his own son to inherit the Empire, Marcus' philosophical education and independent studies certainly aided in this rule. He, like Emperor Hadrian, greatly admired Greek thought and rhetoric, and studied both in great depth. Most of his personal writings were recorded in Ancient Greek rather than Latin, in fact. His studiousness is likely one of the reasons he was—and still is—such a highly respected and beloved emperor.

That is not to say Marcus did not have his fair share of strife while in power and his rule was marked by almost continual war. Yet in spite of the various wars fought under his reign, Marcus' stoic reputation was never combined with one of bloodshed or violence. Marcus took on the role of leader in every sense of the word—he was a man men wanted to follow in both political and military affairs. Interestingly, scholarship asserts that it was Marcus' idea, not Antoninus', that he and Lucius Verus should rule as equal co-emperors. According to WHO, Marcus would not accept imperium otherwise. Thus, Marcus became the Augustus and Verus, the Caesar. These titles for co-emperors would resurface in the breakup of the Empire in the third and fourth centuries.


Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome (Public Domain)

Ancient literature regarding Marcus and Lucius' early reign is littered with references of the co-emperors well-received differences from previous leaders. Famine in the city received personal responses from the emperors rather than their subordinates; literature could roast the emperors for comedic purposes without fear of punishment. (Previous emperors, Nero for instance, likely would have requested those writers' heads.) Neither man was fond of the lavishness Antonius preferred, meanwhile both heaped praise and credit on the generals who fought on the front lines of the wars against Parthia. Though Verus did enjoy a triumph on his return from the East, the value of the generals does not appear to have been overlooked. The Roman people appreciated such modesty.


Marcus Aurelius Distributing Bread to the People (Public Domain)

Marcus’ Success and Failure
Marcus enjoyed numerous other successes during his reign as emperor. While Verus died in 169, likely of a plague caught while fighting the Parthian Wars, Marcus continued to rule until 180 AD, his son Commodus by his side starting in 177. Triumphs against the Macromanni and other tribes of Germania were added to his list of achievements, as well as the defeat of the Sarmatians near the Black Sea. In spite of Marcus' highly positive imperial reign, this author finds fault in his choice of co-emperor and successor. Commodus was named Caesar just after the Parthian defeat in 166, however historians such as Cassius Dio indicate that he was showing signs of instability long before he officially took this role in 177 AD. Dio believes Marcus' failing health might have played a role in his decision to overlook these anomalies; more recent scholarship argues that his decision might have had to do with Marcus' firm belief in duty, an extension of his Stoic studies.


Detail from the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome shows the story of his victories. (CC BY 3.0)

Yet it cannot be denied that Commodus' reign was the beginning of the end of the Empire. After all, Commodus was the first emperor to be assassinated since Vespasian's younger son Domitian had imperium from 81-96 AD. One wonders what might have happened had Marcus not chosen Commodus as his successor. Would the Empire have fractured, having five claimants to the throne before Septimus Severus gained power in 193? Would the Empire have been physically halved had Severus' son Caracalla not murdered and attempted to erase his own brother from history; had Caracalla not so lavishly overpaid his soldiers that coinage was devalued; or had Caracalla not (somewhat recklessly) begun new campaigns in the east for the sole purpose of gaining territory rather than responding to real threats?


Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius by Eugène Delacroix (Public Domain)

 It cannot be argued that what happened to the Roman Empire after Marcus Aurelius' death was Marcus' "fault", for lack of a better term. After all, even if Marcus Aurelius' Stoicism was part of the reason he chose his blood child as heir, that Stoicism was also what made him a valued and respected leader. Take away one and the other might suffer. What can be argued is the amount of growth that occurred under Marcus' reign, both with Antoninus and Verus. Eastern threats were largely defeated and the Roman people benefited from a true philosopher king. Marcus Aurelius' accomplishments greatly overshadow his one error; whether or not it can even be considered an error if it was in the name of "duty" the question for debate.

Top image: Marcus Aurelius Distributing Bread to the People by Joseph-Marie Vien (Public Domain)

By Riley Winters

Thursday, November 23, 2017

7 things you might not know about the history of Thanksgiving

History Extra


1) Tradition has it that the first Thanksgiving – a celebration of good harvest – took place in 1621, when English Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts shared a meal with their Native American neighbours. However, historian Michael Gannon told Florida Today that the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America actually took place in Florida half a century earlier.

On 8 September 1565, he says, following a religious service, Spaniards shared a communal meal with the local native tribe.

2) According to the US National Archives, on 28 September 1789 the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the president of the United States recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. A few days later, George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday 26 November 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” – the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution.

The dates of Thanksgiving celebrations varied as subsequent presidents came and went, and it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Proclamation – in the midst of the Civil War – that Thanksgiving was regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.

3) The US National Archives says that in 1939, with the last Thursday in November falling on the last day of the month, Franklin D Roosevelt became concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen economic recovery. He therefore issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November.

Some 32 states consequently issued similar proclamations, but 16 states refused to accept the change. As a result, for two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving.

To end the confusion, on 6 October 1941 Congress set a fixed date for the holiday: it passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day.

4) The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is televised nationally on NBC, has been marching since 1924. That year, the department store’s president, Herbert Strauss, organised a six-mile procession from Harlem to the Macy’s store in Herald Square. The parade featured animals – including elephants – from the Central Park Zoo, and was nearly three times as long as it is today: for the purposes of television filming, the route was later reduced to 2.5 miles.


25 November 1937: balloons float down Broadway in the 13th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Seven musical organisations, 21 floats and balloon units and 400 costumed marchers participated in this the event. (Photo by Walter Kelleher/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

5) While turkey is today the bird of choice for Thanksgiving dinners across the United States, this was not always the case: according to History.com, for the first ever Thanksgiving in 1621 the Indians killed five deer as a gift for the colonists, meaning venison would most likely have been the dish of the day.

6) Each Thanksgiving, the president of the United States ‘pardons’ a hand-selected turkey, sending it to a farm where it lives out the rest of its days. But, contrary to popular belief, President George HW Bush was not in 1989 the first president to grant such a pardon.

According to the White House, the tradition dates to Lincoln’s days, when his son Tad begged him to write a presidential pardon for the bird meant for the family’s Christmas table, arguing it had as much a right to live as anyone. Lincoln complied, and the turkey lived.


7) Each Thanksgiving, millions of Americans tune in to watch the Detroit Lions play American Football. This tradition dates to 1934, when the team took on the undefeated, defending World Champion Chicago Bears of George Halas. Despite losing the inaugural game, since then the Lions have played football every Thanksgiving except between 1939 and 1944.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Old Norse Mystery: What Do the Couples Depicted on Thousands of Miniature Gold Amulets Symbolize?

Ancient Origins


By ThorNews In 2016, a miniature amulet made of gold was discovered on the Åker farm near Hamar in Eastern Norway – one of many thousands only found in Scandinavia. About three thousand Old Norse gold miniature amulets dating back to the Merovingian and Viking periods (c. 500 – 1066 AD) have been found in Scandinavia. They show a man and a woman embracing, holding or looking at each other. The researchers do not know who the images portray or for what purpose they were made. However, a number of different theories have been put forward.


The gold amulets are extremely tiny, like the size of the little finger nail. (Photo: Vegard Vike and Jessica McGraw / Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)

Microscopic Detail
The stamped and cut-out amulets measure only 8 to 10 millimeters in cross-section and are approximately 0.03 millimeters thick, or thin as leaves.

In Scandinavia the miniature amulets have got the name gullgubber, meaning “little old men of gold”, because it was previously thought they were depicting two men. This has proven to be wrong and they almost exclusively picture a man and a woman.

The woman wears a dress and an apron, but there are several combinations. The man wears a robe and sometimes pants. Both sexes can wear outerwear in the form of a short or long coat.

Both sexes can be pictured with items such as buckles, neck rings, drinking mugs or scepters. The scepter can be in the form of a twig with leaves.

It may seem as the gold amulets are trying to tell us a story, and the stamps used must have been made by extremely skilled goldsmiths.

The details are impressive and can best be seen when enlarged under a microscope.


Details seen on one amulet when viewed under a microscope (Photo: Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)

Found in or Near Special Buildings
The biggest discovery was made at the Sorte Muld in Bornholm, Denmark, where more than 2500 gullgubber were found.

The amulets are frequently found in connection with buildings that are often interpreted as houses of worship. It looks as if the miniature images are placed there on purpose, especially around the post holes in the center of the building.

During excavations in 2005 and 2008, in what scientists believe could have been a Norse temple at Vingrom in Eastern Norway, about thirty miniature gold amulets were discovered around one of the post holes.

The building was at least 15 meters long and located at the Hov (Old Norse: Hof) farm not far from the Vingrom church. The farm name suggests that there probably has been a house of worship located on the property.

Surprisingly, there were also found many pieces of iron that together with flint were used as fire starting tools.


The building archaeologists assume has been a house of worship was located not far from the Vingrom church. (Photo: kirkesok.no, author provided)

Archaeologists have concluded that it is a house of worship due to the lack of everyday items like sharpening stones, clay cooking pots, and so on.

Furthermore, the building was strategically located visible over long distances at the end of Norway’s largest lake, Mjøsa.

Freyr and Gerðr
There are proposed as many theories about who are depicted on the miniature amulets and what they symbolize as there are researchers. The only certain thing is that these images did not have a practical function, but a spiritual.

One interpretation is that they are Norse mythological depictions of the “holy wedding” between the Vanir god Freyr and the jötunn woman Gerðr.

Freyr is the god associated with virility and prosperity, with sunshine and fair weather. He falls in love with the female jötunn Gerðr who, after some coercion, eventually becomes his wife. However, Freyr has to give away his magic sword that can fight on its own to get the woman he loves.

However, lacking his sword, Freyr is killed by the jötunn Surtr during the dramatic events of Ragnarök.


Skirnir's Message [from Freyr] to Gerd (1908) by W. G. Collingwood. (Public Domain)

Do the miniature images symbolize the marriage between Freyr and Gerðr and their unconditional love? Were the miniature gold amulets offered during wedding ceremonies to show that the married couple was willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives for each other?

One of many other theories some researchers believe is that the amulets may have been a kind of entrance ticket for those who were found worthy to attend religious ceremonies.

Or do the miniature images represent something we simply do not understand?

We will probably never get the answer to this Old Norse mystery and we have to acknowledge that some puzzles will remain unresolved.

Top image: Gold miniature amulet (front and back) from the Åker farm in Hamar, Eastern Norway: Both male and female are depicted without hair, something that is unusual. (Photo: Vegard Vike and Jessica McGraw / Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)

 The article ‘Old Norse Mystery: What Do the Couples Depicted on Thousands of Miniature Gold Amulets Symbolize?’ was originally published on ThorNews and has been republished with permission.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Archaeologists Uncover Rare 2,000-year-old Roman Sundial and it Tells Them More than Just the Time


Ancient Origins


A 2,000-year-old intact and inscribed sundial – one of only a handful known to have survived – has been recovered during the excavation of a roofed theatre in the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas, near Monte Cassino, in Italy.

 Not only has the sundial survived largely undamaged for more than two millennia, but the presence of two Latin texts means researchers from the University of Cambridge have been able to glean precise information about the man who commissioned it.

The sundial was found lying face down by students of the Faculty of Classics as they were excavating the front of one of the theatre’s entrances along a secondary street. It was probably left behind at a time when the theatre and town was being scavenged for building materials during the Medieval to post-Medieval period. In all likelihood it did not belong to the theatre, but was removed from a prominent spot, possibly on top of a pillar in the nearby forum.

Less than a hundred examples of this specific type of sundial have survived and of those, only a handful bear any kind of inscription at all – so this really is a special find,” said Dr Alessandro Launaro, a lecturer at the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College.


The sundial pictured after excavation. (Alessandro Launaro)

 “Not only have we been able to identify the individual who commissioned the sundial, we have also been able to determine the specific public office he held in relation to the likely date of the inscription.”

The base prominently features the name of M(arcus) NOVIUS M(arci) F(ilius) TUBULA [Marcus Novius Tubula, son of Marcus], whilst the engraving on the curved rim of the dial surface records that he held the office of TR(ibunus) PL(ebis) [Plebeian Tribune] and paid for the sundial D(e) S(ua) PEC(unia) (with his own money).

The nomen Novius was quite common in Central Italy. On the other hand, the cognomen Tubula (literally ‘small trumpet’) is only attested at Interamna Lirenas.



Image of Roman Plebeians. (serenitynaturalwellness)

But even more striking is the specific public office Tubula held in relation to the likely date of the inscription. Various considerations about the name of the individual and the lettering style comfortably place the sundial’s inscription at a time (mid 1st c. BC onwards) by which the inhabitants of Interamna had already been granted full Roman citizenship.

“That being the case, Marcus Novius Tubula, hailing from Interamna Lirenas, would be a hitherto unknown Plebeian Tribune of Rome,” added Launaro. “The sundial would have represented his way of celebrating his election in his own hometown.”


Carved out from a limestone block (54 x 35 x 25 cm), the sundial features a concave face, engraved with 11 hour lines (demarcating the twelve horae of daylight) intersecting three day curves (giving an indication of the season with respect to the time of the winter solstice, equinox and summer solstice). Although the iron gnomon (the needle casting the shadow) is essentially lost, part of it is still preserved under the surviving lead fixing. This type of ‘spherical’ sundial was relatively common in the Roman period and was known as hemicyclium.

“Even though the recent archaeological fieldwork has profoundly affected our understanding of Interamna Lirenas, dispelling long-held views about its precocious decline and considerable marginality, this was not a town of remarkable prestige or notable influence,” added Launaro. “It remained an average, middle-sized settlement, and this is exactly what makes it a potentially very informative case study about conditions in the majority of Roman cities in Italy at the time”.


Artist’s reconstruction of life in a Roman cardo of Jerusalem during the Aelia Capitolina period. (Carole Raddato/CC BY SA 2.0)

 “In this sense, the discovery of the inscribed sundial not only casts new light on the place Interamna Lirenas occupied within a broader network of political relationships across Roman Italy, but it is also a more general indicator of the level of involvement in Rome’s own affairs that individuals hailing from this and other relatively secondary communities could aspire to.”

The ongoing archaeological project at Interamna Lirenas continues to add new evidence about important aspects of the Roman civilization, stressing the high levels of connectivity and integration (political, social, economic and cultural) which it featured.


The find spot near the former roofed theatre in Interamna Lirenas. (CC BY 4.0)

The 2017 excavation, directed by Dr Launaro (Gonville & Caius College) and Professor Martin Millett (Fitzwilliam College), both from the Faculty of Classics, in partnership with Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini of the Italian Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Frosinone, Latina e Rieti, is part of a long-standing collaboration with the British School at Rome and the Comune of Pignataro Interamna and has benefitted from the generous support of the Isaac Newton Trust and Mr Antonio Silvestro Evangelista.

Top Image: The Roman sundial. Source: Cambridge University

The article, originally titled ‘Archaeologists uncover rare 2,000-year-old sundial during Roman theatre excavation’, was originally published on University of Cambridge and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Will Prince Charles Succeed in Reviving Long-Lost Foods from our Ancient Past?

Ancient Origins


The Prince of Wales has launched a new initiative in the hope of finding “long-lost and unfashionable” foods that could grow in extreme climates and feed millions of people around the world. The project will attempt to reignite interest in nutritious ingredients used by the Aztecs, Incas, Mayas, Greeks and Romans, which have disappeared from kitchens in favor of the staple crops of wheat, rice, soybean and maize.

 The Forgotten Foods Network
A team of scientists collaborating on a revolutionary project in order to rediscover forgotten foods that could be grown in extreme climates, has been blessed with Royal approval. Prince Charles launched the Forgotten Foods Network when he visited Crops For the Future (CFF), a collaboration between the University of Nottingham and the government of Malaysia that researches underutilized crops.

The network is destined to accumulate and share details on foods and recipes from all over the world that have been forgotten over the centuries. Scientists estimate that almost 95 per cent of what we consume today, comes from around thirty kinds of plants and animals. Four basic crops – wheat, maize, rice and soybean – are the main source of more than half of our food. According to the project press release, “The narrowing of diets to only a few key ingredients has coincided with an increase in the incidence of diet-related diseases linked with highly processed foods that are energy-rich yet nutrient-poor.”


Quinoa Shows the Way
As Nottingham Post reports, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and other extreme climates are making soil less fertile and supplies of these basic foods uncertain. So the main challenge for the scientists at CFF is to rediscover and reintroduce little-known foods that are both nutrient rich, and have the potential to grow in a changing climate.

 If they follow the lead of the rise of quinoa, they may indeed succeed in bringing change. Quinoa used to be exclusively grown in the highlands of Peru and the indigenous people of the Andes long knew of its nutritious properties. After many studies, planting and promotions during the 1990s, quinoa has made a worldwide revival and has become a favored healthy option worldwide.



Varieties of quinoa on display in Peru (Bioversity International / flickr)

Prince Charles Tastes Forgotten Recipes
During his visit to Crops of the Future, Prince Charles tried some of the recipes, including kevaru roti, a type of millet grown in arid areas of Africa and Asia. “They’re good,” he said as The Telegraph reports and added, “And very nutritious as well, are they?” The menu also included biscotti using bambara groundnut rather than almond, as well as soup, mini-burgers and quiche made from the leaves of moringa tree, a superfood dating back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. More elaborate dishes included dragon fruit tortellini with turmeric yoghurt and mint oil.

Nottingham Post reports that Prince Charles shared a video message in which he says: “It is essential we capture knowledge about forgotten foods, crops and animal sources, and act on this information before it is lost forever. We must move beyond the ‘business as usual’ approach of relying on monocultures of major, well-known crops, and invest in agricultural diversity which can not only help sustain agriculture, but also feed and nourish our growing population.”




Prince Charles samples some ‘forgotten foods’. Credit: Crops for the Future

Scientists Suggest there are Thousands of Forgotten Foods
Scientists suggest that there are thousands of forgotten foods worldwide that are waiting to be used and help feed the planet’s poorer populations.

CFF Chief Executive Professor Sayed Azam-Ali, who established the Tropical Crops Research Unit at Nottingham's Sutton Bonington Campus in the 1980s, said “We need to put nutrition at the heart of our food systems. The Forgotten Foods Network can help identify foods that feed the future. The traditional foods and crops that our ancestors ate could play a vital role, especially in the unpredictable and vulnerable climates of the future.”

The first two submissions to the Forgotten Foods Network were from CFF researchers who recalled consuming a watermelon salad and a finger millet bread that were well-liked by their parents when they were still children. The Forgotten Foods Network is open to people from all over the world to submit their stories about foods and recipes they might remember to its website at: http://forgottenfoodsnetwork.org

Top image: Food in the Maya culture: mural, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Skeleton Found in Scotland Was 4,000-Year-Old Bronze Age Farmer


Ancient Origins


Human remains discovered 138 years ago in Stirling, Scotland, have been identified as belonging to a Bronze Age farmer who worked the land more than four millennia ago. This makes the man officially the earliest known resident of the ancient capital of Scotland.

Radiocarbon Testing Establishes “Torbrex Tam” as Earliest Resident
The remains of the young man were discovered back in 1879, when workmen were digging for gravel hit the slabs of a stone-lined cist as Daily Record reports . The human skeleton was buried inside a chambered cairn – a burial monument usually constructed during the Neolithic – on land belonging to a market garden, in 1872. The remains were given to the Smith Museum in Stirling for safekeeping, while the burial monument, which is the oldest structure in Stirling, is now surrounded by houses in Coney Park. The farmer, who died in his twenties, was nicknamed “Torbrex Tam” after the area of Torbrex in Stirling.



Example of a cairn burial monument in Scotland ( CC by SA )

 Radiocarbon dating results have now officially verified that the young farmer’s remains date back to the Bronze Age, when Torbrex was a tiny community surrounded by water. Stirling archaeologist Murray Cook told Daily Record , “Torbrex Tam died around 2152 to 2021 BC. He is more than 4000 years old. He’s the oldest individual from Stirling.”

 Reconstruction of Tam’s Face Reveals Strong Resemblance to Modern Residents
While researchers were trying to accurately date Tam’s remains, a team of forensic scientists started reconstructing his face based on his skull. “His facial reconstruction is Stirling’s first recorded face. For anyone from Stirling, Tam is their oldest ancestor. I’m sure I’ve seen his face in people around the town,” Dr. Cook tells Daily Record .

Dr. Cook also added that for the past six months he has collaborated with Michael McGinnes of Stirling’s Smith Art Gallery and Museum, as well as with Dundee University forensic art and facial identification graduate Emily McCulloch from Stirling, who was the expert that carried out the work on Tam’s facial reconstruction.


Torbrex Tam; facial reconstruction carried out by Emily McCulloch.

It seems that forensic scientists from the University of Dundee have been doing an excellent job lately. As we recently reported in another article , elite forensic scientists from the University of Dundee, digitally reconstructed the face of one of Scotland's most notorious “witches”, Lilias Adie. The only documents that helped them with their demanding scientific work, were a few photographs of her skull. According to Dr. Christopher Rynn, who directed that reconstruction work, the process was a step-by-step anatomical interpretation: sculpting musculature and estimating features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears) individually from the skull.

Second Excavation at the Site Uncovered More Human Remains A second excavation of the burial monument conducted by Stirling Archaeological Society back in the early 1970s, unearthed another cist and the human remains of a second individual, possibly a female in her 20s as well. The second cist found during the same excavation works contained a pot and the skeleton of a child aged around four. “At the time, average life expectancy was probably mid to late 20s; life was short, nasty and brutish. Infant mortality was high. What we have here is probably an extended family. There are a number of other burials in the immediate environs,” Dr. Murray Cook told Record Daily

He added, “I think the cairn is a family vault that’s been in use for a period of between 200 and 500 years. Different generations would have been buried in the cairn. However, it’s difficult to know if Tam and the bones thought to be female are man and wife. They could have been, but they could be brother and sister. The child is unlikely to be theirs, but it might be a grandchild or great grandchild.”

An exhibition featuring objects associated with “Torbrex Tam” is scheduled to take place at the Smith Museum in 2018.

Top image: Torbrex Tam; facial reconstruction carried out by Emily McCulloch

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Symbolic Key to a Viking Woman’s Independence


Ancient Origins


By ThorNews

A large number of ornate keys from the Viking Age (c. 800-1066 AD) have been found in female graves and as individual findings. Bronze keys made with superb craftsmanship were used as a status symbol by women and were often small works of art worn on a belt around the waist.

 The key from Heggum farm (Old Norse: Heggheimar) is 9.5 centimeters long and ornamented with intertwined animal figures. It was found in a burial mound and may have belonged to a powerful housewife. The day she got married, she got the keys to the farm doors and treasure chests as a visible sign of her position and power.


Replica: A push key padlock from the Viking Age was found on the Björkö island in Lake Mälaren, Sweden. (Photo: historicallocks.com)

Women’s Work Duties
A Viking woman’s responsibility was “inside the doorstep,” the man’s outside. Her work duties were housekeeping and making food, including drying and smoking fish and meat, working wool, spinning yarn and sewing and weaving.

 Pregnancy, breastfeeding and raising children also took up time in a woman’s life. In practice, it was probably the women who looked after the elderly.

 She also had to perform heavy work like carrying water and participate in haymaking. In addition, she would have had knowledge of herbs to make medicine for the sick and wounded.

When the man went hunting, fishing, on Viking raids or got sick, the wife had responsibility for the operation of the whole farm, which in wealthy families also included many trells (slaves).

The married woman was seen to belong to the family she had grown up with and for that reason never quite became an integral part of her husband’s family.

Right to Divorce
 If a marriage did not work out, both wife and husband could demand divorce. The Icelandic sagas describe a wide range of divorce laws which testifies to a quite advanced law system.


Silver figure of a woman, perhaps the goddess Frigg or Freya, found at the Tissø lake, Denmark. (Photo: National Museum of Denmark)

The woman could, for example, demand a divorce if the husband had settled in a new country, or had not gone to bed with her in three years. The most common causes of divorce were that her husband failed to provide for the household or was violent. If he had beaten his woman three times, she could leave him.

To carry out the act, she had to summon witnesses and proclaim herself divorced – first at the front door and later at the couple’s bed.

We do not know the divorce rate in the Viking Age, but the right to divorce, property and inheritance shows that women had an independent legal status. Usually infants and small children followed their mother, while the older children were divided between the parents’ families, depending on wealth and status.

The Viking women’s rights lapsed with the introduction of Christianity.

 Top image: This bronze key from Heggum farm in Røyken in the Oslofjord is dated to the Viking Age. (Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen, Oldsakssamlingen)

The article ‘Keys Symbols of the Viking Women’s Independence’ by Thor Lanesskog was originally published on Thor News and has been republished with permission.