Digging for Vikings

At last, a TV programme on the Vikings that was coherent, and had both interesting and new information. Well done, BBC2 and Alice Roberts, and the Digging for Britain series. The only downside is the title – ‘Invaders’ – but otherwise the programme is highly recommended and can be viewed by readers in the UK for another 22 days on BBC iPlayer, if you haven’t seen it already.

Dedicated readers of this blog will recognise many of my favourite Norse and Viking things on the programme. It managed to pack in many of several places (Lewis/Harris, Orkney), things (the Lewis chessmen) and finds (the St John’s College skeletons) already mentioned here, some of them more than once. Place-names got a very brief mention (well, only Horgabost, really), as did runes.

There were in fact glimpses of two recent runic finds, one from the Brough of Deerness which has, alas, not yet revealed its linguistic meaning, and (unacknowledged, but clearly visible for a brief moment) a spindle-whorl from Lincolnshire. The latter could have deserved some more discussion for, as John Hines has noted, while ‘there’s quite an essay to be written over the uncertainties of translation and identification here; what are clear, and very important, are the names of two of the Norse gods on the side, Odin and Heimdallr…‘ Unusual enough in an Anglo-Scandinavian context, but especially so given the object seems to be from the eleventh century and made locally.

All in all, an excellent programme, though I do think these recent finds have some way to go before they match up to some of those from earlier years. Some grubby steatite from Horgabost, or a wonky gaming-board from Deerness, despite the cooings of Alice Roberts, don’t quite set the pulse racing as do the fabulous finds from Scar (excavated in 1991) or even the delicate bone pins found at the Udal on North Uist, some made from bird-bones. The Udal was excavated between 1963 and 1995 and now looks like it will get a proper publication. So it’s not surprising that the programme ended with these blasts from the past.

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