Publicada por Arith Härger / 7:39 PM /
We know that cats have already conquered the internet with their cuteness and silly behaviour, but in the past they have also conquered lands! Well . . . not likely, but the latest and largest genetic study of cats revealed how our fluffy friends spread across Europe, Asia, and Africa, and even sailed aboard Viking ships.
The world’s first large study into ancient cat DNA reveals that the earliest ancestors of these furry fellows reached Eurasia and Africa at the same time as early farmers (during the Neolithic), and were later helped by sailors, including the Vikings. It was already known that cats reached the shores of Europe through the mediterranian sea during the Bronze Age, but now this study shows that cats have landed in European soils in a much distant past.
Scientists sequenced the DNA from 290 cats from more than 30 archaeological excavations throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, including the remains of a cat in a Viking grave in northern Germany.
But why were the Vikings so important in spreading these feline conquerors? Well, cats have their importance in Norse mythology, and were often connected to specific deities. Of course I will mention the goddess Freyja, notoriously known as the goddess of love. In the Norse Mythology she has two cats that pull her carriage. And, of course, there is that one tale when Thor visited Utgard and he tried to lift the gigantic Utgard-Loki’s cat. It turned out to be a serpent, the Midgard Serpent, which not even Thor could lift; a spell was at work in this tale. Suffice to say, in this tale as well as Freyja's cats, there is a connection between cats and magic, because Freyja herself is also one of the few Norse goddesses to be closely connected to magic and Seiðr work - a type of sorcery which was practiced in Norse society, closely related to shamanic practices which I will not delve much into the subject because we are talking about cats dear friends.
There are other tales about cats in the Norse mythology, so it's safe to say Vikings cared about their cats because even the gods had them. When cultures include a certain animal in their mythologies, or in their cultural and traditional code which defines them as a people, it shows us that these animals where very important to these societies, which is why they gained a connection with the gods in the first place.
Anyhow, in this new study, samples were taken from the remains of cats dating to as recently as the 18th century and as far back as the early Stone Age. Around 8,900 to 3,900 years ago, when Europeans had not yet adopted farming and still led a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
It seems that cats spread throughout the old world in two waves. The first wave arrived with the earliest farmers in the eastern Mediterranean, as indicated by the discovery of 9,500 years old graves in Cyprus. It contained the remains of a cat and suggests that the relationship between humans and cats dates all the way back to the early days of the Neolithic period. The second wave took place thousands of years later as cats from Egypt quickly spread to the rest of Africa and Asia. Their genetic markers were discovered in cats from Bulgaria, Turkey, and sub-Saharan Africa that also date to around the same time.
It is possible that the friendship between people and cats arose as early farmers began to store grain. The grain attracted rodents, which in turn attracted wild cats, and so began the mutually beneficial relationship with our feline friends. Yes, cats to care of rats and so the grain was safe. This is exactly like the relationship of humans with early dogs. The domestication of wolves and wild canine creatures created the best friend humans could ever have - a guardian to ward of dangerous animals and other predators. In a subtle way, cats also made their way towards humans, showing their abilities and their usefulness, thus becoming equally important. Cats also helped to keep down the numbers of rats and mice on ships, during long voyages at sea, so it's perfectly understand why cats were brought by sailors.
A Viking grave, discovered in northern Germany, is believed to date back to somewhere between the 8th to 11th century CE, and there was a cat in it which helped in the study. A search in the Natural History Museum of Denmark database of archaeological finds showned that there is no doubt that cats were commonplace inthe Iron Age and Viking Age of Denmark and that people commonly wore cat skins by the late Viking Age.
With certainty, there were domestic cats back then, in the Viking society, because of their size which is related to the type of life of a household cat. Wild cats are larger and their bone-structure is much different, whilst dosmetic cats are smaller and are nowehre near the size of their wild cousins.
According to archaeological research there are also evidences that cats made it to Greenland, which points to the first Europeans to step into those lands - Vikings. Vikings carried cats in their longships probably for the same reason as everybody else, but maybe also because their connection to the goddess Freyja. Mayhaps it was easiler to bring domesticated creatures to a new land, rather than other animals more wild in nature and also connected to magic.
Publicada por Arith Härger / 7:24 PM /
Archaeological findings related to shamanism aren't very common to find in European ground. It's easier to come by such findings in the most inhospitable regions where shamanic practices lasted several thousands of years till or modern era, and in some places these spiritual traditional practices are still alive. When it comes to Europe, with major historical changes not only in society but also in the landscape, history itself and religion, the shamanic practices were long forgotten and the place where once shamans worked, were brought down and completly destroyed.
However, archaeologists uncovered an unusual site near Lake Świdwie, in north-western Poland, and this might be one of the major European findings related to the shamanic pratices of the old European peoples. After analyzing the settlement, the team of researchers concluded that it dated back to 9,000 years ago.
One of the most notable findings in this area consisted in a circular design of approximatly 6 meters in diameter where the foundation of strange structures was still visible. A trapezoid building with poles, encircled by an arch of rocks aligned at equal distances from each other. Within this ancient design, sharpen yew sticks were piercing through the ground so that they formed the shape of the Big Dipper – a fragment of the constellation Ursa Major, also known as The Great Bear.
Other enigmatic pieces of wood used in smoking rituals, bark, herbaceous plants and animal bones presumably used as offerings and for driving off evil spirits before a ritual were also unearthed at the site.
A rich collection of different stones with, supposadly, supra-natural properties were also found inside the sanctuary. Among them were syenite, diorite, granite, quartzite, sandstone, gneiss, and even unusual rocks for the Pomerania area such as red marble and green syenite. However, the discovery of black amber and pumice – an extrusive volcanic rock obtained when molten lava is spit out of a volcano – topped off the charts of the discovery list.
The site furtherly proved to be rich in items mostly made of wood such as pendants and wood masks used in the mystic rituals. Thanks to the favorable conditions of the area, all the unearthed pieces were preserved in perfect shape.
As I've said before, this discovery is unique, as other shamanic settlements closer to Europe were only found in Siberia and Mongolia. Apparently this settlement served as a sanctuary from where the spirit-workers engaged into rituals and out-of-body experiences, through trance, frenetic dancing, induced substances and so on.
This discovery adds another dimension to our written history because it proves that shamans once ruled the plains of Europe before Christianity and other religions rushed in and wiped these timeworn culture. It also demonstrates that ancient Europeans had knowledgeable advisors who could read the stars, use advanced remedies from nature, and who knows what other ancient techniques that are now forever lost.
Publicada por Arith Härger / 2:30 PM /
Archaeological excavations in Stöðvarfjörður, the East Fjords, reveled interesting signs of human presence dated 74 years before the official settlement in the area by the first humans who came exploring the country. It seems the country was inhabited as early as the year 800 which means the first Viking explorers were not the ones who came to settle in 874 but there were people before who made the preparations for an official colonization of the area.
However, this is not the first time that signs of human presence from a similar time have been discovered. Excavations in Kvosin, Reykjavík, Hafnir, Reyjanes and in Húshólmi, had already given the hint of older settlements in the country. But now this one in Stöðvarfjörður came to cientifically prove the previous thought that Vikings settlers had been here way before the official historical record.
The Stöðvarfjörður is a strategic location, because the fjord has a good harbor and is the country’s closest location to sail to and fro Norway and the British Isles.
The first structure to be detected was a longhouse-shaped building with thick floor layers. The long-fire structure which was usually at the very center of the house is missing, but a fireplace can be seen by the wall. This structure is typically Nordic. The items are of the same kind as the ones which had been found in the whole Nordic area (including the Scandinavian Peninsula and all the way to the British Isles). This first settlement probably wasn't the type of farm-settlement, but an outpost that served as a predecessor to a real settlement.
The lack of animal bones in the area suggests that these settlers did not keep animals here, but used this place as a seasonal residence in order to exploit the natural resources the area offered.
Several tiny items of great importance to this finding, and a link to the first settlers, have been found. For instance, a sharpener, pearls, washers, a ring and a silver coin. A chalcedony discovered at the site proves that these first norsemen made utensils out of stone. This might give us a clue from where these people came from. In Northern Norway, during the medieval ages, it was still common for people to make tools out of stone. It became a sort of a costum to make stone tools in that area, while in other places these techniques had been put aside for a long time and in most cases had been forgotten. These first settlers were skilled in making stone tools, which suggests they were used to do it and this might indicate that they probably came from the northern regions of Norway.