Monday, 21 July 2014

2014 Year of the Viking (Cont.): Viking Age Town Planning talk by Peter Connelly @ Jorvik DIG (Part 2/5)

Viking Age Town Planning
A talk by Peter Connelly, of York Archeological Trust
19th June 2014

Hungate - the street of bad repute?

My second Jorvik DIG attended talk was led by Peter Connelly on the theory of some kind of town-planning, organisation or structure in Viking Age York. The prime archeological source for his thoughts and theories is the fairly recent Hungate excavation site found further along Stonebow and not far from the original Coppergate site.

Hungate is found within the elbow of the River Foss and due to its enviornmental location it provides deeply stratified urban archeology.

Due to the planned urban redevelopment of the area Hungate had to be excavated in blocks and Block H is the biggest ever excavation area in York and is proving to be the longest with the financial crisis halting the developers plans and thus giving archeologists more time.

In this talk I learnt that in Post-Roman times Hungate is fields and pasture land due to excavation showing plow marks and the earlist Viking age deposits & finds being located above a thick layer of natural soil.

There were signs of land division and plot development in the 10th Century - evidence for wicker post holes found under the old medieval street. The actual path of the Hungate street forms from the traffic in and out of the city from the River Foss - so people, cattle & carts unloading and loading tradable goods.

Some of the first building/structures excataed within Block H showed vivid signs of industrial activity - tiger stripes within the soil - layer of burning and then layer of soil then layer of burning etc. Always found directly beneath the stone hearths. The material found within these burnt layers is mainly fragments of bone and industrial waste such as broken bits of metal, pot, or other objects. Leading to the idea of supposed multiple workshops turning into multiple rubbish burning huts. Which makes more sense as it is located on what was the former edge of town.

This then allowed Gillian Fellows-Jensen to investigate the origins of the name Hungate from a different approach - as in maybe it doesn't have anything to do with Hounds or Dogs although Gate/Gata is certainly the norse name for street - but perhaps this is a derogatory name or a street of bad repute. After all - the people who would have to work at burning the rubbish would certainly be placed at the bottom of any social heirarchy due to their job and the effects of - i.e. smell & dirt.

In the late 10th Century more buildings develop around 970 just before Erik Bloodaxe is killed as the last king of York - except these buildings are homes as they have no hearths and the other significant difference is they are sunken buildings with entrances usually a dug-out slope.

Building 1 reused old clinker planks from an Anglo-Saxon boat in the south-east wall. The archeologists could tell it was Anglo-Saxon and not Scandinavian as the wood has been tested to find its origins come from the south-east of England and the clinker building processes uses wooden pegs, not iron nails like the Vikings.

This evidence suggested Building 1 and others of the similar sunken structure type could be basement warehouses used to store materials, produce and food stuff. As the environment inside would be kept cool during summer heat and would not be so easily frozen during winters.

A lot of these structures were found within ditched plots of 16 x 5 metres and those dimensions can still be found within modern day developments - such as Dutton's for Buttons - if looked at on a map fits those dimensions exactly - potentially hinting a long history of use on one plot of land.

Another fascinating discovery made in the Hungate dig is that there was strong industry of comb-making in the area. As within one pit archeologists discovered hundreds of pieces of antler bones both unconditioned, partially made, broken and even complete combs. Most unusual to find peices that could have been useful let alone completed pieces. Which begs the question why was it all diposited in such a mix? Why would such resources be thrown away? Was it done in a hurry? This is also evidence of industry zones - after all Coppergate is responsible for cupmaking and cupmakers, Hungate in later life became the place to go for the comb trade.

However by the year of the Norman Conquest these buildings were either filled in, collapsed (one actually has evidence of an attempt to burn it down along one side wall) and material rubbed out or reused to left to fade invisible.

Having said that if it was for the Norman invasion and the new Norman lords damming the Foss to flood the motte around Cliffords Tower and form the Kings Pool 1100-1300AD the water table wouldn't have risen naturally enough to preserve what archeology has been found.

Thus concludes the fascinating knowledge I learnt from this one talk. 

My next post continuing 2014 as my Year of the Viking steps up a notch as it is the 'Unlocking the Vikings' Conference held at Nottingham Univeristy and featuring the very exciting conclusion to the Language, Myths & Finds Project run by several PHD students at the University which covers 5 different areas of the country. So I'm giving you an early warning - it will be a very LONG blog post and thus might take me more than an afternoon to write it up as there is lots to share and tell. I intend to give highlights of each talk otherwise it could easily turn into a novel length post if I went into detail.

Hope you can join me the.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Runes by Ednah Walters (Runes Series Bk1)

Now you all know I LOVE Valkyries and so I am always eager to see how other writers/authors are reinventing them or even just creating a world around and about them in the 21st century. Hence my rather excited and blown-away previous blog post with author Tessa Gratton on her latest book Strange Maid. Usually I come across Valkyries in what I call 'Norse Fantasy' wherein the Valkyrie characters exist either within the Modern World in some form, within the Medieval Ages in some form or in the fantasy world of Asgard in some form. This book does it differently in that it is at what first glance could be called a YA Supernatural Romance. Not my usual cup of tea BUT I am not usually one to judge it's cover and the title is certainly a hint of its nordic elements. Upon reading it I am pleased to say I was hooked from start to finish and Ednah Walters has done something with Valkyries that I haven't seen other authors do in quite the same way - read my full review by clicking on the cover to learn more.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

2014 Year of the Viking (Cont.): Eoferwic to Jorvik talk by Mark Whyman @ Jorvik DIG (Part1/5))

Eoferwic to Jorvik
a talk by Mark Whyman
@ Jorvik DIG centre, York
June 18th 2014

Emporium, Wics, Palisades & Cows?

This talk was part of York's Order & Chaos, Festival of Ideas, and so this lecture was meant to discuss the idea that Eoferwic/Jorvik was rather chaotic in layout and use of land as compared to later centuries of development. Quite a challenge.

So Mark cleverly turned it on it's head in that he set out to explain how the early settlement of Eoferwic/Jorvik had it's own logic and sense of order. After all, what makes no sense to us probably made perfect sense to a 8t/9th/10th century trader/farmer.

As a keen Viking fan (or possibly obsessive) what little I know about York is during its time as Jorvik and the northern capital of the Danelaw. So this talk was really fascinating as it helped me picture its earlier origins as the Anglo-Saxon trading centre Eoferwic before the Vikings came along.

Mark Whyman explained the origin of Eoferwic as a name - it does have a surprising link to Vikings but not in the way I realised. His theory is that Viking, the noun, originates from 'a-viking' the verb. In Anglo-Saxon that translates to 'A-Wicing' which means trading - so place-names with Wic in them refer to them as a centre or place of trading. Otherwise referred to as Emporia.

Dorestad was an early medieval trading Emporium
There is evidence for this in other place-names of English towns such as Ipswich which used to be known as Gipeswic. Archeological sites ave also provided physical evidence in the form of rich imported and exotic material and other high status good excavated at such sites proving that this place is where international/continental trades are made, not just local ones.

Mark introduced us to the evidence gatehred from the archeological work done at Fishergate which gathered settlement evidence of Eoferwic as an Emporium site. High value trade goods and some evidence of settlement was found within the large area and indeed they also found the edge extent of it where the finds peetered out. Yet there was on intriguing feature in that the faint marks of houses/structures seemed to be contained within a set of ruts/ditches.

Mark believes that these ditches were also the base for palisades thus creating a palisaded enclosed settlement. But why? Surely the tradable goods aren't that expensive? So he tried to see when and why other settlements might have been palisaded and he discovered that the most frequent use of palisaded enclosures in history lies within the keeping of livestock - these Anglo-Saxons were trading cattle!

 The recorded type of animal bones found at Fishergate show that over 50% were cattle bones so as well as trading cattle they were also killing them to live off and maybe trade and preserve the meats/hides. Shows beef was a clear staple of the urban settlement.

Further excavations at George St. York and even in Coppergate revealed tansilising palisade like markings which could further hint at other palisaded enclosures within the same area. It may also explain why the settlement at Fishergate seemed to fade away from 980AD, they may simply have moved into these other palisaded enclosures.

This led Mark to believe that the claimed ground by these palisaded enclosures may have formed the first street routes in, around and between them. That maybe distinct groups of families, farmers, traders and even nationalities occuped each of the palisaded enclosures. An example of the cosmipolitan mix of peoples came from the discovery of Lincolnshire pottery found at Fishergate where as in Coppergate the pottery is Yorkware, made using the local clays which are distinctive from that used in Lincolnshire potter.

So there you have it folks - we owe the legacy of York to the Anglo-Saxons love of shopping and eating a good beef stake hehehe.

It was a very enlightening and enjoyable talk and when Mark explained the idea of palisades to keep cattle everyone in the audience including me went 'ooooooh that makes sense!'.

Part 2 of 2014 Year of the Viking Cont. will feature my attendance at a second talk at Jorvik Dig concerning Viking Age Town Planning. Will post it within the next couple of days.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Rise of the Valkyries: Strange Maid (United States of Asgard Bk2) Review + author Tessa Gratton Interview

One of my MANY favourite Norse Fantasy authors Tessa Gratton has a new book out in her growing series United States of Asgard, where she follows some truly fascinating characters in an alternative world where the Vikings did settle and found America BUT most importantly where the old ways aren't just continued but the Gods and Valkyries and even Trolls really exist.
The Strange Maid (The United States of Asgard, #2)
Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.

Add to Goodreads shelf:
Add to AmazonUK basket: - WARNING ALREADY LOW ON STOCK! -

I loved her first book The Lost Sun - click on the cover to read my full review:

 What I am now HUGELY EXCITED to talk about is the sequel/follow on from The Lost Sun, - THE STRANGE MAID - a new adventure focusing on Tessa's interpretation and adaptation of the role and indeed powers of Valkyries. My absolutely favourite norse mythical being ever!

I am deeply honoured that Tessa devoted a bit of time to answer my many questions (so many she couldn't answer them all but I still love her) for a humble blog author interview to celebrate her new book.

1.    When you did you become interested in Norse Mythology?
About ten years ago when I was in grad school I began to delve deeply into the mythology. I’d been taking Old English classes, including one where I translated my own Beowulf, and my fascination with Anglo-Saxon culture and poetry led me to the Norse. I read everything I could get my hands on – all the sagas and the eddas, as well as anthropological, literary, historical analysis, biographies of people like Snorri Sturluson and Gudrid Far-Traveller, and even some tomes on modern Heathen magic and the ways Norse mythology has been used (and misused) by people in modern times. 

2.    Do you have a favourite Norse god and why?
I have to admit Odin is my favourite, because in the research I did it became clear to me that he was the most useful to me as an artist. His association with poetry and madness and war speaks to me as a messy, passionate writer. I also discovered that he did a lot of the things that we think only Loki did – like spend time living as a woman, and possibly his sexuality was fluid, too. I like the idea of a god of war, madness, and poetry who’s also pretty queer.

3.    Which character was ‘born’ first? Astrid or Soren?
Between the two of them Astrid was the first. I even wrote several chapters of a version of what became THE LOST SUN from her point of view. I wanted the story to be about faith – to look at the question of “what do you believe in when the gods walk and talk in the world with you?”
Early on in my research I became fascinated with the magic in the Norse stories – the magic people performed, that is. Called seidr, it was performed by women (it was considered unmanly for men to do it, though sometimes apparently they did), and it was focused on prophecy. These women were called seethkonas, and I thought the perfect character to use in order to explore modern American religion through the lens of this alternate USA was a teenaged prophet.
But overall, it was Baldur the Beautiful who was the first major character in THE LOST SUN who I knew. He was one of the seeds of the entire world.

4.    Did you always intend for the characters to have a bit of a road trip journey together?
Yes, actually! I knew I wanted my book to be as Norse as possible and also as American as possible, and one of the mainstays of American literature is the road trip. I love road trips and have grown up with them – every summer my family went on at least one. Some of the most fascinating parts of America can be found on the roadside. The conceit also works well with Viking stories because the very word “Viking” points toward motion and travel: Vikings were known for their own conquering road trips in a way!

5.    Why did you chose to create this alternative world instead of setting your characters in the past or indeed in the present like some Norse fantasy authors I’ve read have?
The entire point of this series – of the world – is to explore American warrior culture, and modern American attitudes toward things like religion, women and violence, commercialism, media saturation… by directly juxtaposing old Norse beliefs with modern American ones. I couldn’t set it in the past without losing that, and I couldn’t make it a contemporary novel without losing that. This world is founded on one major change: Norse gods are real, and they founded the United States. Take that away, take it all away.

6.    Did you always intend the Lost Sun to be the first in a series? Will the series always feature Soren? Or will each new book focus on a different character within the same world? As The Strange Maid focuses on a new character but Soren also makes a new appearance.
I wrote THE LOST SUN as a stand alone. The world was always big enough for more stories, but the core of the first story I was excited to tell – about Baldur, Soren, and Astrid’s interconnected journeys – finishes in the first book.
I knew I needed to tell Signy’s story – the narrator of THE STRANGE MAID after a throwaway line in THE LOST SUN mentions her. Soren plays an important role in her story, and in book 3 there’s another new narrator, but both Soren and Signy play important roles in book 3, too. All three novels contain stand-alone plots, but each previous book sets up pieces for the next one to pick up and run with.
I’m also working on a few novellas, and Soren is in all of them, too, though as a much more tertiary character.

7.    As The Strange Maid is about a young lady wanting to become one of Odin’s Valkyries – did these mythical women have a particular interest for you? They are my personal favourite. Did you find the lack of history, so to speak, of the Valkyries, beneficial to allow you fill in the gaps in your own way or would you have preferred less artistic licence?
LOL less artistic licence? What’s that? It wouldn’t have mattered to me what “real” information we have about Valkyries if I decided I needed some detail to be different for my purposes. I’m a big believer – especially in fantasy – of using the spirit of a thing in order to get my point across. I changed Fenris Wolf to a teenaged girl, for example, as well as writing dwarves out of the world completely, and have played fast and loose with many of the stories Snorri wrote down.
That said, my love of the Valkyries was because of a book I read called WEALHTHEOW AND THE VALKYRIE TRADITION by Helen Damico. I picked it up from the university library because I love the character of Wealhtheow in “Beowulf.” Damico analyses the roles of several queens in the epic poem and other women from mythology, tying them all together into a sort of “cult of Valkyrie” and it is fascinating. I wanted to write about Wealhtheow and Beowulf and Grendel’s mother and Odinic death magic, and that’s the perspective from which I created my Valkyries.

8.    Why do you think the figure of a Valkyries may connect so much with readers, especially female readers of course?
I hope that Valkyrie do connect with readers – especially women – because they are women – magical women – granted access to a world we associate entirely with men: Viking warrior culture. They were Odin’s handmaidens who rode on battlefields and determined who was worthy of being a hero. They were violent and terrible – women to be feared. Though in the later stories the Valkyrie were reduced to being objects of love and beauty, they never quite lost their capacity for violence.

9.  As I am a UK fan, and I’m sure there must be more than just me, will you be making an appearance at any literature festivals, events, book shops or UK tours in the near future?
I don’t have any specific plans at this point, but I do have family moving permanently to the UK this year, so I expect to be visiting frequently. Hopefully there will be something in 2015!
Thanks for having me!


Many thanks and indeed hugs to Tessa for her time and of course her outstanding breathtaking jawdropping writing/work/fun? - I do hope she has as much fun writing it as I do reading it.

Having just finished The Strange Maid myself earlier this week you can see my FULL review with NO SPOILERS by clicking on another hauntingly captivating front cover below:
The Strange Maid (The United States of Asgard, #2)

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Birthright by Ethan Jones

BirthrightBirthright by Ethan  Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book has all the great features of a good and enjoyable historical adventure. A young hero eager to prove himself to right a wrong against his exiled family, his loyal friend and strong commander, cunning and decieptful enemies and of course plenty of gripping battles that earn him honour as well as challenging his leadership skills.

It introduces the fascinating and forgotten Welsh hero of Gruffod, who is raised ultimately in Ireland by his Irish Viking Uncle after his father and mother loose their royal lands and are exiled by ruthless enemies.

There is action and drama from the start as Gruffod tries to earn the respect of the Irish King in order to gain the strength of his armies to use in Wales in order to claim - you guessed it - his birthright. Plenty of plot twists and unexpected surprises. Kept me gripped from start to finish and I am so very pleased that this new talented writers is making this into a trilogy if not a series as I'm sure the sequel will shine even more light and saga fame onto this Welsh hero who fights not just the rebellious irish, viking mercenaries and even his own people in order to restore honour to his family and bring justice in his father's name.
Loved it from start to finish. New talent and highly recommended.
View all my reviews

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