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Viking influences at Bermuda

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It took over a thousand years after their heyday in Europe for the Vikings to arrive at Bermuda and as they did in other lands, from Ireland to Anatolia, they settled in and reproduced.

In this ‘Genetic Age', given a swab or two followed by a test (possibly for the Viking ‘Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a1' gene), we could be assured that the Vikings are among us, even if we do know that some have come here in recent times from Norway and the other lands of the former ‘Scourge of Europe'.

Think only of a recently appointed ecclesiastical figure or some the latest generation of a family that started its fortune in footwear and you will see that ‘Vikings' have infiltrated the place by love and marriage, not to say stealth.

Others from Denmark and Sweden are also resident and call Bermuda home (descendants, for example, of the agricultural workers from Scandinavia that were brought here in the 1840s).

On the other hand, one day we might find archaeological evidence that the Vikings, not the Spaniards, discovered Bermuda 500 years before Columbus and Juan de Bermudez ‘sailed the ocean blue in 1492'.

But we digress into a fantastical line of thought, like having St Brendan discover Bermuda, so let's sail back to reality and check out the vessels that the Vikings used to maraud around Europe (including Britain) in the Viking Ship Museum at Oslo.

That building was designed by Arnstein Arneberg, the father of a present ‘Viking' resident of Bermuda, he of Fram Shipping, a company named for a famous vessel of later Norwegian expeditions to the North and South Poles.

Thanks to several archaeological finds a century ago, the “Oseberg” and “Gokstad” ships have survived to show us in reality what the Bayeux Tapestry only gives in a few coloured threads of Viking history. The vessels were buried as a part of the graves goods of several Vikings of significance.

In the case of the ‘Queen' of the Oseberg longship, a number of wonderful artefacts for use in the afterlife were also interred with the lady (around 830AD), including three wooden sledges, intricately carved and embellished with paint, unfortunately lost in the necessary process of preserving the timber in the early 1900s.

These are the tombs of the ‘pharaohs of the North', if you will, but apparently all the precious metal objects were robbed out in ancient times.

Of equal significance are the vessels themselves, as they opened a long-closed door on the construction of the ‘longships' that carried the Vikings west to Ireland, east to Turkey and south to Morocco.

Without those archaeological remains, we would be in a dark age regarding Viking shipping, although other longships have been found more recently, including one for at least 72 oars and capable of carrying a hundred men: these were the troopships of the 300-year Viking Age (circa 800—1050AD).

The longships, themselves revolutionary in clinker construction techniques, later evolved into larger cargo vessels and it was those that carried the Vikings westward to Greenland and North America. The Oseberg and Gokstad longships were buried under great mounds of soil and rock, several hundred of which are still to be found in the Norwegian county of Vestfold.

There I recently visited the start of an archaeological excavation of one such mound, which is being sponsored in part by Per and Akka Arneberg, Vikings of the Harbour Road, Bermuda.

Professor Jan Bill of University of Oslo and Dr. Terje Gansum, Vestfold county archaeologist (and one of the leading proponents of the ‘Harris Matrix' in Viking territory), led the excavations.

Located on a farm of the Slagen district, the site is one of over 400 such burial mounds in Vestfold alone, but may have been robbed out as late as the nineteenth century.

Given the ship and artefacts that were found in the Oseberg ship burial, the lost to Viking and international heritage of such theft is immeasurable and a condemnation to all those who continue to loot from archaeological sites on land and under the sea.

In later centuries, we gave the ‘Vikings' the revolutionary fore-and-aft Bermuda Rig and they gave it back to us in the ‘International One Design', the creation of Bjarne Ass of Fredrikstad, Norway, that is one of the premier classes of racing yachts still under sail.

One of the first was appropriately named Viking and arrived in Bermuda in 1930.

This was followed by Saga (another word irrevocably associated with the Vikings), which was built to a commission of Trimingham brothers, Eldon (later Sir Eldon) and Kenneth.

An American designer of note, Cornelius Shields, was captivated by that Norwegian production: ‘The moment I saw Saga, I fell in love with her. I thought she was the most beautiful boat I'd ever seen.'

The saga (ancient Viking story) of the IODs continues at Bermuda to this day, racing for the prestigious King Edward VII Gold Cup, out of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

In another connection with Norway, thirty-five Bermudians gave their lives in the Second World War, supreme sacrifices that are acknowledged in the generality in a final exhibit panel of the Resistance Museum at Akershus Castle in Oslo:

‘In the skies above London

In the African desert

In the ruins of Stalingrad

And on the Normandy beaches

Norway was given back to us'

The miracles of genetic science point to the fact that most human societies are more related than previous thought: some in St David's Island, for example, take pride in connections with Native Americas of New England.

Word reaches us that a ‘Viking Society' is in the process of formation at Bermuda, another indication that ‘Heritage Matters' in human affairs, no matter how separate different groups of people once seemed to be.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

The Oseberg longship at the Viking Ship Museum, Oslo; the reconstructed burial mound where it was found in Vestfold and the “Saga Oseberg”, a replica made at Tønsburg, Norway.
A modern Viking-in-training sailing in the Oslo Fjord in 2013, minus war helmet, shield and sword.
On the right are Akka and Per Arneberg with archaeologists at the Rom mound in Vestfold during excavations in August 2013.
Photo by David Knudsen Norwegian Bjarne Aas' six-meter Saga, built for Eldon and Kenneth Trimingham in the mid-1930s. This photo is by David Knudsen, a possible Viking descendant at Bermuda.

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Published August 24, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 23, 2013 at 4:10 pm)

Viking influences at Bermuda

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