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VIKING

Viking sword linked to Canute’s England raids

An ornate viking sword on display for the first time at Oslo's Museum of Cultural History may have belonged to one of the Viking warriors Denmark’s King Canute hand-picked to attack England.

Viking sword linked to Canute's England raids
Archeological restorer Vegard Vike working on the sword. Photo: Ellen Holthe
The sword, found during a dig in Langeid in southern Norway in 2011, but only publicised this month, is so lavishly embellished with gold, silver and copper alloy that archeologists believe it must have belonged to a powerful man. 
 
“Even before we began the excavation of this grave, I realised it was something quite special. The grave was so big and looked different from the other 20 graves in the burial ground,” Camilla Cecilie Wenn, who coordinated the dig, said in a press release. 
 
“But when we went on digging outside the coffin, our eyes really popped. Our pulses raced when we realised it was the hilt of a sword! And on the other side of the coffin, the metal turned out to be a big battle-axe.”
 
“Although the weapons were covered in rust when we found them, we realised straight away that they were special and unusual. Were they put there to protect the dead person from enemies, or to display power?”
 
Wenn’s team also found fragments of silver coins in the grave, one of which was a penny minted under Ethelred II in England, dating from the period 978-1016.
 
According to the museum's press release, battle-axes similar to the one found in the grave and dating from the same period have been found in the River Thames in London. 
 
Archeologists speculate that these axes were lost in the river or even deliberately thrown into it during the series of attacks on England by the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Canute . 
 
The museum cites further evidence linking the excavation to the attacks up the Thames. 
 
The Norwegian king Olav the Holy is known to have been involved in the attack on London in at least one of the invasions, in 1009. 
 
Further down the Setesdal Valley there is a runic stone which says: “Arnstein raised this stone in memory of Bjor his son. He found death when Canute “went after” England. God is one.” 
 
The text probably refers to King Canute’s attacks on England in 1013-14.
 
According to Zanette Glørstad, a project leader at the museum, the sword is unusually ornate. 
 
“The sword is 94cm long, with a well-preserved handle, wrapped with silver thread and with the hilt and pommel at the top are covered in silver with details in gold, edged with a copper alloy thread,” she said. 
 
It is decorated with large spirals, various combinations of letters and cross-like ornaments. The letters are probably Latin, but what the letter combinations meant is still a mystery. At the top of the pommel, there is a picture of a hand holding a cross. 
 
“That’s unique and we don’t know of any similar findings on other swords from the Viking Age,” Wenn said. “Both the hand and the letters indicate that the sword was deliberately decorated with Christian symbolism.W
 
She speculates that the sword was produced outside Norway and brought back to the country by a prominent warrior who was then laid to rest in a pagan burial ground. 
 
According to the museum, gold is rarely found on swords from the Viking Age, although Vikings treated their weapons as status objects, 
 
“Based on the descriptions in the literature, we can say that the sword was the male jewellery par excellence of the Viking Age,” said Hanne Lovise Aannestad, the author of a recent article on ornate swords from the days of the Vikings.

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VIKING

How a Viking king inspired one of our best-known modern technologies

A Swede and American tell the story of how they hatched the idea for the moniker 'Bluetooth' over beers.

A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth
A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

At the end of the 1990s, Sven Mattisson, a Swedish engineer working at telecom group Ericsson, and Jim Kardach, an American employed by Intel, were among those developing the revolutionary technology.

In 1998, at the dawn of the “wireless” era, the two men were part of an international consortium that created a universal standard for the technology first developed by Ericsson in 1994.

But prior to that, they had struggled to pitch their wireless products. Intel had its Biz-RF wireless programme, Ericsson had MC-Link, while Nokia had its Low Power RF. Kardach, Mattisson and others presented their ideas at a seminar in Toronto in late 1997.

“Jim and I said that people did not appreciate what we presented,” Mattisson, now 65 and winding down his career at Ericsson, recalled in a recent interview with AFP.

The engineer, who had travelled all the way to Canada from Sweden for the one-hour pitch, decided to hang out with Kardach for the evening before flying home.

“We received a lukewarm reception of our confusing proposal, and it was at this time I realised we needed a codename for the project which everyone could use,” Kardach explained in a long account on his webpage.

‘Chauvinistic story’

To drown their sorrows, the two men headed for a local Toronto bar and ended up talking about history, one of Kardach’s passions. “We had some beers… and Jim is interested in history so he asked me about Vikings, so we talked at length about that,” said Mattisson, admitting that his recollection of that historic night is now somewhat foggy.

Kardach said all he knew about Vikings was that they ran “around with horned helmets raiding and looting places, and that they were crazy chiefs.”

Mattisson recommended Kardach read a well-known Swedish historical novel about the Vikings, entitled “The Long Ships”.

Set in the 10th century – “a chauvinistic story” about a boy taken hostage by Vikings, says Mattisson – one name in the book caught Kardach’s attention: that of the king of Denmark, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

A Bluetooth adapter from 2004. Photo: Stefan Gustavsson/SvD/TT

Unification

An important historic figure in Scandinavia in the 10th century, the king of Denmark’s nickname is said to refer to a dead tooth, or, as other tales have it, to his liking for blueberries or even a simple translation error.

During his reign, Denmark turned its back on its pagan beliefs and Norse gods, gradually converting to Christianity.

But he is best known for having united Norway and Denmark in a union that lasted until 1814.

A king who unified Scandinavian rivals – the parallel delighted those seeking to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

And the reference to the king goes beyond the name: the Bluetooth logo, which at first glance resembles a geometric squiggle, is in fact a superimposition of the runes for the letters “H” and “B”, the king’s initials.

Low-cost and with low power consumption, Bluetooth was finally launched in May 1998, using technology allowing computer devices to communicate with each other in short range without fixed cables.

The first consumer device equipped with the technology hit the market in 1999, and its name, which was initially meant to be temporary until something better was devised, became permanent.

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