Archaeologists have discovered the remains of rare Middle Eastern artifacts in an Icelandic cave that the vikings associated with Ragnarök, an end-time event in which the gods would be slain and the world engulfed in flames.
The cave is located near a volcano that erupted nearly 1,100 years ago. At the time of this eruption, the Vikings had recently colonized Iceland. “The impacts of this eruption must have been unsettling, posing existential challenges to newly arrived settlers in Iceland,” a team of researchers wrote in a recent paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.
Archaeological work shows that after the lava cooled, the Vikings entered the cave and built a boat-like structure made of rocks. Within this structure, the Vikings are said to have burned animal bones, including those of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and pigs, at high temperature in sacrifice. This may have been done in order to avoid Ragnarok.
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Near the structure, archaeologists uncovered 63 beads, three of which were from Iraq, said Kevin Smith, deputy director and chief curator of Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, who leads the dig team at Brown University. Cave. The team also found remains of orpiment, a mineral from eastern Turkey, near the stone structure. This mineral was used at the time to decorate objects, but very few examples have been found in Scandinavia. “Finding him inside that cave was a big shock,” Smith said.
Historical records indicate that the Vikings associated the cave with Surtr, a giant from Norse mythology who would ultimately bring about the series of events known as Ragnarök. According to Viking mythology, “the world would end when Surtr, an elemental being present at the creation of the world, slew the last of the gods in the Battle of Ragnarök and then engulfed the world in flames,” the team writes in the item.
Mystery of the cave
Archaeologists are unsure why such rare possessions from as far away as the Middle East were left in the cave. The Vikings traveled as far as the Middle East and these goods may have made their way to Iceland via trade routes.
But one possibility is that they were meant to appease Surtr, in hopes that he would refrain from destroying the world. Another possibility is that the wares were intended to strengthen Freyr, a Viking fertility god who battled Surtr.
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In the Ragnarök story, Freyr dies fighting Surtr and is unable to stop the end of the world. The presence of numerous animal bones – the animals being part of a fertile landscape given that they reproduce – supports the idea that the objects were placed in the cave to strengthen Freyr in the hope that he could defeat Surtr and stop Ragnarök, Smith said.
Conversion to Christianity
The Icelanders converted to Christianity around 1,000 years ago and soon after they stopped depositing objects in the cave. The final objects placed in the stone boat-shaped structure included a “set of scale weights including one in the shape of a Christian cross”, the team wrote.
However, even when the people of Iceland adopted Christianity, they always associated the cave with the end of the world. An Icelandic tradition regards the cave as “the place where Satan would emerge on Judgment Day”, the team wrote.
Originally posted on Live Science.