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Part I - The Arrival of the Vikings and Native–Norse Interactions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
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Summary

The historical sources for the start of the Viking Age in Scotland are sparse at best and comprise only occasional mentions of raids in the Irish historical sources. The resulting view that violent Viking raids or invasions occurred around 800, which were then followed by land-taking (landnam) and settlement, dominated archaeological thought at the time of the publication of Vikings in Scotland, although this was starting to change (Griffiths, this section). The Scandinavian arrivals could be identified in the archaeological record, particularly in the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland, with pagan graves furnished with weapons, grave goods and sometimes boats or horses, bowed longhouses, and an increased use of steatite vessels and the expansion of fishing. However, there was still a lot to be learnt about the nature of the initial contact between the native populations in Scotland of Picts, Gaels, Angles and Britons, and about the processes by which this transitioned to landtaking, naming and settlement (Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998: 23–4, 54, 72–4, 93–5).

Both leading up to the publication of Vikings in Scotland and beyond, arguments have ranged from total genocide of the native populations on the one hand, to peaceful coexistence within an incoming, but ultimately dominating, Scandinavian culture on the other (see Barrett 2008). The research included in this section demonstrates that the situation is far more nuanced than has always been appreciated. Norse impact varied among different areas, and the increasing recognition of continuity and change in the archaeological record demonstrates that the reality of native–Norse interaction was complex, something also mirrored in place-name studies (Macniven, Whyte and Clancy, all this volume).

As Griffiths illustrates, there is a noted gap in radiocarbon dates from northern and western Scotland spanning the likely period of first Viking arrivals to the later 10th century, whereas evidence for architecture and landscape use is clearly identifiable as Scandinavian. He suggests this may be the result of an intermediate period of transition, which Dockrill and Bond (this section) have also identified at Old Scatness, Shetland and suggest that this process was complex and continued for some time.

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 11 - 12
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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