Viking waterway via the Orkney Mainland revealed

Viking waterway through the Orkney Mainland revealed

New analysis has revealed a misplaced Viking waterway working via the Orkney Mainland, connecting the North Atlantic and Scapa Move, presumably forming the equal of an historic ‘freeway’.

Viking waterway through the Orkney Mainland revealed
The misplaced Viking waterway seemingly related farms on Orkney Mainland to the facility bases of
the Norse earls on the north west coast at Birsay [Credit: St Andrews University]

The outcomes, to be revealed within the Journal of Wetland Archaeology, are a collaboration between the Universities of the Highlands and Islands, St Andrews and Wales.

A sequence of Previous Norse (Previous Scandinavian) place names, related to the ocean and boats, positioned in the midst of the Orkney Mainland initially drew the eye of the researchers. A mixture of the place names, trendy scientific strategies, distant sensing geophysical mapping and sediment samples has revealed that the world was related via a sequence of historic waterways or canals.

Names with Norse origins are prevalent on the west mainland of Orkney which was a key space of energy for the Norse Earls from the ninth to the 12th century. The recognized waterways offered quick access to the Earls’ stronghold on the Brough of Birsay for the transport of rents and taxes from the wealthy farms and estates surrounding the Loch of Harray. In addition they offered important commerce routes to the protected waters of Scapa Move.

The medieval Viking names for farms and homesteads have lengthy been recognized and studied in northern Scotland and the Isles. The brand new examine investigated among the names which have sea or boat connotations used for locations that at the moment are far inland in central Orkney. Names similar to Greenay, which means shallow waters, or Knarston (Previous Norse ‘knarrar staðir’) derived from the phrases for a transport vessel (Previous Norse ‘knörr’) and a farm or homestead (Previous Norse ‘staðir’) the place these vessels have been moored. Warth, derived from Previous Norse ‘varða’ (‘beacon’), might also appear obscure as it’s in a low-lying land-locked place at the moment. Nonetheless, there’s proof from Denmark that the identical title (Danish ‘warth’) was used for a ‘vagttårne’ (‘watchtower’) in low-lying areas alongside water routes, such because the Roskilde fjord. Many such inland locations are at the moment positioned many miles from the open sea.

Viking waterway through the Orkney Mainland revealed
The waterway community would have offered a shallow route via which the Vikings have been in a position
to haul each their boats and heavy items, similar to grain [Credit: St Andrews University]

Researchers used distant sensing geophysical strategies to map a sequence of now infilled channels that prolonged north from the Loch of Harray to the lochs of Sabiston and Boardhouse in the direction of the Earls seat of energy in Birsay. The info was mixed with details about the outdated panorama obtained from environmental data inside sediment samples. These have been cored from key websites all through the world.


The land is now dominated by agricultural exercise and closely modified by synthetic drainage networks constructed over the past three centuries making it tough to see something of the outdated waterways on the floor at the moment. Nonetheless, as soon as the scientific knowledge was analysed it was attainable to mannequin the pathways and hyperlink them to the nautically named areas.

The outcomes confirmed {that a} full route from Harray, via the Loch of Banks and together with a portage at Twatt over to the Loch of Boardhouse into the earldom estates in Birsay was simply achieved.

The waterway community would have offered a shallow water routeway via which the Norse/Vikings have been capable of haul each their boats and heavy items, similar to grain. Comparable navigable waterways are recognized elsewhere in Scotland, for instance, at Rubh an Dunain in Skye. This new work modifications how we take into consideration the switch of products and other people within the west of mainland Orkney and maybe allows historians and archaeologists to search out extra proof of water transport within the Viking Age and Late Norse interval within the Isles.

Viking waterway through the Orkney Mainland revealed
Map which reveals Loch of Harray (backside proper) and Birsay (high left) which have been
each related by the traditional waterway [Credit: St Andrews University]

Dr Alexandra Sanmark of the Institute for Northern Research on the College of the Highlands and Islands mentioned: “I’m delighted with the result, as a number of items of written and panorama proof recommended the existence of the waterway. The outcomes will likely be utilized in our continued examine of how the Norse used and organised the panorama of Orkney.”

Professor Barbara Crawford of the Faculty of Historical past on the College of St Andrews and Honorary Professor, Institute for Northern Research, College of Highlands and Islands, mentioned: “The interdisciplinary investigation of this examine supplies an instance of what may be achieved when students of various disciplines work collectively in pursuing a standard analysis theme.”

Dr Richard Bates of the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences, College of St Andrews, mentioned: “It’s fairly fascinating to see how the scientific investigation may be verified by the toponymic examine. I’d not have believed that each elements of the proof would have survived practically a millennia of change.”

Supply: College of St Andrews [August 04, 2020]

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