I came across this truly remarkable Viking sculpture this week at an excellent 'Vikings' exhibition at the University of Nottingham. It's ninth century and depicts a Viking warrior (in kilt-like dress) with a fairly formidable sword in one hand and a woman he has abducted in the other. The display is labelled as below - and there's a little more detail here.
Was this the work of a Viking sculptor celebrating the warrior, or of an English sculptor recording Viking depredations? I'm not entirely clear. It's reasonable to assume that this warrior - whether converted to Christianity or not - was being depicted as valorous rather than criminal. And that there was among Vikings no social sanction against abducting foreign women. It's of course difficult to know if this woman was destined to be sold as a slave, or to become a domestic slave, or to be forced into marriage either with her abductor or with someone else.
It brought to mind the large-scale abduction of women which accompanied Partition and the independence of India and Pakistan.
I also thought back to a visit to Iceland a few years ago during which a tour guide casually mentioned that research into the DNA of the first generations of Icelanders suggested that while the bulk of the men were from Scandinavia, most of the women were from the British Isles. I checked - that's true. What we can't know for sure is whether these were women the Nordic setters had married while stopping at Scandinavian settlements in Scotland and Ireland on their way to Iceland - or whether these were women they abducted on their way. I imagine that many of these initial women settlers in Iceland were unwilling migrants.
Iceland is regarded as one of the most feminist-minded nations in the world - but it's likely that its national origins lie with the mass abduction of women. A startling irony.
Similar work on the DNA of the Faroese - residents of that small Danish-ruled island group between Shetland and Iceland - shows an even more stark and remarkable finding: 'Recent DNA analyses' - it's reported - 'have revealed that Y chromosomes tracing male descent are 87% Scandinavian. The studies show that mitochondrial DNA tracing female descent is 84% Celtic.' This has to suggest that the early Scandinavian settlers of the Faroe Islands picked up - that is, abducted - women from Scotland and Ireland while on their way to their new home. What an astonishing and unsettling revelation!
A few bracing days in Iceland - cold, at times fearsomely so, but in Reykjavik (the world's most northerly national capital) it was bright and sunny too. What an enticing city. Stylish, prosperous, and surrounded by beautiful scenery. And at the City Pond in the centre of town, the ice was sufficiently sturdy to allow these kids to play a game of football.
Thingvellir, below, was the site of the world's first Parliament. Iceland was settled by Norwegians in the late ninth century - Icelandic is basically Old Norse. After a few centuries of independence, it was ruled by Norway and then Denmark, becoming independent as recently as 1944. It has a population of 320,000 - about 10% of them immigrants - most living in and around Reykjavik in the south-west.
Iceland is said to be the world's most feminist nation. So here's a conundrum. According to a tour guide - and it seems to check out with what I've read on the net - of the 25,000 or so original settlers who came across in the first decades, new DNA-style research has revealed that 70% of the men were Scandinavian ... and 64% of the women were Celtic. In other words, Iceland's national origins appear to lie with the mass abduction of Irish (and perhaps Scottish) women. Ouch!
Whale watching off Reykjavik delivered ... not a whale in sight, but hundreds and hundreds of white-nosed dolphins. They were everywhere, at times encircling the boat - and some showed off by jumping and shimmying. Magical!
Our basic cameras are not fully up to the task of capturing now-you-see-them type wildlife - but you can get a sense of what it was like from the photo on the right, and Rohan's sequence of shots below (from now on, all the photos on this post are his) showing a dolphin leaping.
We were also in luck in our search for the Northern Lights - a wonderful display, with shapes dancing across the sky, and touches of lime green and traces of red. They are really difficult to photograph - you need a strong lens and long exposure times. But Rohan's photo here gives you some sense of the display:
And some more stunning images - of respectively the dramatic Gulfoss (golden falls) waterfalls, the thermal water fountains at Geysir (Iceland has such abundant thermal energy that it's now - a guide told us - the world's biggest producer of aluminium even though it has no bauxite, the cheap energy makes it worthwhile to ship in the ore), and Reykjavik again.
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