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Walrus Ivory

18 June 2022

An excavation in what was Kiev, now Kyiv, in the Ukraine, came across some interesting Viking period artifacts. The city began life as a sort of emporium in which Scandinavian traders met up with merchants from Byzantium and the Islamic Near East. A lot of the finds go back between the 10th and 13th centuries. Glass, gold wire and some pieces from a Viking game board, Hneftafli. It is a local version of chess, it has been suggested, although it may be quite different. The main point is that there were also nine pieces of bone with an origin in walrus ivory. This was widely traded in the medieval period and found its way to all sorts of places, a raw material used for carvings in churches across Europe, as well as game pieces, and household art. A survey in 2019 came to the conclusion that the walrus ivory came primarily from Greenland, with some sourced from Iceland. Hence, Vikings were still living and prospering in Greenland at least up until the end of the 13th and probably the first half of the 14th century. This means the black death may have played a factor in the disappearance of the Viking settlements on Greenland, and it was not all due to a downturn in the weather.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, in June. See https://phys.org/news/2022-06-norse-settlers-walrus-ivory-kyiv.html

see also https://www.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2773

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