Gr.5 Lesson 6Up Gr. 5 Lesson 1 Gr. 5 Lesson 2 Gr.5 Lesson 3 Gr.5 Lesson 4 Gr.5 Lesson 5 Gr.5 Lesson 6 Gr. 5 Lesson 7 Gr. 5 Lesson 8  


Celts, Druids and Vikings


  1. Stonehenge, c. 2000 BC Neolithic (New Stone Age), Monument, Salisbury Plain, England. Reproduction Photograph.

     For centuries, the prehistoric Europeans had built elaborate stone tombs. Around 2000 BC, probably inspired by their priests, they began to build huge stone monuments for the living. Earlier suggestions that these monuments were for ceremonial processions have been enhanced by the determination that they formed part of an astronomical observatory.

    The first stones were set up at Stonehenge circa 1900 BC by communities farming the Wiltshire Downs, who had previously used part of the henge site for burials. Over the next 600 years, metal-using peoples rebuilt the site four times using different designs. The technical skills required to bring the stones to the site, cut them into shape and then to erect them according to a carefully pre-determined pattern make Stonehenge an engineering masterpiece.

    For centuries, prehistoric Europeans had built elaborate stone tombs. But about 2000 BC, probably inspired by their priests, they began to built huge stone monuments for the use of the living. Earlier suggestions these monuments were used for ceremonial processions have been supported by the determination that they also formed part of an astronomical observatory.

         The first stones were erected by the farming communities of the Wiltshire downs and plains who were also using part of the site for burials (mounds). Iron age peoples rebuilt Stonehenge on at least four occasions. The technical skills required to bring the stones to the site, cut them into shape and then erect them according to a carefully pre-arranged pattern, make Stonehenge an engineering masterpiece. The main phase of the building alone must have taken a force of 1000 men over 10 years to complete.

          The stones at Stonehenge are arranged so that on midsummer's Day a man standing at the center of the monument and looking through the opening between two of the outer circle of sarsen uprights (the scene in the presentation photograph) will see the rising sun pass directly over the upright "Heelstone", outside the monument. Midsummer's Day was an important occasion in the lives of the people who built Stonehenge; they saw the full glory of the midsummer sun as symbolizing re-birth after the darkness of winter. As late as the 1st century AD, when the Romans came to Britain, the Celts and their Druid priests were using the temple. It is thought that the original builders, some 2000 years previous to that had used it for sun worship.

         The mathematical accuracy in the Heelstone's positioning, combined with other alignments indicating the exact position of midwinter sunset and 2 extreme positions of the midsummer moonrise during it's 18 1/2 year cycle has led scientists to suggest that Stonehenge and other stone monuments were designed as elaborate observatories. from them, Bronze Age priests might have been able to build an accurate calendar of the seasons for use in agriculture, and to predict eclipses of the sun and moon. The sightings could be taken along the sides and diagonal of a rectangle, marked out by the monument. Use of the rectangular layout would have been impossible if the monument was placed as little as 30 miles to the north or south.

    bullet Links
    bullet see also Grade 2 Lesson 7
    bullet Woodhenge near Stonehenge (BBC)
    bullet Seahenge East Anglia


  2. Gold Cup, 500 BC Central European. Handle added in Denmark. Reproduction Photograph.
    Although the Norsemen came to excel at bronze and gold casting, they never achieved mastery of the techniques for hammered metalwork. The art of beating metal to paper thin sheets, shaping them into desired forms and then ornamenting them with designs punched from the inside had been perfected by Central Europeans. The Northern travelers admired this work, and imported countless hammered vases and bowls. This 2500 year old gold cup was recovered in almost pristine condition from a bog in Denmark. Though the 5" wide bowl had been imported from central Europe, the handle was added locally.


  3. Satyr's Head. c. 100 BC Greece, carved amber. Reproduction Photograph. 
    Amber, as an exchange medium for metal started moving south over an elaborate network of trade routes during the Scandinavian Bronze Age. Southern craftsmen soon were carving northern amber into a range of fantastic shapes for their wealthier customers. It became the rage of the upper classes first in Greece, then in Rome. Greek legend had it that amber was the hardened tears of the sisters of Phaeton, the youth struck down by Zeus for driving the Sun God's chariot.
    bullet What is Amber?
    bulletAmber - Frequently Asked Questions


  4. Codex Aureus, c.870 AD, page from Gospel book, 50.7 x 33.7 cm parchment. English. Royal Library, Sweden. Reproduction Print.
    The codex aureus is a gospel book made in England during the eighth century. At some time in the ninth century it was taken as loot by Viking raiders, and then bought back and donated to the monastery at Canterbury by Earl Alfred his wife and daughter, as recorded in Old English at the top and bottom of Folio 11:

    "In nomine Domini nostri Ihesu Christi, I, Earl Alfred, and my wife Werburg procured this book from the heathen invading army with our own money; the purchase was made with pure gold. And we did that for the love of God and for the benefit of our souls, and because neither of us wanted these holy works to remain any longer in heathen hands. And now we wish to present them to Christ Church to God's praise and glory and honour, and as thanksgiving for his sufferings, and for the use of the religious community which glorifies God daily in Christ Church; in order that they should be read aloud every month for Alfred and for Werburg and for Alhthryth, for the eternal salvation of their souls, as long as God decrees that Christianity should survive in that place. And also I, Earl Alfred, and Werburg beg and entreat in the name of Almighty God and of all his saints that no man should be so presumptuous as to give away or remove these holy works from Christ Church as long as Christianity survives there.

    The book was probably produced in the scriptorium at Echternach, a Benedictine monastery, commissioned by Henry III.

    Codex Aureus Cover  


    Codex Aureus Folio 11

    Folio 11

    bullet Translation and Old English Text 


  5. Oseberg Wagon,  9th century AD, Norwegian. Reproduction print.
    The impressive wagon from the Oseberg grave (excavated 1903) has a detachable body and most certainly was made for ceremonial purposes; it may even have been especially built for the funeral. A number of cart bodies have been recognized recently in graves of the Viking age: all, like this one, are from female graves. The ornate, complex decorative carving on the Oseberg wagon is clearly seen in the photograph. On the end of the wagon the carving illustrates the torment of Gunnar in the snake-pit, a well-known Viking legend. Also seen is the bearded head to which were fastened the ropes holding down the removable body. The Oseberg wagon is the only complete wheeled vehicle preserved from the Viking Age. Because their growing season was so short and its produce so vital, the Vikings, fearful that summer fertility might not come, held elaborate ceremonies each year with the blossoming of Spring. They hoped in this way to compensate for their small amount of fertile land, which only Sweden had in abundance. To herald summer, ornamented carts were decked with flowers surrounding a wooden statue of the fertility god, Freyr. Drawn by a horse, the cart went from village to village, as hopeful farmers and their families welcomed it with flowers and sacrifices. If their prayers were answered there would be adequate, if not abundant, supplies of the staples of Viking diet: wheat, barley, fruit, cabbages and onions, as well as pork and beef. Should crops fail, families would be reduced to eating lichen, seaweed and the bark of trees.
  6. Weathervane, 11th century, (adapted from prow ornament) gilt bronze, Swedish. Reproduction Photograph.
    Before being used as a weathervane on a Swedish church, the gilt bronze standard flew at a Viking warship's prow.


  7. Stone Memorial with Inscription, 11th century, Taby Uppland, Sweden. Reproduction Photograph.
    Not illiterate, as frequently regarded, the Scandinavians of the period covered in this lesson had a script which had been invented somewhere in the Germanic world for carving on wood (hence the characters are angular to make it easy to carve across the grain.) Most of the Viking Age runes occur on stones raised either to commemorate a man's death or his good works. this stone from Busby, Taby, Uppland Sweden tells of a man called Osten who went to Jerusalem and died in Greece.
    bullet Write your name in Runes
  8. Gokstad Ship, 9th century AD, Oslo, Norway , (excavated in 1880)
    The elegant lines of the Gokstad ship make her incomparably the most impressive sailing vessel to survive from the mediaeval period. She demonstrates the high standard of the boat-builder's craft in late 19th century Norway, and her beautiful hull has been copied frequently in recent years in the building of successful and fast replicas for Atlantic crossings. Excavated in 1880 from a mound about 50 meters across, the Gokstad ship had been preserved in water in an impermeable blue clay bed. The grave contained a man, perhaps 50 years old, with a great deal of furniture and equipment. Also found in the mound were a number of animals, 12 horses, 6 dogs, and even a peacock.

    Built of oak, except for the decking , mast, yards and oars which were of pine, the Gokstad ship measures 23.3 meters overall and has a beam of 5.25 meters. Her prow and stern are incomplete due to rotting in the grave. The sides are built up of overlapping planks, which were nailed together and then lashed to the frames by means of pliable spruce roots, the two-layer strakes being nailed to the keel. She was a remarkably light and elastic boat, which made her ideal in the long Atlantic waves, and she was probably capable of a speed of some 10-12 knots. These surviving ships are the most impressive monuments of this period, versatile enough to be used in the open sea and in shallow water.

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