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The Viking farm under the sand in Greenland
Express News ^ | 2004 | Teresa Brasen

Posted on 03/05/2004 4:06:31 PM PST by Burkeman1

The Viking farm under the sand in Greenland By Terese Brasen

In 1991, two caribou hunters stumbled over a log on a snowy Greenland riverbank, an unusual event because Greenland is above the tree line. Closer investigation uncovered rock-hard sheep droppings. The hunters had stumbled on a 500-year-old Viking farm that lay hidden beneath the sand, gift-wrapped and preserved by nature for future archaeologists.

Gården under Sandet or GUS, Danish for 'the farm under the sand,' would become the first major Viking find in Greenland since the 1920s.

"GUS is beautifully preserved because, once it was buried, it was frozen," explained University of Alberta anthropologist Dr. Charles Schweger. "Things that are perishable and normally disappear are found at GUS."

A specialist in Arctic paleo-ecology and geo-archeology, Schweger joined the international archaeological team that would spend the next seven years sifting through sand at GUS.

The famous Viking, Eric the Red, probably didn't know where he was headed when, adrift on the North Atlantic in AD 981, he bumped into the southern coast of Greenland. Eric returned to Iceland three years later and enticed about 500 fellow Vikings to follow him and settle the new country.

"The Norse arrived in Greenland 1,000 years ago and became very well established," said Schweger, describing the Viking farms and settlements that crowded the southeast and southwest coasts of Greenland for almost 400 years.

"The Greenland settlements were the most distant of all European medieval sites in the world," said Schweger. "Then the Norse disappear, and the question has always been: what happened?"

Time was not on the archaeological team's side. Earlier digs had explored the southern tip of Greenland, the most settled area of the country where Eric the Red first landed. These early digs merely scratched the surface because the archaeologists were interested in the buildings and architecture, not what lay beneath. The GUS site was up the West Coast, deep inside a fjord. The river was advancing, swallowing the site, so it was important to act quickly.

The University of Alberta, Greenland and the Danish government combined resources and pushed ahead on the first Greenland excavation since the 1930s. The team would excavate the complete site, looking at the entire history and development of the farm, not just the surface buildings.

Schweger recalls vividly the day the team uncovered GUS. Smells frozen in permafrost for 500 years exploded into the air. "It stunk to high heavens," said Schweger. "There was no question about this being a farm."

The Viking ships that had brought Icelandic adventurers to Greenland may have been mini versions of Noah's Ark with sheep, goats, horses and Vikings sharing the crowded space. The Greenland Vikings raised sheep and fabricated woollen garments. The centre of the farm was a typical Viking longhouse, the communal building where Vikings gathered around the fire. The settlement flourished. In the North Atlantic, walrus, seal and whale were abundant and the Greenlanders made rope from walrus hide and controlled the European walrus tusk market.

Every summer, the team raced against the river. In 1998, when researchers finally abandoned GUS to the river, 90 per cent of the site had been excavated. Artifacts packaged and taken to the lab include pieces of cloth and sheep combs used to remove wool without shearing the animal. The site gave up metal hinges, locks, keys and wooden barrels. The Vikings appear to have traded their northern wares for metal and wooden products unavailable in Greenland. For them, a trip to Iceland or Norway was like a shopping spree at Home Hardware.

We know about Eric the Red and the Greenland settlement because years after the Vikings had given up their pagan ways, Snorri Sturluson collected Viking stories and penned the Icelandic sagas. "The Icelanders wrote everything down," said Schweger, puzzled that the literature says nothing about what happened to the Norse in Greenland.

What did happen? Theories abound. In his 1963 book, Early Voyages and Northern Approaches, Tryggvi Oleson proposed a theory that still has some credibility. He believed the Vikings and northern aboriginal people intermarried to produce the unique Thule people, ancestors of the modern Eskimo.

One reigning expert on Norse extinction in Greenland is Dr. Thomas McGovern from City University of New York. McGovern is also chair of the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization, an international research association interested in the relationship between changing climate and people in the North Atlantic. He believes the Norse did not adapt completely to Greenland because they never adopted Inuit ring-seal hunting techniques. The Inuit used buoys or floats and hunted ring seal from kayaks or through the ice. These techniques do not appear in Norse culture. McGovern and other paleo-ecologists also believe the Norse were poor farmers.

But Schweger says the evidence comes from the southern or eastern settlement where the excavations only looked at the surface. "There is a lot of sediment thrown around, and it suggests to these researchers that the Norse were poor farmers. The theory is poor agricultural practices caused the sod to break up, and the winds eroded this and blew sand all over the landscape."

While Danish and Greenland researchers look at GUS buildings and artifacts, the U of A's role is to study organic material. Cross-sections of the GUS soil contain evidence that challenge McGovern's theories and offer brand-new understanding of the Vikings in Greenland.

"The ring seal is only one species of seal. The Norse hunted everything else--walrus, whales, harbour seals," Schweger said, moving quickly to part two of his McGovern challenge. The argument that the Vikings were poor farmers doesn't make sense upon close examination of the GUS organic material. "There is no evidence that they were destroying their fields. Quite the opposite. They were improving upon them."

It is not surprising that the Greenland Vikings chose to farm at the mouth of a fjord. The Vikings who settled Iceland and later moved to Greenland were originally from Norway, where farming technology grew up around fjords. The centre of a fjord farm is a meadow where animals graze during winter months.

Cross-sections of the GUS soil show the Vikings began their settlement by burning off birch brush to form a meadow. Over the next 300 to 400 years, the meadow soil steadily improved its nutritional qualities, showing that the Greenland Vikings weren't poor farmers, as McGovern and others have suggested. "At GUS, the amount of organic matter and the quality of soil increased and sustained farming for 400 years," said Schweger. "If they were poor farmers, then virtually all the farming in North America is poor farming."

Schweger believes the sand that packaged and preserved GUS also ruined the site, polluting the river the Vikings relied on for fresh water. The soil was healthy and nutritious. Then, suddenly, farming stopped and the soil was encapsulated in sand.

A massive ice sheet covers about 85 per cent of Greenland, about 2,600,000 cubic kilometres of ice--enough to raise sea levels by 6.4 metres if it were to melt. Sheets of ice sliding down the mountain toward GUS may have pushed sand over the eastern coast of Greenland, burying the Viking settlements. The sand slide was probably a major catastrophic event, comparable to an earthquake.

The Danish Antiquity Society will publish the GUS findings once the international lab results have been tabulated and debated. The team that sifted through sand summer after summer may tell the world new stories about the Vikings who farmed and traded in the North Atlantic then suddenly, and inexplicably, disappeared.

Related story: Icelandic sagas sail into library collections (ExpressNews, April 10, 2001): http://www.ualberta.ca/ExpressNews/news/2001/041001b.htm Related link - internal The U of A Department of Anthropology Web site: http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/anthropology/index.html this article: www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/expressnews/articles/printer.cfm?p_ID=776

© 2004 University of Alberta


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: archaeology; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; greenland; history; iceland; leiferikson; vikings; vinland
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Fascinating story. I was unaware that the Vikings were actually the first Human presence in Greenland and that the Inuit came later.
1 posted on 03/05/2004 4:06:31 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
So that's where they grow Vikings? Amazing!

GO!! PACK!! GO!!
2 posted on 03/05/2004 4:12:27 PM PST by Howie66 ("America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.")
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To: Burkeman1
I betcha if they find some ancient Lutfisk it would still be edible.(As edible as Lutfisk gets, that is)
3 posted on 03/05/2004 4:13:08 PM PST by Spruce
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To: Burkeman1
There are some who say that a group of NorseScots discovered North America and what is now the New England Coast long before Columbus sailed the Ocean blue.
Grave sites have been found in Massachusetts with Celtic Markings.
4 posted on 03/05/2004 4:14:42 PM PST by Pompah (Funny how thangs work out.)
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To: Burkeman1
When I worked at the airlines, a few times I tried to plan a trip to Greenland, but a very small number of flights and weather/schedule problems meant I never got to go...bummer. Did Iceland a few times, a fantastic place to go, hightly recommend it.
5 posted on 03/05/2004 4:18:25 PM PST by Central Scrutiniser (Malim praedari!)
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To: Pompah
Some folk suppose the Vikings traveled even farther...

Kensington Runestone
The Kensington Runestone is a slab of Graywacke stone, grey in color, measuring 36 inches long, 16 inches wide, and 6 inches thick. It contains runic writing along the face of the stone and along one edge. The stone was found on the property of a Minnesota farmer named Olaf Ohman in November of 1898. Upon finding the stone, Mr. Ohman and his sons noted the runic letters, but could not decipher them. The stone was thereafter examined by many runic scholars, who discovered that the runes claimed to be an account of Norse explorers in the 14th Century. Many scholars who have since examined the stone have claimed it a childish forgery, some have testified to its authenticity. The stone currently resides in the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota, the seat of the county in which the stone was found.
6 posted on 03/05/2004 4:19:13 PM PST by Spruce
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To: Pompah
They are disputed highly. There was a theory put forth by a rich Boston Yankee in the 19th century that the Vikings had settlements along the Charles River inland from Boston. He even had a statue commissioned of Eric the Red that still stands on Commonwealth Avenue to this day. The New Foundland settlement is the only verified Viking site in North America. The Minnisota stone is also highly suspect as it was dug up by a Swede on his farm.

It is verified that the Norse of Greenland visited North America often to fell much needed timber. And they may even have had extensive contact and trade with Inuit and Northern tribes like the Micmac. Some think they may have explored as far south as Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Cape Cod.
7 posted on 03/05/2004 4:23:40 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1; *Gods, Graves, Glyphs; A.J.Armitage; abner; adam_az; AdmSmith; Alas Babylon!; ...
Gods, Graves, Glyphs
List for articles regarding early civilizations , life of all forms, - dinosaurs - etc.
Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this ping list.
8 posted on 03/05/2004 4:26:34 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: Central Scrutiniser
I have heard Iceland is a great place to visit. They offer long weekend package deal flights to Iceland from Boston that are a steal. I plan on going one day.
9 posted on 03/05/2004 4:27:46 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: farmfriend
Add me to the list please.
10 posted on 03/05/2004 4:28:22 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: farmfriend
Please add me to this list.
11 posted on 03/05/2004 4:32:15 PM PST by Spruce
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To: Burkeman1
I don't think it is too far fetched to speculate Viking explorers made it to the great lakes, even further.
12 posted on 03/05/2004 4:35:40 PM PST by Spruce
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To: Spruce
Considering they established Kiev- no I don't think it far fetched either. I am just not convinced that the evidence exists to prove it.
13 posted on 03/05/2004 4:39:42 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Spruce
I think the Norse of Greenland did not have extensive contact with the "Skraelings" as they called the native peoples of Canada simply because they could have dominated trade by the simple fact that they had metal work technology the Inuit and Native Amercians did not have. The Indians and "eskimos" would have immediatley seen the advantage of Iron weapons and tools and traded almost anything for them. That metal working technology was not transferred to these peoples suggests they had limited if not almost totally hostile contact.
14 posted on 03/05/2004 4:51:16 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
Well, sorry to say, but any Norskie worth their salt has been taught, from toddler days, that Eric the Red discovered America WAY before Christopher Columbus. There is no evidence? That only means it was not yet discovered. Trust me in this.
15 posted on 03/05/2004 5:19:23 PM PST by bboop
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To: bboop
Erik did not discover America. His father, Leif Erikson did. And he named it Vineland.
16 posted on 03/05/2004 5:22:05 PM PST by Spruce
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To: bboop
Yes they did. But did they realize and exploit what they had discovered? No. Columbus and the Spanish did. Could they have? Even with superior Iron weapons most likely not.
17 posted on 03/05/2004 5:24:52 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Spruce
My bad. Your right.
18 posted on 03/05/2004 5:26:04 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
Well, YEH, but CC had the King and Queen behind him and 400 years to fine-tune things. And the Vikings didn't like the Left Coast 'cuz of all the liberals...
19 posted on 03/05/2004 5:32:26 PM PST by bboop
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To: Burkeman1; Spruce
Consider yourself added. If you ever change your mind, or I get you on the wrong list, just let me know.
20 posted on 03/05/2004 5:38:06 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: bboop
...'cuz of all the liberals...
Hehe. Actually many around these parts figure it was the Ojibwe that made the Vikings turn tail.
21 posted on 03/05/2004 5:38:17 PM PST by Spruce
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To: bboop
The viking settlements and expansion were not financed by anyone. They were totally entrepenurial ventures. If they were successful they all were successful. If they failed- they all failed. No king or power backed the raids and exploration of the Vikings. Columbus was backed by the Crown of Spain itself! His sailors and soldiers and Priests and monks were in the pay of the Crown. It was not just a mission for a small group of settlers. It was a mission of State! There is a difference.
22 posted on 03/05/2004 5:43:02 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Spruce
LOL!
23 posted on 03/05/2004 5:44:48 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Howie66
GO!! PACK!! GO!!

A Vikings-Packers game in Iceland would give a new meaning to the term "Frozen Tundra" :) BTW I recently saw a documentary on an Alaska high school football team that plays on a field sitting on glacial-deposited topsoil, so that rocks regularly surface on the field and have to be removed before every practice. For obvious reasons no other team wants to play them at home. When I heard that I said to myself, that's gotta be the only field in the world tougher than Lambeau :)

24 posted on 03/05/2004 5:45:30 PM PST by Fedora
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To: Burkeman1
bump
25 posted on 03/05/2004 5:49:40 PM PST by VOA
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To: Burkeman1; blam
BUMP! Warmer Climate in Greenland's Past ??
26 posted on 03/05/2004 5:50:08 PM PST by Cool Guy (Why is my comment a big jumbled mess?)
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To: Fedora
Back in the days, when the Vikings played outdoors, the old Met stadium used to have steam pipes that ran down the hash lines. Bud Grant designed offensive plays inside the pipes to stay on the somewhat thawed turf and designed the defense to push the opposing offense to the outside, in the cold frozen slab of land outside the heat. Unfortunately the SuperBowl is played indoors, or in warm weather.
27 posted on 03/05/2004 5:58:05 PM PST by Spruce (Don't just stand there. Do something!)
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To: Burkeman1
I lived in Iceland for two years on the NATO base at Keflavik in the early 1970s. It is news to me that their stock was from Norway. I know that they thought their ancestors came from Denmark.

There is such a thing as a celtic viking. The islands off the immediate south coast of Iceland were populated by escaped slaves taken from raids on the coasts of Ireland and Scotland.
28 posted on 03/05/2004 6:34:25 PM PST by marsh2
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To: marsh2
Indeed, there are celtic Vikings. Just as ther are french, Latin, cyrillic, welsh, germanic, and even some medditerranian. Where better to launch a raid from then the closest port. I bet there's more than a few "native Americans" with Viking blood.

Never heard of an Asian Viking, though.
29 posted on 03/05/2004 6:48:20 PM PST by Spruce (Don't just stand there. Do something!)
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To: Burkeman1
This article is a little confusing. Inuit means "people" and the Thule are the ancestors of todays Inuit but the Thule are latecomers to North America. The Dorset were in Greenland before the Norse. The Thule were from Asia and weren't descended either from the Vikings or the Dorset.
30 posted on 03/05/2004 7:43:23 PM PST by Varda
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To: Burkeman1
"He believed the Vikings and northern aboriginal people intermarried to produce the unique Thule people, ancestors of the modern Eskimo. "

I read a report recently about a DNA study done on the Thule. It 100% ruled out the 'inter-marriage' theory.

31 posted on 03/05/2004 7:52:43 PM PST by blam
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To: Burkeman1
I don't think the Vikings established Kiev. Harold the Viking king tried to model the groth of the village of Oslo after Kiev because he liked the market economy there. Here's an excerpt from the internet.

The beginning of the Russian - Scandinavian relationship dated from the 9th century is described in the Russian Primary Chronicle written by Orthodox monks. At that time, different Slav tribes lived in the North - West of Russia along the Neva and the Volkhov rivers as well as around the lakes Ladoga and Ilmen. The great Russian plain covered with forest and grassland was ideal for hunting, fishery and agriculture. Also it represented real trade crossroads between Northern Europe and Byzantine Empire. That was one of the reasons to build there the town of Novgorod which was a capital of the Old Northern Russia and an important commercial centre.

In 862 the Slavs, exhausted by uninterrupted inter-tribal wars, made the following proposal to the Rus (a name borrowed from the Finns to designate the Swedes): "Our country is rich and immense, but it is rent by disorder. Come and govern us and reign over us".

Three Swedish Vikings responded and came to Russia. Rurik became governor of Novgorod, Sineus settled down in Beloozerg and Truvor in Izborsk. Two years later Sineus and Truvor both died and Rurik extended his rule over the whole country. Later two of his lieutenants went down to Kiev, nearly six hundred miles away, and conquered it. In 882 Oleg, Rurik's successor, came to Kiev in his turn. Having established his own leadership over numerous towns and tribes Oleg strengthened considerably the new Russian State and became its master. The new capital, Kiev, little by little became one of the richest towns in Europe.

Rurik's successors became a ruling dynasty in Russia for more than 700 years.

32 posted on 03/05/2004 8:03:00 PM PST by breakem
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To: Pompah
"There are some who say that a group of NorseScots discovered North America and what is now the New England Coast long before Columbus sailed the Ocean blue."

It's was a lot earlier than that...a few thousand years earlier.

The Red Paint People of the northeasten US have recently and definately linked with the same people in Norway.

33 posted on 03/05/2004 8:04:10 PM PST by blam
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To: Pompah
"There are some who say that a group of NorseScots discovered North America and what is now the New England Coast long before Columbus sailed the Ocean blue."

It's was a lot earlier than that...a few thousand years earlier.

The Red Paint People of the northeasten US have recently and definately linked with the same people in Norway.

34 posted on 03/05/2004 8:07:53 PM PST by blam
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To: farmfriend
Please add me to your ping list. Thanks!
35 posted on 03/05/2004 8:08:47 PM PST by ODC-GIRL (Proudly serving our Nation's Homeland Defense)
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To: Spruce
"The stone currently resides in the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota, the seat of the county in which the stone was found."

The Kensington Runestone is presently in Sweden for a serious analysis. Click here.

"To address this mystery, the National Historical Museum of Sweden will tomorrow convene a conference of experts who will examine the stone and its history. The conference take place in this hall, and will feature presentations not only by Swedish runologists, geologists, archaeologists and historians, but also by three American speakers who have travelled from Minnesota to be with us tonight: Mrs. LuAnn Patton, Executive Director of the Kensington Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota; geologist Scott Wolter; and historical linguist Richard Nielsen. I hope that you will join me in welcoming them to Stockholm."

36 posted on 03/05/2004 8:12:43 PM PST by blam
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To: ODC-GIRL
Consider yourself added. If you ever change your mind, or I get you on the wrong list, just let me know.
37 posted on 03/05/2004 8:12:58 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: JohnGalt; ninenot; u-89; sittnick; steve50; Hegemony Cricket; Willie Green; Wolfie; ex-snook; ...
Cross-sections of the GUS soil show the Vikings began their settlement by burning off birch brush to form a meadow. Over the next 300 to 400 years, the meadow soil steadily improved its nutritional qualities, showing that the Greenland Vikings weren't poor farmers, as McGovern and others have suggested. "At GUS, the amount of organic matter and the quality of soil increased and sustained farming for 400 years," said Schweger.

Hey, this is the proof that global warming was more advanced when Greenland was still a green land.

38 posted on 03/05/2004 8:13:30 PM PST by A. Pole (The genocide of Albanians was stopped in its tracks before it began.)
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To: breakem
Viking Graves Pskov, North-West Russia
39 posted on 03/05/2004 8:23:42 PM PST by blam
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To: Spruce
"Never heard of an Asian Viking, though."

How about some pre-Viking, Viking?

The Curse Of The Red-Headed Mummy (China)

40 posted on 03/05/2004 8:26:33 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
Thanx
41 posted on 03/05/2004 8:27:00 PM PST by breakem
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To: Spruce
Back in the days, when the Vikings played outdoors, the old Met stadium used to have steam pipes that ran down the hash lines. Bud Grant designed offensive plays inside the pipes to stay on the somewhat thawed turf and designed the defense to push the opposing offense to the outside, in the cold frozen slab of land outside the heat. Unfortunately the SuperBowl is played indoors, or in warm weather.

Ah, the good old days. . . :)

42 posted on 03/05/2004 9:05:09 PM PST by Fedora
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To: Burkeman1
I highly recommend it, in mid summer, the sun sets for about 2.5 hours in Reykjavik and about 30 minutes up north in Akureryi. The air is perfectly clean, and the people are beautiful. Bring lots of money, you will need it, beer is $10 a glass!
43 posted on 03/05/2004 9:21:34 PM PST by Central Scrutiniser (Malim praedari!)
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To: Burkeman1
Schweger recalls vividly the day the team uncovered GUS. Smells frozen in permafrost for 500 years exploded into the air. "It stunk to high heavens," said Schweger. "There was no question about this being a farm."

Mmmmm, yes. Suddenly unfrozen poop. Having grown up on a farm, I can well imagine this.

44 posted on 03/05/2004 9:41:22 PM PST by shhrubbery!
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To: Burkeman1
I have heard Iceland is a great place to visit. They offer long weekend package deal flights to Iceland from Boston that are a steal. I plan on going one day......


If you ever do, don't miss the "Blue Lagoon." My wife and I went swimming there in early March 1993 in freezing temperature and snow flurries. A wonderful experience we never will forget!

45 posted on 03/05/2004 10:17:43 PM PST by danamco
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To: A. Pole
We went through a mini ice age in the middle ages. England was once warm enouh that it used to grow grapes.
46 posted on 03/05/2004 11:34:13 PM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting www.johnathangaltfilms.com)
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To: marsh2
Mant Irish cities were Viking trading posts in origin. Belfast being one of them if I remember correctly.
47 posted on 03/05/2004 11:35:23 PM PST by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorism by visiting www.johnathangaltfilms.com)
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To: Central Scrutiniser
Why would you drink beer? Natives drink aquavit (sp?) It tastes like licorice. You drink it with a giant picture of water and it is very potent.

There is an underground series of hot spring caverns at Myvatyn (Lake of the noseeums.) You bathe there in your birthday suit with candles to light the caverns.

Every little town has an outdoor swimming pool heated with hot springs. They have various pots of hot water you can sit in. The hot springs also heat greenhouses where they grow strawberries. Lamb hot dogs and strawberry ketchup - yummmm.

Thingvetlir (sp?) is considered the cradle of democracy. It was the original site of the allthing - a gathering of the clans where justice was rendered and decisions were made. I have found sooooo many elements of Viking law incorporated into English common law and American notions of tort.

Of course, I haven't been there since the 1970s.
48 posted on 03/06/2004 2:03:05 AM PST by marsh2
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To: Destro
Northern Europe experienced a warming trend from about 1100 to 1300 that saw longer and wetter growing seasons that produced bumper crops. There was a population explosion due to this warm trend. By 1300 the population of England and Wales was 6 Million. But with the black death and the onset of the mini Ice age that lasted from about 1300 to 1800 the population dipped. It would not reach 6 million again until 1750. The Thames froze over every year during this time and even as late of 1822. The Norse settlements on Greenland disappeared by 1400 because of this mini Ice Age.
49 posted on 03/06/2004 7:15:15 AM PST by Burkeman1
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To: breakem
Yes. Thanks for the refresher.
50 posted on 03/06/2004 7:17:38 AM PST by Burkeman1
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