World news in brief: from Neanderthals to Vikings

Viking hall discovered in Denmark

A large Viking Age hall was recently uncovered by a team from Nordjyske Museer, near the village of Hune in North Jutland.

While excavations are ongoing, it is believed to have been up to 40m long and 8-10m wide, making it the largest building from this period to be uncovered in the last ten years. Because of its size, the team believe that the hall might have been a building of some note, perhaps used for political or social gatherings. Similarities with longhouses found at Aggersborg and Fyrkat suggest that it probably dates to the late 10th to early 11th century. While the owners are unknown, a runestone dating to AD 970-1020, which now stands in the nearby church of Hune Kirke, bears an inscription which translates as ‘Hove, Thorkild, Thornbjørn set their father Runulv den Rådnilde’s stone’, and could name people who lived at the same time as the hall was in use.

Image: Nordjyske Museer

Neanderthal nutrition

Recent analysis of an assemblage of more than 3,000 straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) bones recovered from 125,000-year-old lake deposits in Neumark-Nord, Germany, between 1985 and 1996, has uncovered evidence of cut-marks on some of them. Stone tools have previously been found in conjunction with elephant bones, but this is the first direct evidence that hominins – most likely Neanderthals, based on the date and location of the bones – consumed these animals. Additionally, there was no evidence of carnivore activity, suggesting that these elephants had been hunted, rather than scavenged, a theory supported by the fact that adult males were the most commonly represented in the assemblage. As males would have been largely solitary, they may have been easier to hunt than females in a group.

Further evidence of the Neanderthal diet was recently discovered in Portugal. At Gruta da Figueira Brava, a cave just south of Lisbon, the remains of brown crab were recovered from Middle Palaeolithic deposits in the same layers as Neanderthal occupation, suggesting that these hominins had a taste for seafood as well.

Weapons burial in Japan

Two unique examples of metalwork from the Kofun period (AD 300-710) have been found during excavations at the 4th-century Tomio Maruyama burial mound, near Nara in Japan. The finds consist of a 267cm-long iron sword, the largest yet known from Japan, which was formed into an unusual serpentine shape, and a shield-shaped copper mirror, weighing more than 5kg.

Although both finds are suggestive of weaponry, their weight and size would have made them unwieldy for use in battle. They, therefore, might have been made specifically for protection after death, and possibly indicate that they were buried with a member of the nobility.