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Old Norse Place Names in the Orkneys

The first Vikings came and raided in Britain. At some point, they settled down. Linguists are finding remnants of their language in the etymology of place names, in suffixes of towns that end with -thorpe and -ness. There are plenty of sources to look up information about Old Norse place names in the British Isles. See, for example, the Ordnance Survey, or the British Library.

The Orkneys, where Viking chieftains ruled, are known for etymological traces of Old Norse in place names. A new study shows that the location of these places might mean more than we realise. One can sail from Birsay to Stromness along the mainland coast. However, the study shows locals and traders could also have used inland waterways, using shallow boats across the wetlands to Loch Harray.

A series of Old Norse (Old Scandinavian) place names, connected to the sea and boats, located in the middle of the Orkney mainland initially drew the attention of the researchers. A combination of the place names, modern scientific methods, remote sensing geophysical mapping and sediment samples, has revealed that the area was connected through a series of ancient waterways or canals.

University of Highlands and Islands News

Despite the Viking Age already being a well-studied field, this interdisciplinary study shows there are still frontiers to find and discover even more!

To read the original article: C. Richard Bates, Martin R. Bates, Barbara Crawford et al., ‘The Norse Waterways of West Mainland Orkney, Scotland,’ in: Journal of Wetland Archaeology. Published online: 04 Aug 2020. DOI 10.1080/14732971.2020.1800281. Alternatively, outside the paywall, is the press release on the University of the Highlands and Islands. Or the article on The Scotsman.

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