Viking beaters: Scots and Irish may have settled Iceland a century before NorsemenBreaking News
Remarkably similar carvings and simple cross sculptures mark special sites or places once sacred, spanning a zone stretching from the h coasts to Iceland. We can look to Skellig Michael, which rises from the sea 12km off the southwest Irish coast; to Aird a’Mhòrain on the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist; to the Isle of Noss, Shetland; and to Heimaklettur cliff face in Iceland’s Westman Islands.
Also in southern Iceland, a number of the 200 man-made caves found there are marked by similar rock-cut sculpture. And these dark remote places suggest a different answer to a puzzle that we thought we had solved a long time ago.
Iceland was one of the last island groups on Earth to be settled by people. As you might expect, the late-ninth-century settlement by Viking-Age Scandinavians has long been of keen interest to the local people. These artificial caves suggest that we should re-think our traditional histories. The Viking arrival may indeed have been pre-dated by Celtic-speaking people from Scotland and Ireland in around AD 800.
Our search for answers to these questions took Dr Tõnno Jonuks and me to the Westman Islands, which lie a few kilometres south west of the Icelandic mainland. We found our way up the Heimaklettur cliff on Heimaey, the largest of the islands, on the hunt for one of these enigmatic cross sculptures.
And we found what we were looking for: a large cross carved into a small alcove on the otherwise exposed cliff face – similar to other rock-cut crosses in some of the 200 artificial caves clustered around farms in southern Iceland. Then to our surprise, two more crosses, along a high ledge overlooking the harbour and the bustling fishing town of Heimaey – all of them key exhibits towards the team’s imminent discoveries.
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