The Vikings in Scotland
An overview of the archaeological evidence for the Vikings and Late Norse in Scotland encompassing settlement, pagan grave, hoard and runic evidence. This builds on the entries in SCRAN and supplies a context and list of relevant links within the database, in addition to further reading suggestions.
The evidence for Scandinavian presence in modern-day Scotland can be gleaned from several sources. There are no Scandinavian documentary sources of relevance to Scotland which survive from before the 12th century, although there are references for early Viking raiding activities supplied by the Annals of Ulster for example, telling of raids on Iona in 795AD amongst others (000-299-997- 051-C). These opportunistic raids focussed on monastic centres and coastal monasteries in Northern England, most notably Lindisfarne had already been visited by the Vikings in 793. Iona was however to suffer more than many monastic houses, with repeated attacks in future years. Such information survives in the reports written down by the very clerics who were being attacked for their church wealth and manuscripts – items of loot being taken back to Scandinavia as trophies. Such apparent devastation is not so clear in the archaeological record however.
Intermittent raids were followed by phases of permanent settlement, and in Scotland this focussed on Northern Scotland, the Western Isles and South-West Scotland. Excavation and survey provides evidence for a constant reassessment of the nature and extent of this settlement, and although most is currently known of the Scandinavian presence in Northern Scotland – Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, the lands of the Northern Earldom – the mass of wealthy pagan graves known from the Western Isles is now being supplemented by settlement evidence. In the South-West of Scotland, major excavations at Whithorn indicate a Scandinavian presence with trading and cultural links across the Irish Sea to Ireland.