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    How undeniable soever the proposition that no historyof a country, that is, a narrative of events and actions connectedand chronologically arranged, can be conceived which shall beindependent of written materials, or, as they are called, imme-diate sources, it is not less certain that monuments and remainsof antiquity, other than literary, have a just claim to be con-sidered as indirect sources for the same historical result. Evenif such may not avail to make us acquainted with new positivefacts, if they fail to certify a list of sovereigns, or to fix aseries of dates, they may yet serve, collectively considered, togive us a clearer perception of the religion, the culture, theexternal life, and other particulars of our forefathers than canbe supplied even by the written sources, to which latter nosuch high antiquity can be ascribed, in which old traditionsare mixed up with newer, and which, as they have been com-mitted to writing in later times, must have been liable to manycorruptions of their text. The other remains of which we speak,form, some of them, a complement to the literary, extendingour knowledge beyond the periods when the latter beginto deserve belief, and sometimes awakening and fortifying con-jectures as to emigrations and connexions of nations respectingwhich history is silent. But even the mute memorials have astill higher significance for us. They lead us back to theoriginal population of our northern country, they make us liveagain our fathers' life. A grave mound, a lonely circle of stones,a stone implement, a metal ornament excavated from the coveredchamber of death, afford a livelier image of antiquity than Saxoor Snorre, the Eddas, or the Germany of Tacitus. And willnot the explorer of the past contemplate a work of the artsof the middle ages, with an interest which no record can excite.

    Accordingly there never has been a period since our hi-story began to be cultivaled and studied but these monuments


    have formed an object of attention and investigation, althoughoften viewed in a false light and though the subject has been treatedin a tasteless and unscientific manner. Who can reflect withoutregret on the number of objects of this nature which in thecourse of the last two centuries have become irretrievably lostto us in despite of the exertions of our antiquaries Ole Worm,Bure, Resen and Rudbeck to transmit an account of themfor the use of posterity, exertions not the less praiseworthyalthough now felt to be inadequate to their object. It mustbe so much the more gratifying to every one who takes aninterest in the olden time to know that at no period were itsmonuments less exposed to the risk of being undervalued anddestroyed than they are now. The interest in the study ofNorthern antiquity, and consequently in that of its monumentalremains, has hardly been at any period more diffused or moreactive than at present. Discoveries relating to it are ever sureof being received with sympathy by the public. As in othereducated countries, collections have been established here for thepreservation of the remains of former ages. The parties con-nected with these hold profitable communication with eachother. Scientific travellers in remote regions keep a watchfuleye on the remains scattered over them.

    But again the remains of the past requite the attentionbestowed on them by assisting other scientific pursuits than thestrictly historical. They assist to answer questions as to thenatural history of our northern countries, their people, changesof climate and the like. To instance one subject, the in-terest of which has been lately revived, the solution of theproblem of the ancient colonization of Greenland, and the posi-tion of the Icelandic settlements in that quarter, would appearto depend quite as much on the objects of antiquity latelydiscovered, particularly on Runic inscriptions, as on writtendocuments and nautical evidence.

    We may in pursuance hope that the following summarywhich has for its object to set forth what has been regarded as


    the best authenticated and most worth knowing on the subjectof the memorials of northern antiquity, may be found not un-worthy the notice of the educated public.


    In the North, as in almost all other countries, the tombis the oldest memorial of the past. The desire to preserve theloved and lost, in remembrance at least, is so deeply implantedin human nature, that we find evidence of it even among themost savage tribes. In the North the fashion of the grave hasgreatly varied with different periods. One of the reasons forthis is the difference which has from time to time occurredin the mode of dealing with the corpse. At some periods thebody was deposited in sand in a chamber or a large stonechest; at others it was burnt, and nothing but the ashes orburnt bones were preserved in urns or smaller stone coffins;sometimes it was interred in a sitting posture. Sometimes thesame receptacle contained not a single corpse, but whole families,or many warriors fallen in a battle; sometimes not only thehuman dead, but his caparisoned horse, his dog and otheranimals which it was wished should accompany him to anotherworld. It is obvious that customs so varied required arrange-ments equally diversified. In almost all the districts of theNorth we meet with a number of mounds greater or smaller,the work of human hands. Experiment proves that most ofthem have served for burial, and that they are not inaccuratelytermed grave mounds. As a general remark we may observethat the greater number of them is met with on the coast, andin positions which command a view of the ocean, or at leastof an arm of the sea, but that they are very seldom found inwhat is now morass or meadow land. On the other hand theyare found in considerable number on the sandy heaths of ourcountry. Some of these mounds, we must here remark, mayhave had another purpose; they may have served for signalstations, or what were formerly called Baunehöie, spots for

    About this text

    Title: Guide to Northern Archaeology [excerpt]. [Translated from the Danish of Christian Jürgensen Thomsen.]
    Author: Thomsen, Christian Jürgensen; Ellesmere, Francis Egerton (translator)
    Edition: DIY edition
    Series: Taylor Editions: Treasures
    Editor: Created by Frank Egerton.


    This book’s full title is Guide to Northern Archæology / by the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries of Copenhagen ; edited for the use of English readers by the Earl of Ellesmere. It contains a translation of Ledetraad til Nordisk Oldkyndighed (1836) by the Danish antiquarian Christian Jürgensen Thomsen (29th December 1788 – 21st May 1865), which sets out his system of dating archaeological artefacts by reference to co-occurrence and archaeological context, including ancient literature. The English translation was edited by my great-great-great-grandfather, a politician, poet and scholar, Francis Egerton, the first Earl of Ellesmere. The copy in the Taylor Institution Library collection is inscribed: ‘Presented to the Taylor Institution by the Earl of Ellesmere February 19.1852’. As both a librarian (working at the Taylor Institution Library) and a writer and editor, I wanted to explore my ancestor’s work and produce a transcription of a sample of the text.

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    About this edition

    Transcribed from Taylor Institution Library 17.L.21. Images scanned from Taylor Insitution Library 17.L.21


    Publication: Oxford (UK): Taylor Institution Library, 2018. XML files are available for download under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License . Images are available for download under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License .

    Source edition

    Guide to Northern Archaeology [excerpt]. [Translated from the Danish of Christian Jürgensen Thomsen.] London: John Bain, 1848, pp. 25-27. 

    Editorial principles

    Created by encoding transcription from printed text.

    As a tutor in creative writing and micro-publisher, I'm interested in the effect on the reader of the layout of text on the page, and so have decided to render line breaks and end of line hyphens in the transcription. While the effects may be very small, I think that at the very least the rendering of these things gives the reader of the transcription a flavour of the Victorian typesetting and page layout, which is, I think, distinct from approaches today. I would say that my transcription is diplomatic.