Nordic Myth and Magic School Vølurheim

Artist Even Amundsen has been doodling character portraits for teachers at a hypothetical Harry Potter -style Scandinavian myth and magic school. He calls the school Vølurheim.

The names of the Professors include very Scandi monikers such as Hulda Kvænangsdottir, Dagfinn Snauholt, and Kari Sigfridsdotter. Amundsen has even come up with a background for everyone.

The portraits are fabulous in every sense – and as a bonus, the outfits are very reminiscent of historical Scandinavian garb and folk costumes. Below are some of my favorite characters.

Ragnhild Stubbemoen is the Professor of Dragon Lore and Care:

ArtStation Even Amundsen Volurheim Ragnhild

Apparently she’s taught at Vølurheim for 79 years already—and by the looks of her, she’s ready for another 80.

Mumrikk Stigandur is the Professor of Herbology:

ArtStation Even Amundsen Volurheim Mumrikk

Amundsen said he’s “heavily inspired” by Snufkin (Snusmumriken in Swedish or Nuuskamuikkunen in Finnish) from the Moomin stories. You can definitely see the resemblance!

Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts and veteran warlock of the Troll Wars is called Grimstav Draugsleiven. His portrait really shows his survival capabilities:

ArtStation Even Amundsen Volurheim Grimstav

Magnificent, isn’t it? (Elemental shaman in WoW, anyone?)

Even Mehl Amundsen is a freelance concept artist from Norway who has worked for studios like Ubisoft, Blizzard, Riot, Axis Animation, and Wizards of the Coasts, among others. You can see more of his work at ArtStation.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Disruptive Technology: Iron

These days, every new decade seems to bring a new technology that totally upends the way we live our lives, but the ability of new technologies to disrupt societal structures is not new. Many times in history, the development or introduction of a new technology had far-reaching effects on how people lived their lives. One such technology is iron. The development of iron for military purposes—to make stronger weapons and tougher armor—led to plenty of disruption, but iron could have powerful effects even when used for peaceful and mundane purposes.

One place we can see an example of iron’s effect on society is in southern Scandinavia. The Iron Age began in Denmark around 500 BCE. The changes that came as a result can be seen throughout much of northern Europe, but they have been particularly well studied in Denmark.

Southwestern Denmark is rich in deposits of bog iron, a form of iron ore that is comparatively easy to extract and process. Iron was soon put to use to produce stronger swords, axes, and spearheads, but it was also used to make sturdy blades for agricultural tools such as sickles, scythes, and pruning knives.

The introduction of iron-bladed tools made possible a dramatic change in the agrarian economy. Earlier flint or bronze tools could not hold a cutting edge well enough to effectively cut large quantities of hay or twigs to be stored as fodder for cattle. Accordingly, cattle could only be kept in relatively small numbers to avoid overgrazing the sparse vegetation available through the winter. With iron tools, winter fodder could be cut, dried, and stored in quantity for the winter, allowing large herds of cattle to be kept in denser concentrations. These cattle provided meat and milk as a food source in addition to the grain people were already growing.

Cattle also produce something else: manure. Manure is a rich source of nitrogen for fertilizing fields. With larger herds of cattle producing more manure, exhausted fields could be refertilized without a long period of lying fallow, which increased grain production.

Keeping larger herds of cattle significantly increased the available supply of food, which allowed for population growth. It also, however, changed social relations. Before iron, individual families largely tended their own fields and kept small herds of cattle, producing only enough for their own subsistence. There was little social differentiation between one family and the next because everyone did essentially the same work and there weren’t many opportunities to get richer than your neighbors. With iron came larger cattle herds, which meant that some people had to do the dirty scut work of cutting hay and mucking out stalls, while those who owned the cattle enjoyed extra food to use for trade or creating new social connections through the giving of expensive gifts. The archaeological evidence from Iron Age settlements in Denmark shows a process of social differentiation, as some families consolidated their economic power and rose to the top while others became dependent workers supporting the new elite.

The availability of economic surplus in the form of grain, cattle, and trade goods also meant that raiding nearby settlements could now be a profitable way of life for those strong enough to get away with it, and so the new cattle-owning elite soon also put iron to work to equip themselves for defense or to launch raids of their own. The agricultural elite became in time a military elite, with farming duties largely handed off to dependent workers. In time, this military elite consolidated its power enough to found royal dynasties commanding wide swaths of land and conducting raiding activities far from home.

These changes did not happen quickly. Unlike the effects of electricity, automobiles, and the Internet in the modern world, the effects of iron in ancient Denmark played out over centuries. The changes came slowly enough that, in lived experience, they probably did not seem all that disruptive. Looking back with the perspective of archaeology and history, though, we can see what enormous social transformations can be traced back to the introduction of stronger tools made of iron.

The most disruptive technologies don’t always come from the sources you expect, nor can we always predict the long-term effects of what seem like simple changes. These observations may seem very modern to us, but they were as true in the past as they are today.

Image: Raw bog iron, photograph by Tomasz Kruan via Wikimedia

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Frozen II Is at the Theaters, and Soon Dubbed in Sámi

Today is the premier for the animated sequel Frozen II here in the U.S. Unlike most Di$ney princess movies*, I will be seeing this one during its theatrical release for a particular reason.

In the story, Anna and Elsa et al. travel to the north and meet a people resembling the Sámi. For their research and inspiration, the Walt Disney Animation Studios not only talked with Sámi people but actually signed an agreement with the Sámi to do it in a respectful, collaborative way.

The Sámi are the only indigenous people within the European Union area. They currently live in the northern reaches of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia.

Disney even invited some members of the Sámi Parliaments to U.S. to see the movie at the world premier, meet some of the makers, and tour the animation studio.

Yle Siv Eli Vuolab Samediggi Frozen II World Premiere

The most exciting part for my linguist brain is that the studio will record and release a version dubbed in Northern Sámi, the largest of the Sámi languages. The voice actors are drawn mainly from Sweden and Norway, among them the acclaimed Sámi musician Mari Boine, but also one Finn. (Yay!)

Yle Frozen II Screencap Northern Herders

While it’s true they aren’t very numerous these days (partly thanks to racial, linguistic, and cultural discrimination), the Sámi do exist and do have a living culture. (Just check out the music scene for one incredibly vibrant aspect—yoik comes almost in all styles now!) I grew up two hours south of the Arctic Circle, and the Sámi were my classmates, neighbors, and teachers. For me it’s delightful that Disney took the time to research, listen, and respectfully pay homage to people I grew up with.

Undoubtedly I will also enjoy scenery that reminds me of trips to Lapland even if the first reports say the northern mountains look too young and rugged to be based on the fells on the Finnish side of the border. 🙂

Yle Frozen II Screencap Valley View

*) The only other exception is Moana, which was also produced in cooperation with indigenous peoples.

Images: Per-Olof Nutti, Aili Keskitalo, Åsa Larsson Blind, and Tiina Sanila-Aikio with their daughters at the world premier of Frozen II by Siv Eli Vuolab / Sámediggi via Yle. Three members of the northern herder tribe from Frozen II via Yle. View overlooking a northern valley from Frozen II via Yle.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.