Weird History

Everything We've Learned About Vikings Since You Were In School  

Genevieve Carlton
8.3k views 13 items

Fierce warriors, the Vikings relentlessly raided Britain in the ninth and 10th centuries. But recent Viking archaeological finds reveal another side to the warrior culture. They created trading networks, connecting them to North America and the Islamic world. They excelled with metalwork and cast decorative pins. And in their winter camps, the Vikings loved to play games. The discovery of board game pieces at a Viking winter camp in England aligns with what we know about Viking parties: They didn't just wait for warmer weather to celebrate.

The findings also prove that when the Viking berserkers went to war, they did so alongside shield maidens. DNA evidence suggests Viking women were warriors and leaders just like Viking men. Researchers even found Viking remains in North America using high-tech satellite imagery. The same method may uncover new discoveries about the Vikings in the future.

Viking Women Likely Fought As ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Everything We've Learned About Vikings Since You Were In School
Photo: Morris Meredith Williams/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Viking Women Likely Fought As Warriors

While Viking legends tell stories of female warriors, scholars have debated whether Viking women really did fight or if the tales were simply fiction. But in 2017, a DNA test on a Viking warrior's grave proved Viking women weren't just warriors, they were leaders.

The 10th-century grave contained the skeleton of a woman buried with a sword, an ax, a spear, and two shields, indicating she fought with her people. Along with the weapons, the grave contained a gaming board, hinting at the woman's tactical and strategic knowledge.

According to Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study to DNA test the remains, "What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real-life military leader, that happens to be a woman."

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Photo: Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Vikings Probably Settled In Multiple North American Locations

The Vikings reached the New World centuries before Christopher Columbus. While they didn't arrive in America wearing horned helmets, new research sheds light on their presence in the territory. Researchers previously knew of one likely Viking settlement in North America, L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, Canada. But in the 2010s, archaeologist Sarah Parcak turned her attention from lost Egyptian cities and tombs to the grassy plains of southern Newfoundland.

Using satellite imagery, Parcak identified a potentially important Viking settlement at Point Rosee. When archaeologists visited the site in 2015, they uncovered an iron hearth and a turf wall - indications that Vikings may have created the settlement. The discovery has the potential to change everything we know about Viking voyages to North America.

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Photo: The National Museum of Denmark/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-2.0
Vikings Did Their Own Metal Crafting 

In the 19th century, a Swedish farmer uncovered a Viking carving that depicted a dragon. Scholars believed the small carving was a mold for casting metal objects. With no other evidence of similar metal castings, the object remained a mystery - until 2015, when a team of archaeologists uncovered a metal dragon that appeared identical to the mold.

The object was found in Birka, a rich source for Viking artifacts in Sweden. Sven Kalmring, the senior researcher on the study, said: "Of course, as an archaeologist excavating in Birka, one is aware that you definitely will make thousands of fine finds. This find, however, once identified, blew our minds."

The discovery proved Vikings created their own molds and pins rather than simply importing the expensive, technically complicated luxury items.

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Photo: Danskebjerge/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
A Viking Ring Fort Revealed A Bloody History

Archaeologists knew Vikings built ring forts after finding four in Denmark in the 1930s. But for decades, researchers uncovered no new ring fortresses - until they made a discovery in the 2010s using laser-based surveillance. With the new technology, the fortress known as Borgring, located on the Danish island of Zealand, came to light.

Borgring stood nearly 500 feet across, with four gates and roads paved with wood. Researchers proved the structure was built around the 970s or 980s CE by counting the tree rings on its wooden ramparts.

The fortress appeared to have suffered an attack and burning. In addition, a carpenter left a toolbox during the attack, giving archaeologists a treasure trove of Viking tools: a plane, a nail iron, awls, and chisels.