The history of the Vikings, a fascinating and complex society of seafaring warriors from Scandinavia, is replete with fascinating and intricate artifacts. The legacy of these Nordic voyagers extends from the 8th to the 11th century and continues to intrigue historians and enthusiasts alike today. These artifacts, often referred to as Viking relics or real Viking artifacts, paint an intimate picture of their culture, beliefs, and artistic prowess. This article will explore some of the most famous Viking artifacts that shed light on their way of life and provide us with a deeper understanding of these seafarers’ world.
Viking Artefacts Facts You Didn’t Know Before
Viking artifacts provide invaluable insights into a world that ceased to exist over a millennium ago. While we have a general idea about these seafaring warriors and traders, there’s a treasure trove of lesser-known facts about Viking artifacts that may surprise even the most ardent history enthusiast.
- Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets: Despite the popular image, there’s no historical evidence to suggest that Vikings wore horned helmets into battle. The only complete Viking helmet ever discovered, the Gjermundbu helmet, is devoid of horns. The horned helmet stereotype is a product of 19th-century romanticism and has persisted in modern depictions of the Vikings.
- Artifacts reveal their extensive trade networks: The Vikings were not only raiders but also skilled traders. The presence of Islamic coins and Buddha statues from India among Viking artifacts underscores their far-reaching trade networks, which extended from North America to the Middle East and beyond.
- Not all Viking ships were meant for raiding: The Oseberg ship, one of the most magnificent Viking artifacts, was not a typical seafaring vessel. Its construction suggests it was primarily used for ceremonial purposes, demonstrating the versatility of Viking shipbuilding techniques.
- Artifacts document their transition to Christianity: The Jelling Stones in Denmark, commissioned by King Harald Bluetooth, chronicle the transition from Norse paganism to Christianity in the Viking society. One of the stones even features one of the earliest depictions of Christ in Scandinavia.
- Chess was popular among the Vikings: The Lewis Chessmen, discovered in Scotland and believed to be of Viking origin, revealed that chess, a game of strategy and skill, was popular among the Vikings. The pieces’ detailed craftsmanship suggests that the game was valued in their culture.
These intriguing facts illustrate the multifaceted nature of the Viking society, providing us with a broader, more nuanced view of their world through their artifacts. As research continues, we anticipate discovering even more surprising details about the Viking Age.
The Oseberg Ship
One of the most remarkable Viking items ever discovered is the Oseberg ship. Unearthed in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm in Norway in 1904, the ship dates back to the early 9th century. The Oseberg ship, made from oak, stretches about 70 feet long and 16 feet wide, clearly illustrating the Vikings’ incredible shipbuilding skills. The ship’s elaborate decorations feature intricate animal carvings, showing their sophisticated artistic flair.
Along with the ship, archaeologists discovered a trove of other Viking relics. These include textiles, wooden chests, carved animal heads, and the remains of two women, likely of high status. The Oseberg ship and its treasures are displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway, providing a comprehensive picture of Viking burial customs and societal hierarchy.
The Lewis Chessmen
The Lewis Chessmen represent one of the most extraordinary Viking artifacts ever discovered on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Unearthed in the 19th century, these chess pieces are believed to have been crafted in Norway between the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Crafted from walrus ivory and whale teeth, the collection comprises 93 intricately carved pieces that depict an array of figures. Among them are regal kings and queens, solemn bishops, noble knights mounted on their steeds, vigilant standing warders, and distinctive obelisk-shaped pawns.
The Lewis Chessmen reflect the Viking’s ability to meld function with intricate artistry. They also serve as a testimony to the cultural exchanges during the Viking Age, demonstrating the influence of both Scandinavian and Islamic traditions in the design. The chessmen are currently split between the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland.
The Jelling Stones
Located in the town of Jelling in Denmark, the Jelling Stones are a pair of large rune stones erected in the 10th century. These stones are famed for their engravings, depicting various scenes and bearing runic inscriptions. One of them, often called “King Gorm’s Stone,” was erected by King Gorm in honor of his wife, Thyra.
The other, more elaborate stone, known as “King Harald’s Stone,” was raised by King Harald Bluetooth in memory of his parents and to commemorate his conversion of the Danes to Christianity. The imagery on this stone depicts a Christ figure and a mythical beast, signifying the transition from Norse Paganism to Christianity. The Jelling Stones, often called “Denmark’s birth certificate,” are pivotal Viking relics highlighting their religious evolution.
The Mammen Axe
The Mammen Axe is a significant artifact showcasing the Vikings’ high level of craftsmanship. Unearthed from a burial mound in Mammen, Denmark, in the 19th century, this artifact derives its name from the location of its discovery. The axe dates back to the late 10th century and is beautifully decorated with silver inlay, featuring intricate representations of animals in the Mammen style, a specific form of Viking art.
While the Mammen Axe was likely a ceremonial item, it showcases the typical Viking weapon’s structure and form. The incredible level of artistry and craftsmanship that went into its creation suggests it belonged to a person of high status, a chieftain, or a warrior of renown.
The Gjermundbu Helmet
Discovered in a burial mound in Gjermundbu, Norway, in 1943, the Gjermundbu helmet is the only complete Viking helmet ever found. The helmet, composed of iron and featuring a spectacle guard around the eyes and nose, reflects the characteristic style of Viking armor. Although the Viking warriors are often depicted wearing horned helmets in popular culture, the Gjermundbu helmet has no such adornments, proving this notion to be a myth.
The helmet is thought to date back to the late 10th century, and its discovery was accompanied by an array of other artifacts, including the fragments of a chain mail shirt and several weapons, indicating a warrior’s grave. This significant find provides a concrete view of Viking battle gear, shattering many misconceptions about their armor.
Was Viking Artifact Jewelry Ever Found?
Indeed, Viking artifact jewelry has been discovered in various forms and locations, reflecting the distinct style and cultural significance of Viking age adornments. These pieces of jewelry not only showcase the Vikings’ remarkable craftsmanship but also provide valuable insights into their social customs, religious beliefs, and even their extensive trade networks.
One of the most common types of Viking jewelry found is the brooch. Vikings used these ornamental clasps to fasten their cloaks. The tortoise or oval brooches, often found in pairs, are associated with Viking women’s dress. The complexity and beauty of the brooch designs varied greatly, reflecting the wearer’s social status.
Arm and neck rings, or armlets and torcs, are another prominent type of Viking jewelry. Crafted from silver, gold, or bronze, these rings were not just ornamental; they also served a practical purpose. The Vikings often wore wealth, and these rings could be cut or broken into pieces to be used as currency.
The famous Hiddensee treasure is a noteworthy discovery unearthed in Germany. This trove contains a large gold neck ring and 16 pendants believed to have been owned by a high-ranking Viking individual. The intricate craftsmanship of these artifacts is a testament to the high skill level of Viking goldsmiths.
Viking jewelry often features amulets and pendants depicting Norse gods like Thor and Odin or mythological creatures like dragons. The Thor’s hammer (Mjolnir) pendant is especially common, signifying the wearer’s allegiance to the Norse god of thunder.
In terms of locations, Viking jewelry has been found across Scandinavia, the British Isles, and even as far as Russia and the Baltic states, reflecting their extensive trading and raiding reach.
In essence, Viking artifact jewelry represents a fascinating blend of artistry, practicality, and religious symbolism. It serves as an invaluable resource for historians studying the social and cultural life of the Viking Age.
Where Were Viking Artifacts Found in America?
The history of Vikings in America has always been a fascinating topic, as it predates Christopher Columbus’s arrival by nearly 500 years. While direct evidence of their presence in North America is relatively scant compared to their European findings, significant discoveries affirm the Vikings’ transatlantic voyages.
The most famous Viking site in North America is undoubtedly L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. Investigated in 1960 by Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine Ingstad, the site is believed to be the location of Vinland, a Viking settlement mentioned in Norse sagas. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, archaeologists have unearthed Viking-era buildings, ironworking evidence, and a bronze-casting mold, among other artifacts. These findings provide concrete proof of the first known Europeans to set foot on the continent.
In 2016, another potential Viking site, Point Rosee, also located in Newfoundland, caught global attention. The place was identified using satellite imagery, and although the evidence is still under review, initial excavations unearthed potential Viking-era turf walls.
In the United States, a controversial artifact known as the Kensington Runestone was discovered in Minnesota in 1898. The stone is engraved with runic inscriptions purporting to tell of a Viking expedition into the interior of North America in the 14th century. However, historians and archaeologists have heavily debated its authenticity, and a consensus has yet to be reached.
Finally, the Maine Penny, also known as the Goddard Coin, found at a Native American site in Maine in 1957, is another intriguing Viking artifact in America. This 11th-century Norwegian coin is the only Norse artifact widely accepted to have been discovered in the United States, hinting at potential Viking-Native American trade.
These discoveries, while few, have generated a wealth of excitement and speculation about the extent of Viking exploration in the Americas. As we continue to probe the past, who knows what other Viking treasures are yet to be unearthed?
What Country Has the Most Viking Artifacts?
Although Viking artifacts have been discovered in various regions across the globe, reflecting their extensive raiding, trading, and exploring activities, the Scandinavian countries—particularly Norway, Denmark, and Sweden—hold the most significant and numerous Viking finds. These countries were the homeland of the Vikings, so it’s not surprising that they are rich in remnants of this intriguing era.
With its varied terrain and historical significance as a Viking hub, Norway is home to many prominent Viking artifacts. The Oseberg and Gokstad ships, discovered in burial mounds, are among the most exquisite Viking ship finds to date, boasting intricate woodwork and revealing a wealth of additional grave goods. The Gjermundbu helmet, the only complete Viking helmet discovered, also hails from Norway.
Denmark has offered significant contributions to our understanding of Viking culture thanks to the wealth of artifacts found there. The National Museum in Copenhagen houses an extensive collection of Viking relics, including weapons, jewelry, and runestones. The Jelling Stones and the Mammen Axe were both critical to understanding Viking art and religion in Denmark.
Sweden is equally abundant in Viking artifacts. The island of Gotland, in particular, is a treasure trove of Viking relics, with thousands of artifacts, including silver hoards, weapons, and simple tools discovered. The Swedish History Museum in Stockholm houses an impressive array of Viking items, including the stunning Helgö Buddha, a testament to the extensive Viking trade routes.
The UK and Ireland also have a significant number of Viking artifacts, thanks to the extensive Viking presence in these regions during the Viking Age. Notable finds include the Lewis Chessmen and the Cuerdale Hoard, one of the largest Viking silver treasures ever discovered.
So, even though Viking artifacts are scattered across the globe, the highest concentration and some of the most important pieces can be found in the countries of Scandinavia, the heartland of the Viking world.
Have Viking Bodies Been Found?
Yes, Viking bodies, or rather, their remains, have been found, usually in burial sites. The Vikings, depending on their cultural practices and religious beliefs at the time, used various burial methods, including ship burials, cremations, and inhumations (burial in the ground).
One of the most famous discoveries of Viking remains was made in the Oseberg burial mound in Norway. Here, the remarkably preserved remains of two women were found in a ship, surrounded by a wealth of grave goods, indicating they were individuals of high social standing. The age and diet of the two women suggest that one may have been a servant or slave.
In Derbyshire, England, a Viking mass grave was discovered in 2009, containing the disarticulated remains of 264 people, almost all adult males. The bodies bore marks of violent injury, suggesting they were warriors who died in battle. DNA analysis revealed that the men originated from Scandinavia.
In Repton, also in England, another mass grave was found in the 1980s. It contained the remains of at least 249 people, with wounds indicative of battle. A solitary grave nearby held the remains of a tall Viking, dubbed the “Repton Warrior.”
These discoveries shed light on the life, death, and burial customs of the Vikings, enriching our understanding of this intriguing civilization.
Are There Any Viking Ruins Left?
Numerous remaining Viking ruins serve as a testament to the Viking Age. These ruins, ranging from settlement sites to fortifications, offer a window into the daily lives and military strategies of the Vikings.
One of the most famous Viking ruins is the settlement of Jorvik (modern-day York) in England. The site, discovered in the late 20th century, provided a wealth of information about urban life in the Viking Age, from trade activities to crafts and housing. Today, the Jorvik Viking Centre allows visitors to experience Viking life firsthand.
In Scandinavia, there are several impressive Viking ruins. The Birka settlement on the island of Björkö in Sweden was a significant Viking trading center. Although now largely unoccupied, the archaeological site offers a glimpse into the Viking era’s economic activities.
In Denmark, the Trelleborg fortresses, a series of ring castles built during the reign of King Harald Bluetooth, are remarkable remnants of Viking military architecture. The well-preserved fortress of Trelleborg near Slagelse serves as a museum today.
In North America, the L’Anse aux Meadows site in Newfoundland, Canada, is the only confirmed Viking settlement on the continent. The reconstructed turf houses offer a unique insight into the life of Viking settlers in the New World.
Despite the passing of a millennium, these Viking ruins continue to provide us with an invaluable connection to our past.
The allure of the Viking age remains undiminished, even after centuries. The Viking relics have served to advance our understanding of this fascinating historical period. They offer insights into the daily life, burial customs, artistic sensibilities, and even the religious shifts of the Vikings. More than just relics, these artifacts are a window to a bygone era, painting a vivid picture of the world as the Vikings saw and experienced it. The legacy of the Vikings, encapsulated in these real Viking artifacts, is a testament to their profound influence on the world during their era. This legacy continues to captivate us even today.