10 incredible Viking discoveries

From longships to chess pieces, uncover the artefacts and archaeological sites that informed us about the lives of these medieval raiders
Words: Ryan Lavelle

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10 incredible Viking discoveries

1. The Oseberg ship burial, Norway

In 1903, a chance find led to the excavation of a beautifully preserved ship from the early-ninth century. Two women were buried in a chamber on board, their high status revealed by the ornate decoration of the ship, as well as a processional cart, sleighs and even tapestries.

 

2. Dublin and York

A tale of two cities was being revealed by archaeological work in the mid 1970s. Water-logged archaeological conditions revealed the similarities of these closely connected settlements, the houses, the objects and the planning behind closely packed living conditions. These were tales of trade and ordinary Viking life.

3. The ships of Roskilde Fjord, Denmark

The excavation and careful conservation in the 1960s of sunken ships provided a picture of how maritime technology developed. A twist in the tale was that extending the museum built to house them revealed remains of yet more ships, including the remarkable Roskilde 6.

4. L’Anse aux Meadows, Canada

Fired by fascination with the saga stories of the settlements of Leif Eriksson, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad searched tirelessly for signs of Viking settlement. In 1960, they found what they were looking for near a small fishing village in northern Newfoundland.
 

 

5. Novgorod, Russia

The first of many birch bark letters was found in waterlogged conditions in 1951. Since then, many hundreds have been found, telling of the lives and everyday thoughts of ordinary people. By the eleventh century, the time of the earliest letter, the R­ūs-founded city, known as ‘Novgorod the Great’, was prospering.

6. Cuerdale Hoard, Lancashire

In 1842 workmen came across a lead box containing some remarkable pieces of silver. It turned out to contain over 30kg of bullion and over 7,000 coins. Perhaps deposited around AD 905, the hoard attests the activity of a Viking group with connections from Ireland to France, to the Middle East.
 

 

7. Torksey, Lincolnshire

Although there is good evidence of the Vikings’ ability to fortify their encampments, Torksey, used by Vikings in AD 873, was an unprotected site. Recent archaeological work at the site has found an extensive area of occupation and trade associated with the ‘Great Viking Army’.

8. Trelleborg fortresses, Denmark

In 1934, archaeologists investigated a site intended for local motorcyclists. The earthworks so suitable for biking turned out to be precisely measured ramparts of a tenth-century geometric fortress. Since then, six similar fortresses of this type have been found across the territory of the old Danish kingdom.

9. The Lewis Chessmen, Scotland

Found in the sand-dunes of the Isle of Lewis in 1831, the hoard of Norwegian chess-pieces is enough for four games of chess. Dating from the twelfth century, the shield-biting warders (rooks) evoke the behaviour of the ‘Berserk’ warrior.
 

 

10. Ridgeway burials, Dorset

First thought to be the beheaded victims of a Roman-era rebellion when they were unearthed during road-building in 2009, archaeologists were stunned to find out that these fifty bodies dated from the late-tenth to early-eleventh centuries, and many showed signs of growing up in Scandinavia. Were these a band of Vikings caught and executed by Anglo-Saxons during the turbulent reign of Æthelred ‘the Unready’?

 

Read the full feature in the October issue of History Revealed, available now from all good newsagents and supermarkets, or subscribe to get 33% off the newsstand price. 

 

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