If you’ve ever wanted to be an archeologist but didn’t want to spend backbreaking weeks in the hot sun carefully brushing dirt off of relics, this could be the job for you. Experimental archeologists in Denmark dress up like Vikings and reenact battles in an attempt to better understand Viking culture and fighting techniques. Sounds like a great job, right? Oh, there’s one more thing … the swords are real.
It was fun but I was also a little nervous because we had to really hit hard, with both force and intent, for it to be realistic.
Rolf Warming from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, is a combat archeologist working on his master’s thesis on the martial practices of the Viking Age. He described his job recently in ScienceNordic and revealed a new discovery about how Vikings survived in battle that had nothing to do with helmets, chain mail or hitting below the belt.
It turns out that the Vikings may have used their shields much more actively than previously thought.
To test his theory, Warming built a Viking round shield based on archaeological discoveries at Viking battlefields in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Measuring one meter (3.3 ft.) in diameter, a round shield was generally made of pine planks covered with treated pig leather and rimmed with ox rawhide. While that sounds like it would be protective, Warming found that holding the round shield in front of him to block an opponent’s blows tended to cause the shield to break apart, thus invalidating the warrantee and causing serious damage to the Viking. Things changed when he used the shield as an offensive rather than defensive tool.
When I actively moved forward with the shield at both angles, it seemed almost like a weapon, because you could both avoid the battle and also deliver forceful blows to the enemy with the shield edge.
Conventional archeologists studying the Vikings have only found shield bosses – the metal dome from the middle of the shield – and have been puzzled by the dents they have. Warming’s research gives them an answer, says archaeologist Anne-Christine Larsen, chief investigator at the Trelleborg Viking castle in Denmark.
He’s combined the best of two worlds by putting himself in the actual situation and being beaten with swords. That’s what experimental archaeology is all about.
Before you decide that combat archeology is your new career path, Warming says his next project is to see how much force a Viking round shield could have withstood in battle.
I hope to get funding to conduct similar studies, but with axes and arrows.
Axes and arrows! Maybe you should keep your day job in accounting.