Nov 02, 2016 I Paul Seaburn

New Powers of Viking Shields Discovered

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.

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Brave modern Viking Rolf Warming

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.

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Edge of a Viking round shield

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.

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A real round shield boss

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.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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