A) Physical artifacts
Settlements and building – a significant number of sites have been found and after the fall of the Iron Curtain this includes sites in the former East Europe. Also the more recent confirmation of a couple of Viking sites in Canada show the range of exploration of the Vikings, and verification of at least some more parts of sagas. The sites contribute in a number of ways:
- Traces of settlements where it is often the posts of buildings that provide outlines of their size and shape. Also the layout of the whole settlement.
- Where timber has survived then the tree ring dating method (dendrochronology) have enabled better dating, for instance pieces recovered from the Danevirke wall, from Trelleborg ring castle and latest from a significant residence next to the Jelling monument (thought to be a royal seat stronghold of Harald Bluetooth).
- The findings at these site in the form of everyday pottery, tools and personal belongings which provides further information about how the Vikings lived.
Ships – there is no doubt that long ships are a defining element to the Viking Age. Fortunately the Vikings sank some of their ships at their settlement harbors, and so for instance at Roskilde and Hedeby well preserved ships have been excavated. Additionally some Viking nobles were buried in their ships, for instance the magnificent Oseberg Ship found in a burial mound in Norway.
Graves – Besides ship graves, then a large number of Viking grave sites have been found in Scandinavia and also around Europe. For instances graveyards near Trelleborg in Denmark, Uppsala in Sweden, and York in England. These graves have yielded insights in a number of ways:
- Human remains and skeletons have provided information about age, health, often also how the person died. Increasingly modern science is being applied which has added information about for example genetics and chemistry.
- Grave goods ranging from everyday items, ornate pieces of jewelry and to armor, weapons and shields which all add to the understanding of the remains.
- Burial traditions which varied from region to region and over time in use of mounds, cremation, positioning of the remains and hints about the spread of Christianity.
Coins & Hoards – both single coins and hoards of them can tell a great deal, ofr instance:
- Useful in dating items found in conjunction with coins, as the coins either are dated or mention who ruled at the time. Often this can assist in ascertaining the earliest possible time of other items or when a hoard was buried.
- Dispersement of coins tells of raiding and trading patterns, with for instance the finds of coins from the middle east
- Impression on the coins – often containing reference to the ruler who had the coins minted and the location. Also coins containing Christian symbols provide another clue for the spread of Christianity across Scandinavia.
Runic artifacts – Viking Age writing within Scandinavia was based on a runic alphabet consisting of 16 signs or “letters”. Mostly short messages carved into bone, wood or large stones. The runestones in particular often state who the deceased served, was in family with and/or deeds performed – providing glimpses of social ties, rulers or land ownership, and noteworthy events. Additionally the styles of the inscription changed over time and also aid in the reconstruction of the timeline of the Viking Age.
Another field worth mentioning for its contribution to insights about the Viking Age is experimental archeology. In using replica tools and authentic building techniques, re-construction of for example Viking houses at Lejre Museum and long ships at Roskilde Museum have provided key insights into their use and capabilities – as well as day-to-day life during the Viking Age.