12 November 2017

How and Why did the Viking Age Begin?

This excellent article from Medievalists on a study by Professor Neil Price of Uppsala University, Sweden, and colleagues from Tallinn and Tartu Universities, Estonia, is slated to shake up the world of medieval archaeology.

When the 10-year study is complete, we may finally have definitive answers, which we do not have presently, as to when and where the Viking Age began.

Be sure and click on the three video links in the article, they are most engaging. (Ed.)

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How and Why did the Viking Age Begin?

OCTOBER 22, 2017 BY MEDIEVALISTS.NET
By Minjie Su

The question of how the Viking Age started has been much debated by historians. One of the leading scholars in the field, Neil Price, is looking to address this fundamental question with his latest project – The Viking Phenomenon.

Photo by Martin Jacquet /Flickr
Professor Price, currently chair of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, spoke earlier this month at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Archaeology about his latest project, which began in 2015. It is a collaborative effort between Uppsala University and Tallinn and Tartu Universities in Estonia. Acknowledging the breadth and width of the recent research into the Viking Age (circa AD 750-1050), this ten-year project means to travel even further back in understanding how and why the Viking Age began.

Five principal points are singled out as requiring special (re)consideration. First, the very concept of the Viking Age. Is it merely a Victorian invention? Or is it just a part of what was happening in Europe at large? Professor Price is not content with either. The Viking diaspora is marked by interaction with a huge variety of cultural groups. It simply cannot be something that ‘just happened’; it is an issue of complexity that needs to be examined in its own right.

Second, Professor Price believes that stereotypes should not be dismissed. Instead, they must be ‘honestly confronted, challenged, and elucidated, not least where it may contain some truth’.

Third, it may be time to critically dismantle some boundaries such as those between the Vendel Period (circa AD 550-790) and Viking Age. Fourth, the project will make conscious effort to remove the ‘ghettoization’ of gender. Instead of eye-catching notions such as ‘Women of the Viking Age’, Professor Price emphasizes on ‘People of the Viking Age’, which includes also the unfree, the enslaved population.

Last but not the least, having worked with History Channel’s Vikings, Professor Price points out the importance of engaging contemporary culture and mass media. It would be impossible to effectively study the Viking Age without understanding how and why the Viking imagery is represented and/or misrepresented in modern popular culture. Besides, it will be a useful tool for scholars to reach a wider audience, and their research to achieve greater influence.

Despite its breadth in scope, the project is composed of two main branches – the boat grave culture and Viking economics. At the core of the first branch lies the archaeological sites of Valsgärde (Sweden) and Salme (Estonia). Located near the famed Gamla Uppsala, Valsgärde is one of Sweden’s greatest archaeological treasures and certainly the biggest cemetery of boat burials. The site was already excavated between the 1920s and the 1950s. Fifteen (presumably) male boat graves are found, together with over sixty cremations and burial chambers, mostly of women. The site is dated to from the 6th century to the 11th century AD, with the boats buried once per year. Therefore, it provides a valuable and rare opportunity not only to look at the transition between the Vendel and the Viking Age, but also the activities of a small area over a long period of time.

https://youtu.be/VbaXjnDpWgw

Located on the coastal area in Estonia, the site of Salme, dated to ca. AD 750 (thus the very beginning of the Viking Age), was excavated between 2008 and 2012. Two boat graves are found, aligned parallel with the shore, respectively containing seven and thirty-four bodies. Apparently, complex rituals have been performed here: a mound of shields has been found, with swords standing vertically on the shields; birds, fish, and dogs have been killed and buried along. Archaeologists also discovered gaming pieces, deliberately arranged in certain patterns around the corpses. One of them – buried in the centre – was perhaps a king, for a single gaming piece – the king – is found in his mouth. He must have died a gruesome death: his body has been cut into pieces and reassembled for burial; a sword was put in his hand.

Isotope analyses show that the Salme men were from Mälar Valley; this would put them in close affinity with the Valsgärde people – in fact, some war gears prove to have been cast in the same mould. They may even be the same people. Together, Valsgärde and Salme indicate early maritime contact. They provide the lens to see the beginning of the raiding activities and, above all, the society that produced them.

https://youtu.be/BCsjiyrdq6Q

The second branch of the project develops around Viking economics – economics, not the economic system, Professor Price emphasizes. As the term indicates, this branch focuses on the network that gave rises to the early raiding activities. This is also where the unfree, enslaved population come in, for raiding, slaving, and trading form a triangle that should not be considered and discussed in separate terms; within the socio-political context that generated and supported raiding, everyone is implicated.

It will not be hard to imagine, that the project will lead to a double number of conferences, lectures, workshops, and publications in the foreseeable future. They will be mostly devoted to five sub-projects: Viking ideologies, Viking dynamics, Viking slavery, Viking infrastructure, Viking economics. Keen on its public engagement, publications – including excavation reports of the archaeological sites – born from this project are to be made accessible online. A geolocated digital reconstruction app is in the making, meant to be used on the sites of Gamla Uppsala, Valsgärde, and Salme. The communities that used to live there will be brought back to life once again and, as a visitor, you shall also be a part.

05 November 2017

DNA Samples Reveal Viking Age Fish Trade

It seems that my favorite food fish, the Atlantic Cod, may have been exported to distant customers by the Vikings. Cod has been an important food fish for thousands of years, and the protection of nearby stocks have even precipitated an armed standoff between the Icelanders and British in contemporary times.

This study at the university of Oslo is defining the origin of cod bones. Researchers have found a direct link between cod bones found in the Baltic region of what is now northern Germany, and the Lofoten cod of Northern Norway. (Ed.)

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DNA Samples Reveal Viking Age Fish Trade

AUGUST 10, 2017 BY MEDIEVALISTS.NET


It has been assumed that the Vikings were trading in cod, but so far solid evidence has been lacking. With new methods, it is possible to extract ancient DNA from fish bone remnants and this can provide some exciting new information!

The jaw bone of a cod used for DNA extraction – photo courtesy University of Oslo
Towards the end of the 8th century the Viking chieftain Ottar (Ohthere), from Hålogaland in northern Norway, was visiting Haithabu in today's Germany. He brought furs and walrus ivory, that he delivered as gifts to King Alfred the Great of Wessex. The meeting between Ottar and King Alfred is written in ”Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum”, and this is also the text where Norway is mentioned for the first time in history.

Ottar tells King Alfred about his travels and his visit to Haithabu on the way to Wessex. Such historical accounts have provided tantalising ideas about possible early movement of goods from Northern Norway to central Europe, but scientific evidence was inconclusive. Now scientists have been able to use DNA preserved in old fish bones to solve this question.

Researches from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, used ancient DNA extracted from the remnants of Viking-age fish suppers. The study analysed five cod bones dating from between 800 and 1066 AD found in the mud of the former wharves of Haithabu, which was an early medieval trading port on the Baltic.

The DNA from these cod bones contained genetic signatures seen in the Arctic stock that swims off the coast of Lofoten: the northern archipelago still a centre for Norway’s fishing industry.

Researchers say the findings show that supplies of ‘stockfish’ – an ancient dried cod dish popular to this day – were transported over a thousand miles from northern Norway to the Baltic Sea during the Viking era.

Prior to the latest study, there was no archaeological or historical proof of a European stockfish trade before the 12th century.

Norway’s first export?

“It has long been speculated that the trade of Norwegian stockfish might have begun in the Viking Age (i.e. 800-1066),” says Dr. James Barrett of the University of Cambridge, “but this interpretation has been controversial because the earliest definite historical evidence dates from the 12th century and previously the most secure archaeological evidence had been from the 13th century. Past research at Cambridge using stable isotopes strongly suggested that the Haithabu cod were not from local waters, but we could not say for certain where they had been caught.

“With the new ancient DNA evidence we now know, with a high degree of confidence that they were from Arctic Norwegian cod. If the bones are from 1066 (their latest possible date) we have only changed existing knowledge a little, but it is equally likely that they are from the 9th or 10th century, in which case our understanding of Viking Age trade might need to be rewritten.

“This trade may have been as much about staple commodities as about luxury goods, such as walrus ivory or furs. Having opened this possibility, we aim to investigate more precisely dated cod bones in the future, at Haithabu itself or other sites in the region, and that more bones can be analysed in order to evaluate the scale of this activity. Do the bones only represent travelling provisions, or are we witnessing urban provisioning over vast distances?”

The sequencing of the ancient cod genomes was done at the University of Oslo, where researchers are studying the genetic makeup of Atlantic cod in an effort to unpick the anthropogenic impacts on these long-exploited fish populations.

“Fishing, particularly of cod, has been of central importance for the settlement of Norway for thousands of years. By combining fishing in winter with farming in summer, whole areas of northern Norway could be settled in a more reliable manner,” says the University of Oslo’s Bastiaan Star, another author of the new study.
Sanne Boessenkool and Bastaan Star are working on ancient DNA samples – photo courtesy University of Oslo
In order to be certain of where the fish were from, Bastiaan Star and Sanne Boessenkool, who work at the work at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), compared the genetic profiles from the old bones to those from modern cod populations from the same areas. Although it is too early to identify specific mutations and changes in the DNA that may have happened over time, these profiles were detailed enough to pinpoint the most likely source population back in time. Such comparisons can tell us a lot about human and animal development over time and give us a better understanding of evolution.

Even if we do not know if the cod in Haithabu represent travellers provisions or that they were goods for trade, it is quite certain that the cod did not end up there by itself. With these advanced methods we can learn more about Ottar from Hålogaland and how he lived.

25 October 2017

1,000-year-old Viking sword discovered in Cork

The fascinating aspect of this short article, is that the object pictured below is made of wood, yew to be specific, and it is more than 1000-years old. It has been identified as a weaver's sword, used to tighten each run of yarn on the loom.

As you see from the accompanying photos, the object is virtually in pristine condition, as though it was made recently. It was found in what became an archaeological site in Cork, Irish Republic. (Ed.)

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1,000-year-old Viking sword discovered in Cork

Updated / Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017 18:02

The wooden weaver's sword is made from yew and features carved human faces
A 1,000-year-old perfectly preserved Viking sword has been discovered by archaeologists at the historic site of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery in Cork city.

The wooden weaver’s sword is just over 30cm in length, made entirely from yew, and features carved human faces typical of the Ringerike style of Viking art, dating it roughly to the late 11th century.

Consultant Archaeologist Dr Maurice Hurley said it was one of several artefacts of "exceptional significance" unearthed during recent excavations at the South Main Street site, along with intact ground plans of 19 Viking houses, remnants of central hearths and bedding material.

"For a long time there was a belief that the strongest Viking influence was on Dublin and Waterford, but the full spectrum of evidence shows that Cork was in the same cultural sphere and that its development was very similar," he said.

"A couple of objects similar to the weaver’s sword have been found in Wood Quay, but nothing of the quality of craftsmanship and preservation of this one," Dr Hurley said.

He added that it was "quite miraculous" how the various wooden items had survived underground in such pristine condition.

"The sword was used probably by women, to hammer threads into place on a loom; the pointed end is for picking up the threads for pattern-making. It’s highly decorated - the Vikings decorated every utilitarian object," he said.



One of the other artefacts found was a wooden thread-winder carved with two horses’ heads, also associated with fabric weaving.

The Viking remains were found in May, but only came to light last Tuesday following an informal visit to the Cork Public Museum by the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit Eikeland.

"The visit did not coincide with any official or diplomatic event, but came about due to the Ambassador’s deep personal interest in the Vikings," said Museum Curator Daniel Breen said.

The eight-month archaeological dig led by Dr Hurley finished in June, but developers BAM Ireland have not given any indication yet when building might begin or end at the site.

A spokesperson for BAM said the company had been delighted to be able to facilitate and fully fund the archaeological excavations, thus adding to the medieval heritage of Cork city.


22 October 2017

The Viking Shield in the British Isles

The reader might think that a dissertation on the shields of the Viking warriors could be covered in a few short paragraphs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This excerpt, featured on Medievalists, comes to us from a master's thesis on that very subject, and the author conveys everything known about the Viking shields, as well as much else gleaned from her research.

I encourage the interested reader to click the link at the end of this excerpt, to be taken to Academia.edu, where you may read this very interesting thesis in its entirety. (Ed.)

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The Viking Shield in the British Isles: Changes in use from the 8th-11th Century in England and the Isle of Man

JULY 31, 2017 BY MEDIEVALISTS.NET

The Viking Shield in the British Isles: Changes in use from the 8th-11th Century in England and the Isle of Man

By Emma Boast
Master’s Thesis, University of York, 2011 (re-edited 2017)


Abstract: This investigation into the study of the Viking shield will include analysis and interpretation of archaeological material, from England and the Isle of Man, with wider parallels being drawn upon from the Scandinavian homelands. Historical evidence from Saga’s and historical accounts for this period will be used to enhance the vibrancy of the Viking shield and show the role of it as a symbolic object within Viking Society.

This is an ever evolving topic of study and it has opened up new areas for investigation as well as the potential for further cataloguing and re-evaluation of Viking age archaeology throughout the 8th-11th centuries.

Introduction: The Viking shield although a very iconic object, it is an item which has not received the same kind of artefact analysis in recent years as maybe some other objects have from the Viking Age. The studies done on Viking Age combs have enabled a greater understanding on manufacture, trade and exchange. The extensive artefact analysis of tortoise brooches and keys at Ribe, Denmark has shown the qualities of Viking age craftsman but also enabled good chronologies and distinct typologies to be developed.

Click here to read this thesis from Academia.edu


08 October 2017

Largest Viking Building Ever Found in Scandinavia

Featured this week is an interesting article about the largest Viking longhouse ever discovered in Scandinavia. Located in northern Norway, near the hamlet of Borg, Lofoten Islands, it is believed that the longhouse belonged to local chieftain. At 272' in length, the longhouse, constructed to resemble an inverted long ship, is unlikely to find an equal anywhere in the Viking world.

As you may know, the Vikings were believed to use their inverted ships as shelters, rather than build houses, when the gods Njord and Thor brought winter to the land in which they found themselves. (Ed.)

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Jun 23, 2017 Marija Georgievska


In 1983, a joint Scandinavian research project was conducted in the small village of Borg, near the center of Vestvågøy, in northern Norway. During the excavation, researchers discovered a Viking building that belonged to one of the chieftains. It is believed to be the largest ever found. The 272-foot-long house was the seat of one of the chieftains, and it is the only such building found as of now.

In the 1990s, the residence was reconstructed in order for it to become part of the Lofotr Viking Museum. Historians believe the building was raised around 500 AD and abandoned around 950. The last chieftain who lived in the house was probably Olaf Tvennumbruni, who moved to Iceland because of a conflict with the other chieftains.

These events are described in a book called the  Lándnáma Bok.  It is believed that it was written around the 12th or 13th centuries, and the book describes the colonization of Iceland, including Tvennumbruni as one of the settlers from Lofotr (which is the medieval name for “Vestvågøy”). There is a detailed description of his family in the book, saying that he had three sons and he was married to Ashild.

The largest Viking building ever found in Scandinavia. Photo Credit


A Viking workshop. Photo Credit
Today, as part of the museum, the house is a major attraction for visitors to enjoy traditional Viking food, see a precise reconstruction of two Viking ships, visit the blacksmith’s forge, and learn craft skills. The most enjoyable part is that, unlike other museums, people can touch the artifacts and every other object inside. Some guides are dressed as Vikings from 1,000 years ago and walk visitors through this amazing historical experience.


The banquet hall, shaped like an upside-down boat. Photo Credit

The full-scale replica of the Gokstad Viking ship. Photo Credit
The banquet hall, which is shaped like an upside-down boat, is reserved for traditional food, as well as singing and dancing. In the summer a Viking ship, which is a full-scale replica of the Gokstad ship from the 9th century, can carry 90 people on the water. Close to Gokstad there is a smaller ship, and together they are known as Vargfotr and Lofotr. The museum also has a large barn, living quarters, and a storeroom for grain.

The smaller ship is known as Vargfotr. Photo Credit
The interior of the living quarters is made to look as it might have in the year 800. Between the farm and the house, a sunken smithy was restored in 1997. Here, visitors can watch a demonstration of a Viking blacksmith’s craft and learn how the Vikings produced iron and charcoal. The barn was used to keep the animals warm through the winter, and today, various animals can be seen around it, including wild pigs, horses, and sheep.

The front view of the Viking smithy. Photo Credit
Since 2006, many additions and changes have been made at the museum, including the building of a large amphitheater between the house and the reception building. Several other buildings can be seen on the site, such as a film theater and two exhibition halls. In these halls there are various unique artifacts, and visitors can watch videos about the excavation of Borg.



Footwear from the Viking era at the Lofotr Viking Museum. Photo Credit

On the outside, around the museum, there are walking paths for visitors to explore the site more closely. The attractions are open from May until September. The museum was nominated for two awards in two years, firstly in 2011 for Museum of the Year in Norway, and second in 2013 for the European Museum of the Year Award.
Related story from us: New initiative underway to reconstruct a Viking ship built in Norway in 900 AD

Every August, there is a Viking festival in the village that lasts for five days and features many “Vikings” from Norway and other countries. During the event, various game shows, markets, competitions, and concerts are held.

29 September 2017

Breakthrough In Dating Viking Fortress

The following article from Aarhus University and the Museum of Southeast Denmark is interesting, because of the precise dating of wood found at the site. Dendrochronology is an amazing science that has given us glimpses of another time, another world, that we would not have otherwise. (Ed.)

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Breakthrough In Dating Viking Fortress

Archaeology

THE CARVED OAK TIMBER OBJECT RECENTLY FOUND IN PEAT LAYERS JUST OUTSIDE THE SOUTH GATEWAY OF THE FORTRESS. THE PIECE HAS BEEN CUT AND SAMPLED FOR DENDROCHRONOLOGICAL SAMPLING (LEFT). THE FUNCTION OF THE PIECE IS UNKNOWN, BUT IT MAY BE A PART OF A DOOR OR BUILDING. CREDIT THE MUSEUM OF SOUTH EAST DENMARK / NANNA HOLM

IN 2014 ARCHAEOLOGISTS FROM THE MUSEUM OF SOUTH EAST DENMARK AND AARHUS UNIVERSITY DISCOVERED THE PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN VIKING FORTESS(sic) AT BORGRING SOUTH OF COPENHAGEN.

Since then the search has been on to uncover the life, function, destruction and, not least, the precise dating of the Viking fortress. Now a new find has produced a break-through in the investigation.

In the period 2016-18 a programme of new excavations is made possible by a grant from the A.P. Møller Foundation. The team from the Museum of South East Denmark and Aarhus University are joind by leading experts from the Environmental Archeology and Materials Research at the Danish National Museum and the National Police Department’s Section for arson investigation. Prior to this year’s excavations it was only known that the massive, 150m wide fortress dated to the tenth century. Experts suspected that it was built in the reing of Viking king Harold Bluetooth (c.958-c.987), but the association could not be proven.

On Monday 26 June, the archaeological team opened new trenches is the meadow next to the fortress to search for evidence of the landscape surrounding the fortress. Around 2.5 meters below the current surface of the valley was found a c. 1m long piece of carved oak wood with drilled holes and several wooden pegs in situ. The wood carries clear traces of wear, but it is not currently possible to say what function the wood piece has had.

Leading specialist in dendrochronological dating, Associate Professor Aoife Daly from the University of Copenhagen and the owner of dendro.dk, has just completed his study of the piece of wood and says: “The plank is oak and the conserved part of the tree trunk has grown in the years 829-950 In the Danish area. A comparison with the material from the Trelleborg fortress in Sjælland shows a high statistical correlation that confirms the dating. Since no splints have been preserved, it means that the tree has fallen at some point after year 966 “.

Research leader Jens Ulriksen says: “The wood piece was found on top of a peat layer, and is fully preserved as it is completely water-logged. We now have a date of wood in the valley of Borgring, which corresponds to the dating from the other ring fortresses from Harold Bluetooth’s reign. With the dendrochronological dating, in conjunction with the traces of wear the piece has, it is likely that the piece ended as waste in the late 900s, possibly in the early 1000’s. ”

In the coming week, the National Museum’s environmental archaeologists will take samples of wet depositions in the valley with the aim of uncovering how the layers have evolved from the earliest strata we have dated to the Bronze Age and over time.” Says excavation leader Nanna Holm. Nanna Holm, of course, hopes that the studies will particularly clarify one of the unclear questions archaeologists have, namely where the river was exactly when the fortress was built in the Viking Age, and how passable it was.

Søren M. Sindbæk, professor in Archaeology at Aarhus University and part of the excavation team says: “This find is the major break-through, which we have been searching for. We finally have the dating evidence at hand to prove that this is a late tenth century fortress. We lack the exact year, but since the find also shows us where the river flowed in the Viking Age, we also know where to look for more timbers from the fortress.”

AARHUS UNIVERSITY


24 September 2017

To understand Viking culture, take a look at their plates

You might find this article on Viking food interesting. The accompanying photos are great; however, some of Serra's contentions are suspect, i. e. sausage. Did the Vikings make sausage? I don't know, but it's doubtful, because I have never seen a reference to sausage making among the paucity of text actually written during the Viking age - no, the sagas were not written during the Viking age. The average Viking was illiterate by our standards, the art form known as runes, which your average Viking could not read, notwithstanding.

Mr. Serra further postulates: "Aside from dried fish, Vikings apparently didn't hunt or gather much." What an absurd contention! The middens containing the remains of their food, indicate they consumed all kinds of wild meat and fish, e.g. - walrus, seal, birds of all kinds, dogs, deer, bear, trout, salmon, etc.

Had Mr. Serra really studied the culture of the Vikings he would realize that their trading ultimately led to raiding. It has recently been proven that they came to Ireland much earlier in the 8th century that has been in vogue among archaeologists. Early trading expeditions may have come as early as the latter part of the 7th century according to recent grave finds in Dublin, Ireland, and these people came not only to trade, but to settle, bringing their women and children with them.

The period of the Viking Age was a period of continuous warfare, that is why we refer to it as the Dark Ages. The Vikings were a savage society, living in a savage age, and they were well able to cope with the times in which they existed. Had they not, we would know nothing about them.

So, enjoy the article for what it portrays - a tale about a corpulent contemporary man and his corpulent companion who both love to eat, while he tries to emulate a people he admires, at the same time furthering his own opinion of how and what the Vikings ate. (Ed.)

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To understand Viking culture, take a look at their plates

Dan Gunderson · Jun 24, 2017



Swedish culinary archeologist Daniel Serra cooks over a fire at the Midwest Viking Festival in Moorhead on Thursday. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Daniel Serra likes to bust myths about Vikings. Like the image of Vikings gnawing on huge chunks of meat pulled from the fire.

"It's a myth of course, and it's the myth of the barbarian, the wild man," said Serra, a Swedish culinary archaeologist. "To start with most of the Vikings would have been farmers or traders. You had the fighters and raiders of course, but that's just a small part of it."
Viking food varied depending on the region, but Serra said most food in the Viking age was boiled in clay, soapstone or iron pots.

"A stew would have been common. A porridge, a savory porridge almost like a risotto would have been common," said Serra. "They did have some roasted meats but that would have been quite the upper class."

Viking re-enactor Terrie Helleloid watches Serra cook. She uses his cookbook to make meals at festivals across the Midwest. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Vikings had knives, spoons and fingers, but no forks. That meant food was usually cut up before it was cooked to make it easier to eat. And dried or salted meat needed a good boiling to be rehydrated so it could be eaten.

Serra has spent years immersed in Viking Age history and he looks the part. A long flowing beard is whipped by the wind as he stands in swirling smoke tending an iron pot boiling sausage over an open fire in Moorhead, where he's appearing at the Midwest Viking Festival.

He grins as he pats his slightly rotund middle and explains his choice of research might have been influenced by his fondness for food. The Vikings left little documentation of what they ate, but Serra studied archaeological finds, and pored over Norse sagas and medieval texts to develop a list of ingredients and cooking techniques that were likely used during the Viking Age that lasted about 300 years from the 8th to 11th centuries.

Food archaeology became his specialty. Through research and trial and error he developed recipes he says are as "historically accurate as possible with the information we have".

He co-wrote a cookbook called "An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey."


Serra boils sausage in a kettle. He says Vikings likely used a cut off cow horn and animal intestines to make sausages. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Of course, fish was a staple for many Vikings. Stockfish was a dried cod which Serra says is much drier than beef jerky; he describes it being "like a block of wood." Preparing stockfish involved beating it with the back side of an ax.
"A medieval cookbook says you should beat your stockfish for a good hour. When I tried it, the good hour was two hours and I smelled like ... well put it another way, cats really loved me that day," said Serra with a chuckle.

The Vikings often survived on this leathery cod, but no; the Vikings did not create or eat lutefisk. Serra glances surreptitiously over his shoulder before sharing this bit of culinary heresy.
"The first recipe for that is not from Scandinavia. The first recipe for lutefisk I found was from France in the 14th century," explained Serra. "I'm not sure if I'll get out of here alive, but yes, that's the origin."



Serra has researched and replicated cuisine and cookware. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Aside from dried fish, Vikings apparently didn't hunt or gather much. Serra says most bones found in archeological sites are from domestic cattle, sheep and goats. And Vikings grew most of the grains and vegetables they ate.

They made bread from the grain and, more importantly, beer. Serra says beer was a staple, an every meal drink. It had health benefits, helping prevent waterborne illnesses and providing some necessary nutrients.

Beer was mostly brewed in open vats without hops. Instead, Vikings used aromatic plants like bog myrtle for flavor.
Beer, Serra says, was a social expectation.
"If you don't serve the beer when you have it, people will take offense," said Serra, adding with a laugh, "And that is important today as well, I think."


Serra uses a small stone mill to grind wheat. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
The pleasure of good food aside, Serra finds value in learning about historical food culture.
"It is an understanding of how people are living.This is giving an everyday understanding of life," said Serra. "Everyone can relate to people eating. And that makes it a very good way of displaying history I think."

Serra demonstrates Viking cuisine Friday and Saturday at the Midwest Viking Festival in Moorhead. Next Tuesday and Wednesday he's at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.