While the Vikings are gone their legacy is remembered, such as at the annual Jorvik Viking Festival in York. The Norsemen’s military prowess and exploration are more often the focus of study, but of course the vikings were more than just bloodthirsty pirates: they were also settlers, landholders, farmers, politicians, and merchants.
Between the 8th and 11th century (the Viking Age), Europe saw significant technological advances, not all of them Scandinavian – the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians and Franks were equal players. To understand these changes, we have to see them in the context of increasing contact between Scandinavia, the British Isles, and continental Europe – in which the Vikings were key players. Technological innovations such as the potter’s wheel and the vertical loom transformed not only the types of products being manufactured in Viking settlements, but also the scale on which they were produced.
Technological developments emerged as people came together in growing coastal trading centres and market towns. The world was rapidly becoming more joined-up during this period than at any time since the heyday of the Roman Empire. Trade fostered international links across the North Sea, Baltic and beyond, and similar developments were happening as far afield as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. This was a period in which people began to live and work in entirely new ways, and technological change was both a cause and an effect of this.
While many Viking artefacts of the period are familiar, the complex methods that lay behind their manufacture are less well-known. Each involved a specialised set of skills, tools and raw materials, which meant craftspeople were reliant not only on a market for sale, but also on a well-organised supply chain. This is why the development of specialist crafts, of growing urbanisation, and of long-distance trade are intimately connected.
The Vikings were expert shipbuilders and navigators, and while evidence for their shipwrights’ skills survives to the present day, there is little detail of how they navigated their huge journeys. What is clear is that between the 8th and 11th century, viking shipping underwent significant development, beginning with the appearance of the sail, and leading to the development not only of specialist warships, but also of prototypes for the large cargo vessels that would come to dominate the waters of later medieval Europe. But Viking technology had more to offer than ships and swords.Brooches
Among the most recognisable Viking artefacts are their brooches. Long studied by archaeologists, they signified gender, status, and ethnicity. Work is ongoing to reveal the advanced technology used in their manufacture.
Evidence for brooch manufacture in Viking towns includes the remains of moulds and crucibles. The crucibles are often found complete with residues of the metals melted down in them. Brooches were cast by pouring this metal into moulds, which were produced by pressing existing pieces of jewellery or lead models into clay, followed by minor artistic modification. This resulted in a sort of mass-production. As this craft was dependent on high-quality brass ingots from continental Europe, specialist jewellery production centres arose at ports associated with long-distance trade routes.Glass bead jewellery
Strings of ornate glass beads are another common sight in Viking museum displays. Beads were made in Scandinavian towns by carefully manipulating coloured glass as it melted. Waste deposits prove that the raw glass used in this process came in the form of coloured tesserae: small, square blocks from the Mediterranean, where they were used to produce mosaics. Whether they were bought and sold in south-eastern Europe, before travelling west, or whether they were ripped from Byzantine churches on raids in the region is unclear.Combmaking
Animal bones were among the most important materials in pre-modern technology: a durable, flexible, readily available raw material used for everything from knife handles to ice skates. Many such objects could be made quickly, with little training – but not the Vikings’ hair combs.
These large, ornate, over-engineered objects took days to manufacture and required a trained hand. Specialised tools such as saws, rasps, and polishers were needed, and deer antler particularly was the material of choice.
Combs of this type go back to the Late Roman period, but they really came into their own in the Viking Age, where they became a symbol of status and aspiration. Combmakers tended to work in towns, where they had access to periodic markets and a supply network that brought in deer antler from the local countryside, and reindeer antler from the Arctic north. They may also have moved around from town to town, in order to maximise their sales. It’s a great example of the way town, countryside, and long-distance travel were tied together in order to support the technology that was important to the everyday life of Viking-Age people.
These examples of craftmanship and technical tool work – and there are many more – demonstrate that the Vikings should be seen as more than just raiders, and more more than simple traders or merchants too. With their outward-looking society and cutting edge techniques, they were among the earliest investors in global technologies in a post-Roman world that, even then, was increasingly international. And today, as a modern recreation of a Viking vessel embarks for the first ever Viking exhibition in China, it’s clear their appeal is truly global.Written by Steven Ashby
Lecturer of Archaeology at University of York
This finding contrasts the general believe that the second plague pandemic “Black Death” was a singular introduction of Yersinia pestis from Asia to Europe in 1347 AD. Their results are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
To date, scientists were mainly seeking to discover long-term wildlife reservoirs of Yersinia pestis in Europe and aiming to link those with possible climatic triggers that most likely contributed to the “Black Death” that struck the Old World in mid-14th century. Scholars at CEES and WSL, however, found new evidence that challenged the prevailing view of a singular introduction of the bacterium from central Asian plague foci into the Mediterranean harbors of medieval Europe.
Rather than a rare one-time event that decimated the European population by estimated 40-60% within several years after 1347 AD, the team shows that wildlife rodent population dynamics in central Asia played an important role for the entire second plague pandemic in the Old World. This episode lasted for more than four centuries and substantially impacted the continent’s socio-economic development, culture, art, religion and politics. By comparing a most comprehensive digital inventory of historical plague outbreaks (7711 cases) against 15 annually resolved and absolutely dated tree ring-based climate reconstructions, it became obvious that east-west travelling waves of Asian plague epidemics repeatedly reached Europe.
The team searched for climate fluctuations in high-resolution palaeoclimatic records that are associated with current-day plague outbreaks in major host species (such as the great gerbil Rhombomys opimus), and found such fluctuations to statistically relate with reintroductions of plague into medieval Europe. The new evidence suggests repeated climate-driven re-introductions of the bacterium Yersinia pestis via the Silk Road system into European harbors from wildlife rodent reservoirs in Asian plague foci, with a delay of 10-15 years after pluvial periods that affected large parts of central Asia.
In joining forces, Swiss and Norwegian scientists have expanded the role of Asian wildlife plague reservoirs from a single initiator of the devastating pandemic, to a continuous, climate-driven source of plague in the Old World. Moreover, their results challenge the long-standing, but poorly substantiated view that Yersinia pestis must have had a permanent wildlife reservoir in Europe, such as the urban black rat. Instead, new strains of the disease may have been frequently imported from Asia.
Nevertheless, an ultimate confirmation of this hypothesis depends on the availability of appropriate genetic material of ancient plague victims not only from different periods throughout time but also from different parts of Eurasia. The advent of aDNA techniques and international research collaboration across disciplinary boundaries will most likely be able to shed new light on this fascinating topic at the interface of human history and environmental variability.
The post Asian tree rings explain historical plague outbreaks in Europe appeared first on HeritageDaily - Heritage & Archaeology News.
This week a groundbreaking new resource for scientists will go live, and it is designed to help answer just those kinds of questions.
The Fossil Calibration Database, a free, open-access resource that stores carefully vetted fossil data, is the result of years of work from a worldwide team led by Dr. Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, and Dr. James Parham, Curator at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center in Orange County, California, funded through the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent).
“Fossils provide the critical age data we need to unlock the timing of major evolutionary events,” says Dr. Ksepka. “This new resource will provide the crucial fossil data needed to calibrate ‘molecular clocks’ which can reveal the ages of plant and animal groups that lack good fossil records. When did groups like songbirds, flowering plants, or sea turtles evolve? What natural events were occurring that may have had an impact? Precisely tuning the molecular clock with fossils is the best way we have to tell evolutionary time.”
More than twenty paleontologists, molecular biologists, and computer programmers from five different countries contributed to the design and implementation of this new database. The Fossil Calibrations Database webpage launches on Tuesday February 24th, and a series of five peer-reviewed papers and an editorial on the topic will appear in the scientific journal Palaeontologia Electronica, describing the endeavor. Dr. Ksepka is the author of one of the papers and co-author of the editorial.
“This exciting field of study, known as ‘divergence dating,’ is important for understanding the origin and evolution of biodiversity, but has been hindered by the improper use of data from the fossil record,” says Dr. Parham. “The Fossil Calibration Database addresses this issue by providing molecular biologists with paleontologist-approved data for organisms across the Tree of Life.”
The Tree of Life? “Think of it as a family tree of all species,” explains Dr. Ksepka.
The post International team of scientists launches fossil database appeared first on HeritageDaily - Heritage & Archaeology News.
- CBA History
- Support Us
- Group Publications