The dawn of the Viking Age may have been much earlier – and less violent – than previously believed.
The start of the Viking Age has been dated to a June 793 raid by Norwegian Vikings on Lindisfarne off the coast of England. But new research from archaeologists at the University of Aarhus and the University of York show that Vikings were travelling from Norway to the vital trading centre in Ribe on Denmak’s west coast as early as 725.
"This is the first time we have proof that seafaring culture, which was the basis for the Viking era, has a history in Ribe. It's fascinating," Søren Sindbæk, a professor at the University of Aarhus and one of the others of a new study, told ScienceNordic.
The researchers from Aarhus and York discovered antlers in the archaeological remains of Ribe’s old marketplace that turned out to be the remains of Norwegian reindeer. They said that the antlers provide proof that Ribe, the oldest town in all of Scandinavia, was being visited by Vikings long before their infamous pillaging.
Those trips between Norway and Denmark gave the Vikings the seafaring skills that would be used some 70 years later to strike England.
"The Viking Age becomes a phenomenon in Western Europe because the Vikings learned to use maritime mobility to their advantage. They learned to master sailing to such an extent that they get to the coast of England where the locals don't expect anything. They come quickly, plunder the unprepared victims, and leave again — a sort of hit and run," Sindbæk told Science Nordic.
According to Sindbæk, the new-found proof of the commercial journeys to Ribe changes the popular narrative of Vikings as violent aggressors.
"The peaceful exchanges — trading — will take up more of the story, and the military voyages, which are also important, must now share the space," he said.
"Now we can prove that shipping between Norway and the market town of Ribe was established prior to the Viking era, and trade networks helped to create the incentives and the knowledge of the sea, which made the Viking raids possible. It is the first time that we can clearly link two very important phenomena, the lock and key if you like, of the Viking Age," Sindbæk added.
The new findings, which have been published in the European Journal of Archaeology, mark the second time in recent months that new information has been dug up about Ribe. An Aarhus University study released in December showed that the historic town could actually be about 75 years older than previously believed.
Although trading in Ribe had been dated back to the early 700s, archaeologists had believed that it was confined to seasonal activities. The Aarhus team however found that Ribe was permanently inhabited much earlier than previously thought.