One of the things I love most about being a re-enactor is that there is always something new to learn. Whether it’s new archaeological finds adding to knowledge, reading about something I hadn’t investigated before, or finding areas of my own study where I had missed something or just made assumptions.
In terms of the archaeology there are some fascinating discoveries with old finds as well as new discoveries. For example just a couple of months ago it was confirmed that a helmet that was found back in the 1950s by workmen digging sewage trenches in Yarm was actually a 10th Century Viking helmet – the only confirmed Viking helmet ever found in the UK and one of only two mostly intact Vikings helmets in the world. For decades it had been practically ignored, passed over as possibly a victorian replica until modern technology was used to provide an accurate analysis.
The helmet is made up of iron bands and plates and it’s so complete it’s possible to see where a mail neck guard may have been attached. Most of the nose guard is still in place and the spectacle loops that protect the eyes. It’s strange to think that it’s been sitting in a museum all this time with no-one realising how important it is. I definitely think a visit to Preston Park is in over once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Last year, 2019, it was confirmed that a famous warrior burial at Birka in Sweden unearthed in the 1870s and seen as the iconic burial of a high status warrior with sword, axe, shields, arrows, horses and the pieces to play a strategy game wasn’t the “battle-hardened man” male as had always been assumed but a “battle-hardened woman”.
There was also a mass grave in Repton, Derbyshire which investigation in 2018 confirmed to date back to the 9th century and the Great Viking Army, from which roughly 20% of the 250+ bodies recovered were female. So female warriors were fighting alongside made warriors here in England.
This just goes to show that we can never assume we know everything about the Vikings however dedicated we are to the subject. As research continues new discoveries are made that mean we have to be willing to change and adapt.
In personal terms, this year I discovered that after years of studying the elder futhark I was missing the mark almost completely. By the time the Vikings were in Britain they were using the younger futhark – although the elder futhark was still used for magic so is still relevant in some ways. Cue a flurry of new study!
Just this week I learned that I had been wrong about the Vikings not having sugar. I’d always believed that as they didn’t use it in cooking they didn’t have it and so relied on honey, fruits and tree sap as their only sources of sweetener. Looking at the leechdoms I found that, like the Romans and the Greeks, they imported sugar cane from India – but it was regarded as a medicinal herb and not a foodstuff. Apparently it was good dissolved in water for the intestines and stomach, and was drunk to help a painful bladder or kidney.
It’s a good thing I enjoy learning as this really isn’t a hobby for any stick in the mud thinking. There’s always more to learn and even things you always knew were right can suddenly turn out to be completely wrong. That’s what keeps it fun and interesting