Tough competition

Look: Viking artifacts reveal how they rose to power

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Vikings were skilled seafarers who traded with other civilizations in Europe and the Middle East.

They are perhaps better known for their violent conquests — a bloody era known as the Viking Age.

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What spurred the tumult is still up for debate.

The beginning of the Viking Age is thought to be 793 A.D. when the Vikings raided the Lindisfarne monastery in England. But what happened before that?

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The Museum of Southwest Jutland

An analysis of artifacts from Ribe, Denmark — once a Viking trading post — sheds light on how competition for trade routes paved the way for violent expeditions.

The Museum of Southwest Jutland

Writing in the journal Nature on December 22, researchers laid out the timeline leading up to the Viking Age.

They use ultra-precise radiocarbon dating to analyze artifacts found at Ribe.

In years when Earth is battered by extreme solar flares, trees soak up more atmospheric carbon into their trunks.

Researchers can use tree rings dating back to the days of Vikings as a benchmark to determine the age of artifacts from the era.

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The method has also used to pinpoint the exact age of the Vikings’ only settlement in North America, L’Anse aux Meadows.

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Hundreds of years before Vikings landed in the Americas, they traded by sea throughout Scandanavia.

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Fragments of Norwegian whetstones and reindeer antlers, dating back to 740-750 A.D., can be found at Ribe, according to the Nature paper.

This means the Vikings were establishing trade routes over the sea.

A particular kind of bead created between 750 and 790 A.D. and found at Ribe indicates the Vikings had contact with people in the Baltics, as well.

The Museum of Southwest Jutland

The Museum of Southwest Jutland

Then in 785 A.D., beads and brooches from the Middle East began to appear at Ribe.

In the same period, the Islamic Empire was expanding rapidly to the east.

“The wider links marked by Middle Eastern beads are testimony to the further growth of these networks rather than being the original vector that catalyzed them.”

Philippsen et. al., study authors

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These global trade routes opened the door to competition — and fueled the Viking Age.

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Pinning down the timing of the Vikings’ rise to power can inform our understanding of other major milestones in the civiization’s history.

“We can now begin to explore possible links between economic and climatic trends and the development of long-distance connectivity in a society such as Viking Age Ribe.”

Philippsen et. al.

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