The Vikings didn’t leave much behind in the way of brick and mortar buildings, but what we do have from them is all tremendously awe-inspiring. They are not the hanging gardens of Babylon, but the following are seven of the most wondrous finds dating back to Viking Age Scandinavia.
1. Gokstad Ship
It seems appropriate to begin with the ship that began our modern fascination with the Vikings. Prior to the discovery of the Gokstad ship, no one in the 19th century had ever seen a Viking ship up close. The only evidence for the style and build of Viking ships came from the Gotland Stones which depicted Drakkars sailing. Beginning with the Gokstad ship, a new kind of inquiry into the Viking Age began, leading historians to formulate new conclusions about a previously misunderstood people. Within the ship itself were a wealth of artifacts that are studied to this day. Currently preserved and on display at the Viking Ship Museum of Oslo, Norway, this beautiful specimen of Viking Age craftsmanship is well worth a visit.
2. Oseberg ship
The Oseberg ship is a tremendously important discovery that has helped to illuminate many aspects of the Viking Age that were previously completely unknown. Unlike the Gokstad ship, the Oseberg ship possesses more decorations and carvings, including a prow in the shape of a serpent. Buried with the ship were two women with a large amount of grave goods made up of everyday items. These items have helped to reconstruct a few aspects of daily life in the Viking Age. One woman is thought to have been a slave and the other a ruler or possibly a mystic, although these suppositions are unclear.
3. Temple at Upsalla
All that remain of the temple at Upsalla are pole holes in the ground that once held the pillars which formed the outer wall. Luckily, there remains evidence of its construction, including drawings by Adam of Bremen which depict the temple at its peak. According to several sources, the temple was an important religious center that attracted visitors from all over the Viking world and conducted human sacrifices. It is a shame the structure has not survived until today.
4. Groix Ship Burial
The island of Groix off the coast of Brittany in modern day France is an unassuming vacation spot for locals looking for a getaway at the beach. In the early 20th century it was the site of something more. A ship burial was uncovered along with several artifacts that have left archeologists and historians puzzled. The ship itself was badly damaged and not well preserved and the grave goods in it were also damaged. Nevertheless, what makes this find unique is the large number of shield bosses that were found. Most were made in the Norse style, but several among them were made differently. It appears they were constructed using local metals, and their design may have been purposeful to adapt to the weaponry of the Bretons.
5. Stora Hammars Stones
Part of a larger collection of Gotland Stones, the Stora Hammer Stones paint a picture of the Viking Age from the perspective of the Vikings themselves. The stones once served as the only reference to the style of ships the Vikings sailed, and were the only corroborating evidence for what European writers had chronicled durning the Viking Age. From a historian’s perspective, these stones have been and continue to be one of the most important remnants of the time.
6. L’Anse aux Meadows
Very little has survived from the first Norse colony in the Americas, but enough has been found over the years to know that a settlement did indeed exist. The true wonder at L’Anse aux Meadows is the modern recreation of the settlement stylized in the Greenland and Icelandic traditions based on the evidence found in the ground. It is a sight worthy of the seven wonders.
7. Vale of York Hoard
When speaking of “wonders of the world” it is difficult to imagine including a treasure trove. Yet for the Vikings, who were in the most basic sense pirates, a hoard of buried treasure seems quite appropriate. The Vale of York Hoard is a recent find dating to 2007 and one of the largest ever found. What makes it truly special is the quality of preservation of the pieces and the sheer number of them. Mostly made up of coins, the hoard is valued at over £1 million and is thought to have originally belonged to a church. The treasure was either stolen in a raid or given as tribute and its owner was killed without passing on its whereabouts.