New understanding of Viking Age


Image: Wikimedia Commons / public domain; illustrator unknown
Illustration of Viking attack on Paris in 845.

Asker, Norway

Why and where the Viking Age started has long been an enigma. The traditional account of the incipient Viking Age is that of trade of ca. 890 given by Othere of Hålogoland, a Norwegian seafarer, to King Alfred of the Anglo-Saxons, an inadequate record for historical tracking of the events of it. That gap in historical knowledge has been bridged in this century by scholars at the Museum of Cultural History of the University of Oslo. Their multidisciplinary research effort is the cover feature article of this year’s first edition of Apollon, the University of Oslo research journal (Further reading).

Apollon - Viking

Image: University of Oslo
Apollon issue 1 2020 cover featuring copy of carved post head on Oseberg Viking Ship.

The story of the research conducted by the Museum of Cultural History scholars begins in Ribe, the oldest extant town in Scandinavia, established in the late eighth century in what now is southwestern Denmark. Around the turn of the millennium, excavation for a new post office building at Ribe uncovered some 1,800 fragments of whetstones. Also called sharpening stones, they were used for honing the cutting edges of tools and weapons. Geological analyses showed that most of the Ribe find whetstones were quarried on the Lade Peninsula, now designated as a district northwest in the city of Trondheim in Trøndelag County, Norway, some 684 miles by sea to the north.

That distance evidences an ongoing Viking trade well before that given by Othere of Hålogoland. In turn, that suggests that the history of the Viking Age should be pushed back in time, as postulated by the research scholars in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology (Further reading).

Further reading

“Derfor startet vikingtiden” (“Therefore the Viking Age Started”), Trine Nickelsen, Oslo, Apollon, ISSN 0803-6926, issue 1 2020, pp. 18-21, online at

“The Beginning of the Viking Age in the West,” Dagfinn Skre et. al, Journal of Maritime Archaeology, Vol. 14, Issue 1, April 2019, pp. 43-80, DOI:

This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.