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Archaeology: Viking expansion associated with trading

Nature

December 23, 2021

The precise dating of artefacts from an early medieval trading emporium in Denmark charts the expansion of long-distance trade as far as Arctic Norway and the Middle East at the beginning of the Viking Age, reports a paper in Nature this week. The arrival of Middle Eastern beads and the production of Berdal-style brooches in Viking Scandinavia has been precisely dated to AD 785–810. These findings suggest that the beginning of the Viking Age may have been associated with competition for trade routes.

The timings and dynamics of long-distance interactions in the Viking Age are widely debated. Some argue that the emergence of a global trade cycle, based on the growing Islamic empire in the Middle East, provided the economic catalyst for Viking Age trade and Western Europe’s prosperity under Charlemagne. Others question the date and impact of this trade and argue that the developments in Viking Scandinavia and the Carolingian empire were mostly regional.

Using new single-year radiocarbon calibration curves, Bente Philippsen and colleagues precisely dated artefacts from a Viking Age trading emporium in Ribe, Denmark. This model provides chronological anchor points for the period between AD 760 and 800. The authors found that during its early phases, Ribe may have traded exclusively with continental western Europe, as evidenced by two artefact types: glass beads made from recycled glass material from broken drinking vessels or Roman mosaic tiles, and ceramics from the Rhine area. Whetstones made from Norwegian rock can be dated to around AD 740, which suggests that maritime trade was growing within Scandinavia before the escalation of North Sea Viking raids in AD 790. Wasp-type beads, produced between AD 750 and 790, imply communications with the Baltic Sea region. Finally, the arrival of Middle Eastern beads and the production of Berdal-style brooches were dated to AD 785–810.

The authors conclude that using this model may now allow the exploration of possible links between rapid changes in the past, such as economic and climatic trends.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04240-5

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