Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 7, 2005


Whenever someone mentions the word Vikings, the image that comes to mind is of a bearded guy with a horned helmet wielding a shield in his left hand and a sword in his right as everyone flees at his approach. That might be reasonably accurate as the dictionary says the word comes from the Norsk Vikingr, which was the name of the Scandinavian pirates who plied the northern European coast a thousand years ago.

But the word took on a different meaning for me this past summer after I met a few of them face to face. The first time was in York, England, where Art, the girls and I visited the Jorvik Viking Centre. In 1976, the remains of a Viking village were discovered underneath an old candy factory. Archaeologists began excavations and the village was carefully reconstructed. The remains of the homes and buildings, along with 40,000 objects of wood, leather, cloth, glass, bone and other materials had been preserved in the moist, peaty conditions. Even leaves and insects were found.

The four of us boarded a "time travel" cart at the center that took us back to the village as it would have appeared in 975 A. D. We saw the homes of a blacksmith, a wood turner, a butcher, an antler worker and others. We passed a market area, complete with garbage and an outdoor toilet. While our eyes were taking in the sights, our ears picked up the comments of the men and women while our noses were "treated" to the smells that would have been part of the village.

After the tour, we entered an artifact gallery, which had human bones and objects of antlers, glass, leather, wood and metal. Both our girls were impressed with how archaeologists could discern how the Vikings died or what jobs they had by observing the wear and condition of their bones. Katie wondered out loud if she really wanted to be an archaeologist if she had to work on cadavers.

Although most of the Vikings came from Denmark, there were also groups from Norway and Sweden.

A June trip to Sweden with Mom, my sister Gaila and my two nieces again brought me in contact with the Vikings. My third cousin Sven Karlberg was our "Viking" guide as we traveled by boat from Nossebro in southern Sweden to a spot where remnants of another Viking settlement were found. More than 100 coins and other items had been unearthed.

Sven is very passionate about the Vikings. He wore simple white muslin clothes similar to what they might have worn, and his belt and shoes were made of leather. He had a leather coin purse and a leather bag containing iron, flint and a few dried mushrooms. He demonstrated how to throw a hatchet and how Vikings made fire by striking the flint against the iron while using the dried mushrooms as kindling.

During these experiences, I learned that while the warrior image of the Vikings is justified, it is also true they were probably no more war-like than other groups at the time. They were also noted for building extensive trading links, traveling west to Newfoundland, east to Uzbekistan, north to Greenland and south to the Mediterranean.

When our "modern Viking" Sven showed us what the unearthed coins looked like, he was using a laptop. We joked about how unusual it was that a Viking was using such modern technology.

Then, it hit me that with my being half Swedish and possibly having some Viking genes from my Scottish ancestors, a modern Viking woman just might have short gray hair, wear small wire-rimmed glasses and have traded in the sword for a pen. Maybe Vikingr is now Gloriar!

Katie and Mariya, left, write their names in Viking letters at Jorvik (York), England.
Right, Gloria and Gaila�s third cousins Hillevi Hellemar, Jan Friden and �Viking� Sven Karlberg.

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