New paper reviews the achievements and challenges of archaeological research on Viking Age Northern Europe and explores potential avenues for future research.
Crossing the Maelstrom: New Departures in Viking Archaeology
By Julie Lund and Søren M. Sindbæk.
In: Journal of Archaeological Research 2021
How should we understand the Vikings? As traders, raiders or migrants? Or pagans steeped in Old Norse Culture and religion?
These two rival views define how respectively “The Viking Age” and “the Viking World” may be identified, writes Julie Lund (Oslo) and Søren M Sindbæk (Aarhus) in a new and extensive overview of the archaeological research of the last twenty years. The paper wishes to present us with an overview of the manifold approaches to the new and vigorous understandings of the Vikings forged in the crucible of modern scientific archaeology.
The archaeologists do not claim to present an exhaustive overview of all the major and minor research and archaeological excavations, which have generated so much new and exciting knowledge. However, they do review the trends and tendencies of the events, which emerged and took centre stage in Northern Europe AD 750-1050, while calling for an ethically and scholarly balanced approach to the interplay between, on the one hand, the knowledge generated by genomics, as well as studies of landscapes, environmental change and societal resilience. And on the other hand, the processes of mobility and cultural legitimation of political powers and life forms. All are reflecting on the questions of livelihoods, diasporas, personhoods and identities.
The article is divided into the following chapters:
- What caused the Viking Age?
- The Viking Diaspora
- A Scientific Approach to Mobility
- Individuals and Multiple Identities
- From Cult and Belief to Worldviews, Viking Ways and Ontologies
- The Use of the Past in the Viking Age
- Global Villages: The Urban Nodes
- A Maritime Network Economy
- Settlement and Social Power
- Environment and Climate: Vikings and the Anthropocene
In particular, the article identifies two major strands in the research: one in which the Vikings are seen as protagonists of societal change marked by trade, war, and piracy. Here Vikings – whether warriors, migrants, colonizers, town dwellers or petty kings – are considered as “coming from the periphery”; thus defining a certain “Viking Age” in the histories of, for instance, England, Ireland or France. Alternatively, the focus is placed on the formation of cultural identities through shifting ontologies, landscapes, material assemblages and artistic expressions. Where the Viking World becomes the main point of perspective.
The authors call for a future consolidation or even merger of these two perspectives, noting that the first perspective is characteristic of Anglophone scholarship. At the same time, the latter is more attuned to the Scandinavian approach. Added spice to the flavour of sincerity of this endeavour, is the fact that the two authors each represent the two distinct traditions.
In this connection, the authors call for a “Viking Age Archaeology that engages with critical heritage studies to explore how this period may be studied today in ways that resist glorifying narratives, be they nationalistic, paganistic, or simply violent”. Such an approach will challenge an essentialist notion of societies or cultures as limited, closed units, instead of furthering an archaeology of migration and diasporas as well as an archaeology of the dynamics of agency and power among the many different kinds of people with their diverse genders and identities, and the landscapes through which they moved and with which they engaged. The aspiration is to hope for proper integration of the economic and socio-political history with that of the individual and cultural perspective
Based on these reflections, Julie Lund and Søren M. Sindbæk conclude the article with a manifest according to which they call for
- An ethically sustainable Viking Age archaeology that engages with critical heritage studies
- An archaeology that is open to multiple social roles and identities in past societies and that challenges
- the notions of societies as closed units
- The incorporation of archaeosciences in a theoretically reflected and reflexive archaeology
- A move beyond monuments and elite residences to address the ways in which power was constructed
- To replace center-periphery models with dynamic connections between settlements or centers and the
- so-called “outfields”
- Engagement with archaeosciences in a new environmental humanities
- A Viking Age archaeology in which economy is approached as a way of life
- Merging the divide between social organization and identity, personhood, and ontology
Søren M. Sindbæk & Julie Lund
The article is lucid, well-written and highlights the main trajectories of Viking Age Archaeology in the 21st century. Highly recommended as introductory presentation on any Viking study course. With its extensive list of references, it generously offers a complete and up-to-date syllabus to be used as a plug-and-play at any university.
To top this, the article is even published as Open Access
Viking settlement at Lendbreen Pass c. AD 750-1050 © Secrets of the Ice. One of the interesting new perspectives touched upon in the article is the archaeological excavations of outposts and outfields. Lendbreen Pass is one of those archaeologically fascinating landscapes offering insight on the economy of the wider economic networks in the Viking heartlands as well as the disasporai.
Two new books, each representing studies of respectively the Viking Age and the Viking World perspective (or amalgamations thereof).