National Geographic and Slavery in the Viking Age

In late December, US publication National Geographic published an article on the topic of slavery in the Viking Age, specifically commenting on "attempts to soften the raiders' reputation". The article claims that not enough focus has been placed on the role of slavery in Viking Age society and that that slavery was "vital to the Viking way of life". A quote from the article:

A 1908 illustration by W. G. Collingwood from the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, in which the enigmatic god Heimsdallr visits an elderly man and woman. After he sleeps between them, the elderly woman is pregnant with the embodiment of a social class, Þræll ('slave, serf, thrall'). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

"The ancient reputation of Vikings as bloodthirsty raiders on cold northern seas has undergone a radical change in recent decades. A kinder, gentler, and more fashionable Viking emerged. ...

But our view of the Norse may be about to alter course again as scholars turn their gaze to a segment of Viking society that has long remained in the shadows."

Although aims to be as objective as possible, the reader benefits from some commentary on some of these claims. Last I was aware, these comments regarding a 'kinder, gentler Viking Age' were in response to the monastery-derived image of vikings as a mindless "pagans", carrying the torch of earlier material, such as saint hagiographies, that portrayed Christianization as a sort of light bringer of culture to non-Christian peoples. The article also lacks discussion about how the notion and function of slavery differed from the modern era and how widespread slavery was during the period beyond Germanic Europe, particularly in Arabic society (in light of the mention of Ahmad ibn Fadlan).

In addition, the article makes rather speculative comments regarding polygamy during the Viking Age, for which there is no clear evidence.

Still, the article is worth a read, particularly regarding the discussion on grooved teeth that have been discovered in sites such as around what is now Lund, Sweden. For more, albeit brief, discussing regarding slavery during the Viking Age, see this National Museum of Denmark article.

The Boeslunde Spirals: Around 2,000 Mysterious Bronze Age Gold Spirals Discovered in Denmark

The National Museum of Denmark has announced that a team of archaeologists has discovered a large of golden spirals—nearly 2,000—dating from the Nordic Bronze Age in Boeslunde, Denmark. The purpose of the Boeslunde Spirals are unknown. According to the National Museum of Denmark:

A photograph of the National Museum of Denmark's Bronze Age display, featuring the Trundholm Sun Chariot and various other Nordic Bronze Age items (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

[Archaeologists] do not know what they've been used for, and they have never seen them before in Denmark. The archaeologists at the Museum Zealand and the National Museum of Denmark are facing a little mystery, when they consider what they have just excavated.

Maybe the spirals have been attached to cords which have served as a small fringe on a hat or a parasol. Perhaps they have been braided into the hair or been embroidered on the suit. The fact is that we do not know, but I tend to believe they were part of a priest king’s costume or headwear, says [curator at the National Museum of Denmark] Flemming Kaul about the strange spirals.

The spirals were discovered in what is now a field in the small town of Boeslunde, located not far from the western coast of Zealand, Denmark. The objects were clustered together in what was once a leather-lined box (since decayed). This is not the first time the field has been excavated. According to the National Museum of Denmark's press release, "a couple years ago" amateur archaeologists discovered two large golden rings ("oath rings"—a practice that appears to have continued in the area until Christianization). Subsequently, the Museum Vestsjælland returned to the site for further excavations, resulting in the yield of golden spirals.

The area is rich in similar gold finds. As a result, archaeologists interpret the area as having been a holy location in the Bronze Age in Nordic Bronze Age religion, and subsequently the items found in the vicinity were probably votive offerings to beings—perhaps gods—in Nordic Bronze Age religion, forebear to North Germanic religion.

Outside of the National Museum of Denmark's rich Nordic Bronze Age exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark, the museum hosts a variety of original articles about Nordic Bronze Age finds on their website, which readers can browse here. 

* "Guldspiraler er en gåde for arkæologerne" — Original Press Release from the National Museum of Denmark (in Danish)
* "Gold spirals are a mystery to archaeologists" — English Language Press Release from the National Museum of Denmark

New Egtved Girl Discoveries: A Foreign Birth

Major media outlets are reporting on recent discoveries about the origins of the iconic Egtved Girl, specifically that she was born elsewhere before moving to what is now Denmark later in life. For example:

Glimpse of a Bronze Age girl’s daily life from hair, clothes” at
* Prehistoric Danish girl 'probably born in Germany' at

Now housed in the National Museum of Denmark, the Egtved Girl (Danish Egtvedpigen) is the partially preserved corpse of a Nordic Bronze Age teenager who was buried in a hollow log in the summer of 1370 BCE (via dendrochronology) and discovered in 1921 in the small city of Egtved on the peninsula of Jutland in Denmark. The Egtved Girl caused something of a sensation when she was discovered particularly due to her surprisingly well preserved clothing. There are many fascinating things about the Egtved Girl, and I encourage you to read more about her on the National Museum of Denmark’s page about her, which you can find here.

New analysis has shown that the Egtved Girl was not born in Denmark, but rather emigrated to Denmark another location, perhaps from what is nowadays the Black Forest in Germany. You can read more about these fascinating discoveries here: “Tracing the Dynamic Life Story of a Bronze Age Female” on

Thousands of years after her death, the Egtved Girl has come to inspire everything from poetry to music, particularly in Denmark. An image of the Egtved Girl standing before her oak coffin appears widely in grocery  stores and liquor stores all over the U.S. by way of the mass availability of Dogfish Head’s Kvasir, a reconstructed Nordic Bronze Age grog (see detailed discussion at the Livescience report here).