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Viking Teeth and Health
The Viking culture is one that captures the imagination of people of all ages. Whether in modern film and books or through ancient writings and archaeological discoveries, one can find a wealth of information about the Viking Age. However, it can be difficult to discern what is factual, what is fiction, and what is an exaggeration. While they are often depicted as brutal raiders, these people of Scandinavian origin were much more than that. Vikings were not only warriors but well-traveled adventurers who were in many ways more civilized than they are portrayed.
History of Vikings
The Viking Age is a period in history that is believed to have started just before the year 800 and continued until some time prior to the Norman Conquest of England, which occurred in 1066. Vikings consisted largely of Scandinavian people who are recorded to have traveled to Europe and to areas as far off as Baghdad. Evidence shows that some Vikings even reached Canada. Often, their travels involved the trading of goods and raids. One of the first known raids, which was thought to have started the Viking Age, took place in the year 793. The raid was of a monastery on a small island off the northeast coast of England called Lindisfarne. During the raid of the monastery at Lindisfarne, monks were enslaved or thrown into the sea by the Viking raiders and the church was razed. This act and following raids of other religious sites and coastal towns led to the violent image that is associated with Vikings. Although raiding and stealing wealth provided a source of income, it wasn’t something that they did on a constant basis, nor was it the only reason why they journeyed to other lands. Another common method of obtaining goods and other financial resources was to travel for the purpose of trade. When not away from home, however, Vikings largely lived as farmers.
Viking ships were a common method of travel. The Norse became famous for their shipbuilding skills during this era, as they produced not only longships for raiding but also fishing vessels and cargo ships. They were also responsible for the invention of the keel. During the 9th century, their craftsmanship and shipbuilding skills enabled them to raid wealthier and more distant places such as Paris. During this time, they also took control of parts of England’s north and midlands, which they held onto until 954, when Eric Bloodaxe, king of Northumbria, was killed. The Vikings established colonies in Greenland in the 10th century, which allowed them to travel to the New World before Columbus. A Viking site was excavated in the 1960s in northern Newfoundland called L’Anse aux Meadows; it’s one of the only confirmed North American Viking sites. The Viking era came to an end as more Vikings turned to Christianity and began to find trading to be more lucrative than raiding.
Viking Diet and Health
The Viking diet was generally a healthy and balanced one. Because they were hunters, meat was a daily staple. The type of meat would depend on their location and could include pork, mutton, or the meat from elk, deer, or goats. Vikings also consumed horse meat. As they were often on the water, fish, seal, and whale meat were also part of their diet. The most common method of cooking meat was to boil it, which would create a broth or stew. Bread was made of whole grain and was a regular addition to meals. Stale bread might be served with stew to soften it and make it more edible. Their diet also included wild vegetables such as white carrots, turnips, and cabbage as well as herbs and spices that were often used to enhance flavor. A yogurt-like dish known as skyr, seeds, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, and plums were also enjoyed as a part of the Viking diet.
While the general diet was a balanced one and relatively healthy, Vikings still fell prey to illness and were often victims of severe wounds suffered during battles. In addition, worms and parasites were a major problem during the Viking era. These parasites often came from the foods that they ate, but their environment was also a source of the problem, as they often lived in close proximity to their animals, which were also plagued by parasites. These parasites would cause illnesses that impacted the lungs, liver, and other organs of those infected, and in turn, this would weaken their immune systems. It is also believed that certain seeds were poisonous and were likely a cause of illness for some. In addition, water was a source of health problems, as it was often contaminated and not safe to drink. As a result, mead and ale were regularly consumed with meals. As farmers, Vikings often suffered from arthritis in their knees, hands, and backs due to hard work. Other common illnesses included pneumonia.
Viking teeth were often subject to a great deal of wear, which is largely attributed to their diet. Study of the skeletal remains of Vikings has also shown evidence that they suffered from periodontal disease and tartar buildup. In studying the skeletal remains of 10th and 11th century Viking raiders in Weymouth, England, however, an unusual discovery was made: Some of the warriors had altered the appearance of their teeth by filing horizontal grooves or stripes into them. The grooves were intentionally and skillfully done and appeared on the two upper front teeth. The exact purpose of these grooves is unknown, but it is believed to have been decorative, a symbol of one’s status as a warrior or meant to intimidate and frighten. Other Viking remains with stripes filed into the teeth have also been discovered, with some having three or even four teeth modified.
One of the most surprising facts about Vikings that many people are unaware of is that Vikings were not all part of one group, nor did they identify themselves as such. They were members of Scandinavian tribes from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden that frequently fought one another. The word “Viking” actually derives from the Old Norse for “pirate” or “sea-rover,” but although they could be violent, they were not a dirty and uncivilized group of people. Vikings were extremely clean and regularly bathed and groomed themselves. They were known to bathe weekly, which was more frequently than most people, particularly Europeans, at the time. Their grooming tools were often made of animal bones and included items such as combs, razors, and ear cleaners. Another fact that many people don’t know is that while Viking women typically married young, they had certain rights that were not commonly given to women, including the right to ask for a divorce and the ability to inherit property.
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