March 2, 2012
On becoming a Viking - 4
The heart of an Explorer
I've been studying viking-age history in preparation for participating in a viking-age reenactment camp at the end of June. I have patterns for and plan to make my own period-authentic clothes, shoes, tent, bedding, weapons, armor, shield, woodworking, furniture, and hand-crafted items to sell and trade.
So in the last few weeks I've been mostly researching, studying and reading. I am becoming fascinated by Archeology! I am amazed that they can even determine what some of the 1000+ year-old items are, let alone determine it's age and origin. For instance, in an excavation of an ancient sod long-house in Iceland, they lifted out and sifted the entire floor of the house one little section at a time, and found gold and glass beads that the ancient residents had dropped and couldn't find in their own dirt floor! And, it is reported that some of those glass beads were created in China! We know that the northern people were primarily farmers, fishermen, and traders, using their versatile ships to fish and transport goods. We know that they had established trade routes and towns via the sea and their boats well before what we call the beginning of the Viking age (when the pillaging started) It's also been dawning on me that exploration was well under way for the Northern Germanic people prior to and during what we call the viking age.
I've been researching the development of the Norsk people's ship-building, fishing, trading expeditions, and exploration. They wanted to know and see. It started by sailing around their own coastlines and seeing what they could see. It started by younger men and their boats moving up the coastline to find better fishing and fertile farmland, and then plopping down their roots.
I ask the question, how did they start expanding their trade? I can only imagine the scenarios. A lot of it has to do with migration of Germanic people. But a lot has to do with the heart of an explorer. We know the Vikings assimilated great knowledge from other people into their culture and made it their own. The only way they could do that is to boldly go out, with a great self-confidence and learn from observation and from other people. What is evident, according to the Authors of 'Viking Art,' David M. Wilson and Ole Klindt-Jensen, is that traders in the Viking age knew what they liked and what their customers liked and many foreign objects became study pieces to assimilate into their own style. And they were hungry to understand the outside world, and to gain more of their goods.
At a time when the known world was small, and the Romans had advanced as far north as they were going to go, the Vikings were busy charting the unknown and communicating that through their network of ships and trade. Their only boundaries were their own safety as they traveled, traded and fought off people who would plunder their wares. In some places like Novgorod and Kiev, they established strongholds, fortresses, to protect their storehouses and trade goods, and keep the trade route itself open for their own use.
There are also stories, or sagas passed down verbally of vikings who sailed out just to explore and see what was beyond. They had a confidence in their sailing abilities and were not afraid of going beyond their knowledge. It's evident in their stories they were cautious of attack from hostile tribes, but that's more an indication of what life was like for everyone in the early Viking age.
Jumping forward to now, thousands of years later, I acknowledge that my own life is more fulfilling when I'm learning and exploring. I got to know the Geography of the entire Twin Cities on my bicycle. And I brought back memories, such as the Fox on the edge of the Fort Snelling State Park, watching me bike by one foggy morning. And frequently when my wife and I are driving somewhere obscure, I'll say something like, "Oh, turn here, I know where we are!" because it turns out, I've biked there. Everywhere from Blaine to Hastings, from Stillwater to Hopkins and Eden Prairie. Bicycling changed my attitude and my life. I met a lot of people on bicycles who have the heart of an explorer. People who want to see and experience life around them and beyond their own house, family, and jobs. Last year I took a long bike ride from the Farm up North of Hinckley, about 90 miles and I learned some very interesting things.
So, In my quest to become a Viking, I'm re-instituting my bicycle exploration and I'm taking notes. A bicycle is a great way to explore, and like the ancient vikings, be out in the elements and really see the natural world around me. Just like seeing that Fox on the edge of the park, watching me.
I'm planning on making my own rope from the inner bark of a tree, like people in the Viking age did. The heart of an explorer is learning and experiencing new and foreign things. Even if they are ancient technology, lost in Modern times. Thor Heyerdahl taught me something about experiential archeology. He built a straw boat of the ancient world to prove that it could have happened and to experience it happening. By experiencing he also shed light on what it must have been like and what those ancient people went through to accomplish what they did. "Thor Heyerdahl (October 6, 1914, Larvik, Norway - April 18, 2002, Colla Micheri, Italy) was a Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer with a background in zoology and geography. He became notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific Ocean in a self-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands in 1947." - Wikipedia.
My first expedition by bicycle this year was to the library to check out a book called the Bicycle Diaries, by David Byrne. "Byrne's choice was initially made out of convenience rather than political motivation, but the more cities he saw from his bicycle, the more he became hooked on this mode of transport and the sense of liberation, exhilaration, and connection it provided. This point of view, from his bike seat, became his panoramic window on urban life, a magical way of opening one's eyes to the inner workings and rhythms of a city's geography and population." - from his book.
I hope to learn from Byrne's heart of exploration, and develop and record my own version of experiential archeology, and feel part of what life was like in the Viking age and experience life which I do not yet see, right now.