National Geographic : 1970 Apr
rampart, more than 55 feet thick and 23 feet high, and surveyed the remains of the Viking camp. My eye traced the outlines of 16 long boat-shaped barracks. To the east and south, outside the great defensive barrier, I could see the remnants of 15 similar buildings de fended by an outer bulwark and a moat. Specialists have attempted to reproduce one of the barracks. Leaving the rampart patrolled now only by drifting sheep-I walked to the reproduction and stooped through the low door. Wan, wintry light fil tered through a chimney hole in the center of the roof. It lit a rock-lined open hearth below. An earthen bench lined the side walls. Once, a millennium ago, men about to go "west-viking" to England had lounged on such benches. They had eaten there, quaffed ale, honed their spears, oiled their leather, mended their shields. Skalds had chanted beside the fire and, when ale and poetry failed, the war riors had wrapped themselves in cloaks, stretched out, and slept as the embers died. I had a peculiar sensation of having seen this before. Although I had never been in such a building, it seemed overpoweringly familiar. Then, in a rush of remembrance, I knew why. This longhouse of another age differed in no essential from the quonset huts of my own military service. Cots had lined the walls like benches; our hearth had been an iron stove in the center of the hut. In the evening, the troops-preparing for a foreign expedition where the Danegeld was paid in death-had lounged on their cots, cleaning rifles, sharpen ing bayonets, mending equipment. And our own skald, an Oklahoman named Harvey, had sung softly of "The Hills of Home." NOT FAR from Trelleborg, the historic Danish city of Roskilde lies at the head of a fjord of the same name. About halfway between Roskilde and the sea, as the Viking Age closed, five ships had been loaded with stones and scuttled in an attempt to block the channel-presumably against an attack. In 1962, archeologist Olaf Olsen and naval architect Ole Crumlin-Pedersen achieved a spectacular salvage of the crushed, wave worn remains of all five vessels. The unhur ried work of restoration proceeds beneath the eyes of visitors to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. Three specialists work full time fitting together the five mammoth jigsaw puz zles from the past. When no unusual problems arise, they can reconstruct one strake, fore to aft, of one ship in a week. 526 "The exciting aspect of this find," Dr. Crumlin-Pedersen told me as we viewed the skeletal vessels, "is that we've identified sev eral varied types: two different warships, and three assorted workaday craft. Now this one," he gestured toward the bare outline of a low, lithe vessel almost 100 feet long, "was a true Viking longship designed to carry 50 or 60 men. From the lines, we can tell that it sailed well and swiftly, and was light enough to be rowed very fast. The worn keel indicates that it was often dragged ashore. It's a perfect example of the ships used on foreign raids. "On the other hand, this," he indicated the partial reconstruction of a tubby ship some 50 feet in length, "was designed to carry bulky loads. It's an ocean-going knarr,or cargo ship, the first ever found, and probably resembles Scarred by Viking boots, a timber street from a Norse settlement at what is now Dublin, Ireland, lies unearthed by archeologists. Viking traders created a port here in the 840's. Excavations on High Street in the 1960's uncovered the corduroy road, along with Viking houses, shops, and artifacts. Staghorn at left probably was used as a practice piece for an artisan's intricate designs. KODACHROMES @ N.G.S. CARVING,NATIONALMUSEUMOF HISTORY,DUBLIN the vessels that colonized Iceland and Green land and even Vinland" (page 495). Vessels such as those found at Roskilde carried the Viking world on its last and great est thrust-this time across the wide Atlantic. Between 800, when the first Norse colonized the Faeroe Islands, and 1000, when they finally stepped ashore in North America, their quest ing ships explored more than 3,000 linear miles of unknown ocean (map, pages 505-6). The insistent question arises, how did they navigate? Clues abound: The sagas mention a solar stein, or sunstone, that could locate the sun in an overcast; an early Icelander, Star-Oddi, left a chart of sun positions for dawn and midday throughout the year; part of a wood en disk possibly used to determine bearings came to light in a Greenland ruin.