– Scientists specializing in experimental archaeology have studied ancient Viking battle techniques and discovered a completely new fighting style.
The results are startling as they show Vikings used their shields much more than previously thought. Thought the Viking shields were constructed for defense purposes, it turns out that they were also as an effective attacking weapon. The study also solves the mystery of Vikings’ puzzling damaged shields.
Experimental archaeology is applied for archaeological interpretation. With help of experimental archaeology researchers can re-create various aspects of ancient societies in order to test hypotheses or proposed interpretations and assumptions about that particular society.
That is exactly what Rolf Warming, a Danish archaeologist specializing in ancient battles at the University of Copenhagen has done.
The goal of Warming’s experiment was to determine what body techniques Viking Age round shields are inclined to facilitate and which they restrict or otherwise discourage. More specifically, the aim was to critically assess body techniques in terms of deflection and to obtain empirical data outlining the effects associated with an aggressive as well as relatively passive use of the shield.
Wearing a 12 kg heavy armor he allowed himself to be attacked by a professional martial arts instructor in order to test how the Vikings have averted sword cut with their shields. Two swords were used in the experiment: one sharp and one blunt.
“It is the first time this kind of Viking warfare technique has been tested scientifically. It was done with sharp swords and shields, making it as realistic as possible,” Warming says.
“Although it was fun, I was also a little nervous, because it was very realistic,” Warming adds.
Before Warming could go ahead with the experiment, he had to study various Viking combat techniques. He also analyzed archaeological remains of all ancient Viking shield debris discovered in Denmark.
When the shield is held in an angled manner and used as an attack weapon, there is less damage to the shield.
This particular Viking battle technique also clarifies various cuts discovered on the Viking shields, we have previously been unable to explain, Lyngstrøm added.
“Based on the observations of Trelleborg’s battle groups as well as the annual reenactment Viking battle, we have been able to see that many of the warriors actually used the shield actively. Therefore, it is fantastic that there are now some scientific answers, matching these observations,” Anne-Christine Larsen, curator at Trelleborg National Museum says.
As next step in the study, Rolf Warming will now attempt to determine how solid and strong the Viking shields were and how many blows they could withstand.
In order to do so, Warming will use axes and arrows, instead of swords.