Thursday, September 27, 2012
I know I said I wouldn't build plastic ships but like the Roman Trireme I couldn't resist. A classic kit.
Viking ships were vessels used during the Viking Age in Northern Europe. Scandinavian tradition of shipbuilding during the Viking Age was characterized by slender and flexible boats, with symmetrical ends with true keel. They were clinker built, which is the overlapping of planks riveted together. They might have had a dragon's head or other circular object protruding from the bow and stern, for design, although this is only inferred from historical sources.
They ranged in the Baltic Sea and far from the Scandinavian home areas, to Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, the Mediterranean, and Africa.
The ships are normally divided into classes based on size and function.
In recent generations, the war ship has become the cultural icon of the Vikings. This trend is not particularly shocking, as the ship functioned as the centerpiece of Scandinavian culture for centuries. In fact, the importance of the Viking ship is deeply rooted in Scandinavian culture, as the vessel served both pragmatic and religious purposes. Scandinavia is a region with relatively high inland mountain ranges and easy access to coastal ports. Consequently, trade routes primarily operated via shipping, as inland trading was both hazardous and cumbersome. Viking kingdoms thus developed into coastal cities, all of which were deeply dependent on the North Sea for survival and development. Control of the waterways was then of critical importance, and consequently the most advanced war ships were in high demand. In fact, because of their overwhelming importance, ships became a mainstay of the Viking pagan religion, as they evolved into symbols of power and prowess. Throughout the first millennia, respectable Viking chieftains and noblemen were commonly buried with an intact, luxurious ship to transport them to the afterlife. Furthermore, the Hedeby coins, among the earliest known Danish currency, have ships as emblems, showing the importance of naval vessels in the area. Through such cultural and practical significance, the Viking ship progressed into the most powerful, advanced naval vessel in Viking Age Europe.
With such vast technological improvements, the Vikings began making increasingly more ocean voyages, as their ships were infinitely more sea worthy. In order to sail in ocean waters, the Vikings needed to develop methods of relatively precise navigation. Most commonly, a ship was piloted using ancestral knowledge. Essentially, the Vikings simply used prior familiarity with tides, sailing times, and landmarks in order to route courses. In fact, scholars contend that the mere position of a whale allowed the Vikings to determine their direction. Whales feed in highly nutritious waters, commonly found in regions where landmasses have pushed deep-water currents towards shallower areas. The sighting of a whale consequently functioned as a signal land was near. However, some academics also argue that the Vikings developed more tangible means of navigation. Many claim the Vikings used a sun compass to show their direction. A wooden half-disc found on the shores of Narsarsuaq, Greenland seems to initially lend credibility to this belief. However, upon investigation of the object, scholars found that the slits circumnavigating the disc are disproportionately spaced, casting severe doubts about its role as an accurate compass. Many now hold that the instrument is a “confession disc,” used by priests to count the number of confessions in their parish. In a similar sense, researchers and historians continually debate the use of sunstone in Viking navigation. Recent studies identify the sunstone, with its ability to polarize light, as a plausible method for determining direction. The sunstone effectively has the potential to show the positioning of the sun, even if obscured by clouds, by showing which direction light waves are oscillating. The stone will become a certain color based on the direction of the waves, but the process is only possible if the object is held in an area with direct sunlight. Thus, most scholars debate the reliability and the plausibility of using a navigational tool that can only determine direction in such limited conditions.
Viking sagas routinely tells of voyages where vikings suffer from being "hafvilla" (bewildered): voyages beset by fog or bad weather where they completely lost their sense of direction. This description suggests they did not use a sunstone to aid them when the sun was obscured. Also, they would experience hafvilla when the wind died, implying they relied on prevailing winds to navigate, further supporting the use of ancestral knowledge for piloting.
One Viking custom was to bury dead lords in their ships. The dead man’s body would be carefully prepared and dressed in his best clothes. After this preparation, the body would be transported to the burial-place in a wagon drawn by horses. The lord’s favorite horses and often, a faithful hunting-dog, were killed to be buried with the deceased man. The man would be placed on his ship, along with many of his most prized possessions. The Vikings firmly believed that the dead man would sail to the after-life in his ship, a belief similar to that of the ancient Egyptians.