If you have watched the show Vikings or even read about them during your time in school you will know that they were fierce warriors who used their boat skills as an advantage over their unsuspecting opposition. They would launch raids all across Northern Europe stealing whatever they could and returning to Scandanavia with boats full of riches. It is fair then to picture the Vikings as a no-nonsense group that murdered, stole, pillaged, and much more. Yet they also had a more intellectual and sensitive side. It was their incredible skills with boat craft that allowed them to enter the waters and venture so far away from their homeland. It was their strategic mindset and intellect that so often gave them the upper hand in battle. Evidence of this other side has been found recently in the burials of manky Vikings. They were buried with boardgames.
It is well known that the Vikings believed in an afterlife and were often buried with riches that they could take to the next world. It was not known until recently that they were buried with other things too. A number of sites across Northern Europe have been excavated and reexamined and archaeologists have discovered parts of board games in a number of burial sites.
Two of these sites were in the Orkney Islands, located 16km north of the coast of Caithness. Vikings settled in Orkney and used it as a strategic base to launch their raids on Great Britain. The two burial sites were clearly of people of high importance and interestingly both contained elements of board games. The sites contained small pieces carved from bone as well as dice. Throughout Europe 36 burial sites have now been found containing some form of a board game.
Experts believe that the boardgames were buried with the dead for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was to provide them with some entertainment in the next world as it was believed that whatever they were buried with they would keep. They may have also been buried with the boardgames to honor their skills in the game. Perhaps someone was buried with a board to signal that he will always be remembered for his incredible ability at that game. Finally, it is believed that people were buried with boardgames to honor either their intellect, their military strategy, or both.
The tactics required in these board games is similar to what was needed on the battlefield, the ability to outsmart and surprise your enemy. This prestige added to the status of a warrior and so being buried with a board game may have been a symbol of their intellect not only on the board but on the battlefield as well.
The Vikings were incredibly unique people that have left their mark across all of Europe. While Vikings are one of the top shows on television today their mark is much larger than that. When we think of our ancestors we often fail to understand just how exponential the math quickly becomes. You have 2 parents and 4 grandparents and 8 great grandparents and 16 great-great-grandparents. If you go back 20 generations you then have 1,000 lines of descent, if you go back 40 generations you have 1 billion lines of descent. Humanity is about 300 generations old so the numbers can become insane pretty quickly.
This means that if you are from Northern Europe or anywhere near you likely have Viking blood in you somewhere. The recent burial discoveries further highlight that these people were not just brutal tyrants (although they were that too) but intelligent and sensitive people.