Norway is home to many ancient petroglyphs showing boats dating back 3000 years and more. The conventional wisdom about these petroglyphs was that they were religious icons, a fantasy showing people departing for the afterlife. But great leaps in archaeology over the past few years lead scientists to believe that these were real boats that carried large crews all over Europe, as far as Italy, for trade. Advances in precise dating of the petroglyphs, along with discoveries of settlements and DNA sequencing, show that Norway had a rather Viking-like Bronze Age society 3000 years ago, long before the Vikings who ruled for just 300 years around a thousand years ago.
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The Bronze Age saw a great leap forward in civilization, as societies learned the many uses of metal. There is no evidence of tin or copper mining among Bronze Age Norwegians, but they had bronze. Previously thought to be nomads, recent digs have revealed that people lived in elaborate settlements of the era, complete with tools and jewelry made of bronze ands other metals brought in from far away. DNA from 3000-year-old remains indicate that while almost all men were local, many of the women came from other nations. This indicates a booming trade between Bronze Age Norwegians and other countries of Europe.
A recently-discovered boat dating back to just after the end of the Bronze Age is very much like the ancient petroglyphs, and shows that ancient Norwegian boats were fairly sophisticated, made from planks of wood instead of only shaped logs as was previously thought.
So what happened to this Viking-like Norwegian Bronze Age society? The petroglyphs of the later Bronze Age depicted smaller ships and more illustrations of conflict. Temperatures dropped, and made travel more difficult. And as the Iron Age began, the ingredients for bronze no longer had to be imported, because iron was available in Norway. And so Norwegians kept more to themselves for another two thousands years until the Vikings struck out to conquer the world. Read about these recent findings and what they tell us at Science Norway.
(Image credit: Erik Irgens Johnsen/Museum of Cultural History)