Prof. Neil Price from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland presented Viking Pirates: The creation of a maritime identity at the Wits Origins centre on Tuesday, 6 March 2012. His work challenges common stereotypes by drawing parallels between the archaeology of pirates and that of Vikings.
Although almost everyone has heard of them, Price said researchers “still cannot agree on exactly who, and what, they were”. He referred to one description of the Viking age as “the golden-age of the pig-farmer”, and another that described Vikings as the misunderstood pioneers of European trade.
He showed an image of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow and explained how archaeological evidence had painted the Viking appearance and lifestyle as similar to that of classical Pirates.
Vikings wore eye make-up, decorated their skin and even filed their teeth to create grooves for colouring. “Vikings with stripy teeth” were young and had all died of injuries, which shows they were doing something dangerous, he said.
Price also compared the modern day concept of “bling” to the way the Vikings decorated themselves. He said they had worn much jewellery, and that their clothes and weapons were ornately decorated with precious metals.
There is no evidence that Vikings had worn the horned helmets that identify them today. Price did however say that there had been some helmets with something more like boar tusks protruding from the sides.
“Allow the Vikings to be themselves…and not what we imagine them to be”, he stressed at the end of the presentation.
Price is a professor of Archaeology and has published 60 papers and 6 books, including The Viking Way. He has been coming to South Africa for 13 years and has also done work on Zulu battlefields. He has been an honorary Senior Research Fellow at Wits’ Rock Art Research Institute since 2006.