“The First Vikings,” Andrew Curry, “Archaeology” magazine, (July-Aug -- 2013)
The discovery of two remarkable ships recently, may show that the Viking Storm was brewing long before the fearsome warriors began their assault on England, and then on the continent.
History records the beginning of the Viking Age with the sacking of the Lindisfarne Church, “with plundering and slaughter” on June 8, AD 793. However, a serious question remains, how did the Viking ships evolve from the well known rowing craft to the long-range, swift and highly maneuverable sailing craft of later years? This question may be close to being answered by the discovery of two Viking ships on the somewhat remote Baltic Island of Saaremaa, which is a part of Estonia. The two vessels that have been found have been identified as Viking ships by the investigating archaeologists, and each of the vessels had the remains of men within the confines of the ship. The smaller of the two boats had seven men in it and the larger of the two ships had thirty-three men buried in a “neat pile, stacked like cordwood, with weapons and animals.” The first boat found, which was the smaller of the two,was named “Salome 2," the larger one later being named “Salome 1.” Salome 2 was about fifty-five feet in length and about ten feet in width at it’s widest point. It also had a keel which is a very necessary element in order to keep a sailing vessel upright. These above items together with pieces of iron, wood, and cloth in the central vicinity of the ship indicate strongly that this ship was a sailing vessel and well might be the oldest such ship yet discovered in the Baltic area.
The remains of the men with their weapons and accouterments that were included with them in the grave mark them as Scandinavian, without a doubt. A clue is given in one of the ancient Viking sagas states that a warrior-noble from Sweden, by the name of King Yngvar died on a raid into Estonia in the year AD 600. However, the remainder of the story really does not match the findings. The nearest village or grave-site is twelve miles away and there has never been any great valuable targets for a Viking raid on the island. We will probably never know what the attackers sought nor who it was that dealt them such a severe blow.
This finding may well indicate that the Scandinavian royalty were dispatching war ships and war parties to seek out plunder, many decades and perhaps more prior to the assault on the Lindisfarne area. The men buried with these vessels yielded a great amount of archaeological material and information. It was obvious that these men buried with their ships had been engaged in battle. The remains of several of the men bore horrific would that could only have been rendered by an axe or a sword. Arrowheads were found where the hull had rotted away indicating that they had been buried in the wood of the ship’s hull. Arrowheads were also found in the pelvic areas of the men’s skeletons. Of course, it is unknown who or what the original attack was launched against, or who defended against the attack. The island has not had much of a history beyond the Second World War.
However, the remains found there is of Viking -armed and outfitted war-lord of some degree who led his men on a voyage and attack which somehow and some way went very wrong. In leading this attack, he was using sailing vessels for this raid, far earlier than was previously known, and sailing vessels far more suitable for such an attack, much earlier than originally thought.