Hunting for buried treasure in the Viking past

Have you ever taken part in a treasure hunt, racing from clue to clue, each one leading you on…and on…and on? The excitement of the search is often as much fun as the reward! Researching the background for a historical novel is much like this adventurous game, but research is a hunt for answers.

To use a different analogy, research is like archaeology: you search for clues – often faint and barely discernible (like post holes that outline a long-vanished mead hall) or obvious, concrete and visible (like a Viking ship resurrected from a watery grave and put on display in a museum). Archaeological excavations can be a major source of information. For example, the bones found in a kitchen midden (i.e. trash dump) may reveal which animals were cooked and eaten there, or what household objects were in everyday use before being thrown away  – such as Viking hair combs fashioned from deer antlers.

Scientific data about historical weather patterns can be mined for answers. While writing Faces in the Fire, I wondered if it snowed in Denmark when Freawaru was a girl. Answer: yes, but only a little. Was the water level in Roskilde harbor high enough to accommodate Viking longships? Answer: Yes. Aerial photography shows details not easily observable from the ground, like grave sites in the shape of ships. Even tiny objects can yield much information. For instance, one small cast silver figure designed as a pendant reveals specific details about female hair styles and clothing.

To be a successful time-traveler in foreign lands and ancient places, you must being along your curiosity, an eye for telling details, and a zest for research. How else can you create a believable world for your readers? I found researching sixth-century Scandinavian life for my novel about the women of Beowulf to be great fun, an adventure in itself.

Do you want to write? Join the treasure hunt!


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