Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Nordic Bronze Age

One of the most critical plot points in my book occurs right smack in the middle of the Nordic Bronze Age. That was the period between, oh, 1600 BCE and 600 BCE, roughly--those dates are subject to change depending on what text book you're reading. Okay, so maybe not the middle. It's about 980 or so. Anyway, the result of all this is that I've had to do a lot of investigation and research.

Unlike other periods in history, we really don't know a lot about the Bronze Age in Scandinavia. We know that the weather was much warmer--think modern day Northern France, they were even growing grapes-- and they participated in trade with the rest of Europe. There's even evidence/supposition of contact between Scandinavia and Crete. But most of our information comes from burial sites and stone paintings. There was no written language, and most of what we know of Scandinavian culture came from the Eddas which weren't recorded until much, much later. (~1000 AD--I mean, CE. That's the politically correct term now, right?)

Basically the scarcity of information leaves me with a number of challenges.

1) As far as clothing and dress go, we basically only know what people were buried in. And we don't even really know who the buried people ARE. Nobility? Priests and Priestesses? Personally, I find myself wondering if the people being buried were done so in their Sunday's finest, not unlike we do now. If that's the case, then it tells us practically nothing at all about the day to day regular Joes. Or maybe I should call them Svens? If my leading lady is the daughter of a village leader, is that noble enough to merit burial? Noble enough to mean that she had finely woven hair nets and belts? Did she have jewelry? Or was she still wearing furs? The nobles had woven wool clothing, for sure. Did the non-nobles? I don't even want to call them peasants, and nobles, to be honest, because we're not even clear on the social stratification.

2) Day to day life is even more of a mystery. They had agriculture for sure. Like I said above, they were growing grapes and making wine. But how much impact did the amber trade have on economics for villages? How dependent were these people on coastal fishing? We know that later on, Vikings are notorious seafarers. But what were they then? If they had contact with the south, and even Crete, is it reasonable to assume that they had some knowledge of boat building greater than hallowed out logs for canoes? Egypt certainly had no trouble building immense barges around the same time. Certainly the people of archaic Greece weren't slackers when it came to boat building, either. The technology existed. But even with trade, did it make it that far north? Were villages conquering one another? Fighting? Was Tribalism an issue? How was leadership decided?

3) What about the gods we all know and love? Or at least the gods that I know and love, I don't know how you feel about them. There's evidence from the pictures that the symbols later used by Odin, Thor, and Freyr, as well as Freyja were present. But the first written acknowledgment of the Norse Gods we know from the Eddas wasn't until Tacitus, who wrote around 100 AD/CE. While it's completely possible, and even likely, that the gods of the Vikings had their roots in the Bronze age, we don't have a lot of evidence one way or another to support it. Could I make the assumption? Sure. Would I prefer to have some actual research and information to back it up? Definitely.

Now, the good thing about the lack of information, is that I can make some informed guesses and make stuff up to my heart's content. But while I know my classical history better than most people, I'm a little weak with this Bronze Age business.

It's a good thing I have a lot of books.


  1. Welcome to the joy of writing historicals!

    A couple of suggestions for your book research problems, speaking from a small amount of experience:

    1. Those books you mentioned are a good thing.

    2. Contact the experts. Universities are full of academics just waiting for a normal person to ask them a question. I cold called a number of gurus and had a uniformly wonderful experience.

    3. Museums. The British Museum. The Met. The Louvre. Probably in your case there are specialist museums in Scandinavia.

    I love your blog, btw.

  2. Thanks!

    My book is only partly historical-- but it's proving to be a beast for accuracy. I actually think the historical research is one of my favorite parts of the process, though.

    Thanks for the pointers. I didn't consider contacting professors in Universities, but I should have. I've been looking at the programs and wishing I could take their classes though! ha. I will definitely give that a try--I'm sure it would be more cost effective.

    Thanks again! I hope to keep providing entertaining or at least interesting content.


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