The Viking Age Experiment

Inspired by a visit to the Land of Legends in Denmark, Viire Pajuste decided to set up an archeological experiment for her own master’s project at UT.

Since early July, Viire and a team of fellow students and friends have been building (and are pretty close to finishing) a Viking-Age dwelling house. Their progress can be followed at the Estonian-language Rõuge Muinasmaja blog.

The dwelling is a one-room, 30 m² loghouse with a low ceiling, clay floor, small door and no windows, which would have normally been inhabited by a family of 5-6 people around 700-900 AD in Rõuge or elsewhere in the region. The house is heated by a keris stove, and food is prepared over an open fireplace. There is no chimney, and smoke escapes through small openings in the walls.

Joosep Metslang from the Estonian Open Air Museum guided the building team on the first day of construction, and noted that never before has this type of house been erected using authentic technology from that era.

Almost all work on the site has been done using 9 axes – exact copies of the ones from the Iron Age. The builders are all volunteers with no specialized training who have successfully learned by doing. No salaries are paid in this project.

Viire Pajuste originally calculated that 15 people would be able to build such a house in a month. The construction has been going on for 1.5 months now with some short breaks, and at times with five times less people than required. Nevertheless, the walls and rafters are already up.


The living-experiment

While the Danish theme park in Lejre accommodates tourists only in the summertime (with the low season from 30 April to 25 June), Viire has invited her fellow adventurous souls to the soon-to-be-finished house for a nice weekly stay in freezing February.

A group of 5-6 people will leave behind their daily routines and lifestyle, including mobile phones, computers, books and almost anything non-Iron Age.

Dressed in authentic epoch clothes of linen and wool, this company will share the only available room with 5 hens and 2 cocks (until they eat them) and do their best to survive.

The Iron Age guests will receive grain for grinding and some raw meat in addition to the chicken, as well as herbs for tea. They will fetch water from a spring, fish at a nearby stream, and sleep on sheepskins and piles of hay. All tools at their disposal, including the clay dishes from which they will eat, are copies of the authentic ones.

Although the house dwellers’ contact to outside information will be limited to their nearest surroundings, the outer world will remain connected with the time travelers through webcams streaming this bold survival adventure.

The inspiration behind it

Viire Pajuste has been fascinated by archeology from a young age. “I was simply interested and read a lot and greedily about it. I let my imagination fly when thinking of the old, dark times. I pictured how people lived and managed back then. But I also have a desire to know things exactly, and only archeology can assist me here.”

Viire explains that the ongoing experiment will teach us a lot of things: if and how fast one can build a house with an axe, what ancient building techniques are like, and how it feels to actually live in such a house.

She is also curious about what house dwellers will do when it gets dark and the daily outside activities have been accomplished. Will they start telling tales? Is this how traditional culture was born?

Above all, Viire hopes that this experiment will offer people new experiences and knowledge, as well as help archeology to become more popular.

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  • Piret Talur

    Joosep Metslang from the Estonian Open Air Museum is at the same time Joosep Metslang from the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy.:) He is our lecturer (subject field inherited technologies) and can be reached at joosep.metslang@ut.ee. Best regards, Piret Talur from UT Viljandi Culture Academy

  • Thank you! Good to know 🙂 And sorry that I discovered your comment from spam so late.

  • Bob

    Sounds like a lot of fun. Stories are good and sleep is also good if the stories are not exciting. I saw no mention of fermenting any of the grain…wait, forget that. Archaeology students would not drink fermented grains, even for scientific purposes 😉 . Certainly in my day we never made any fermented beverages in the field.