From the Oseberg ship to the Gjermundbu helmet and the Jelling Stones, there have been many magnificent Viking-related finds over the years that have wowed archeologists, historians, and the general public alike. 

But which ones have truly surprised us, either by challenging our preconceived notions of Viking behavior or by simply being a tad strange? 

Here is our list of the ten most surprising Viking finds of all time. 

The discovery of ear spoons in Viking sites reveals their grooming practices and hygiene tools. Photo: University of Nottingham (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ear spoons: The height of hygiene 

The people who suffered from Viking attacks, of course, tended to paint the Norse as a bunch of uncivilized, foul-smelling barbarians who were only interested in raping and pillaging. 

Archeological excavations, however, have helped us gradually piece together a far more sophisticated understanding of the Norse way of life. 

We now know, for example, that they enjoyed wearing brightly colored clothes, had a penchant for jewelry, and often took assiduous care of their hair and beards

They were also fans of the ear spoon, or ear scoop, which was used to remove wax and other debris from the ears. 

This delicate instrument, also popular among the Romans and Anglo-Saxons, has been found in several Viking archeological sites. 

The Norse were also partial to the use of razors, combs, and tweezers and typically bathed once a week – far more frequently than their European counterparts to the south. 

A silver ring with an Arabic Kufic inscription on its glass stone was discovered in a grave in Birka, Sweden, and is now on display at the Swedish History Museum. Photo: Gabriel Hildebrand (CC BY-SA 2.5)

The Arabic ring at Birka: An Islamic influence 

In historical terms, isolated contemporary accounts indicate a degree of Viking involvement with the Arab world

Yet it has taken a series of archeological finds to convince experts that there likely was some degree of direct interaction. 

In addition to the prevalence of Arabic dirham coins in Viking lands, there have also been other notable finds. 

One of the most impressive is a decorative ring found at the Birka site in Sweden. This beautiful artifact features a pink-and-violet-colored stone with an Arabic inscription that reads either "for Allah" or "to Allah." 

Of course, such discoveries do not prove, for instance, that there were lots of practicing Muslims or Arab settlers in Scandinavia during the Viking Age

They do suggest, however, that there may well have been some significant links between the two cultures. 

The Lloyd's Bank Coprolite, unearthed in York, England, offered remarkable revelations about Viking eating habits and daily life. Photo: Linda Spashett / Storye book (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Lloyd's Bank Coprolite: The groundbreaking poo 

On one level, the enormous coprolite (the technical term for a fossilized poo) found in York, England, was not exactly a revelation – the Vikings attended to their bodily needs, just like everybody else. 

On the other hand, as the largest ever coprolite to be found in the history of archeology at 20 centimeters (8 inches) in length, it was a truly astonishing specimen.

The famous feces made headline news around the world when it was first announced. 

The paleoscatologist Andrew Jones described it as the most exciting piece of excrement he had ever seen, deeming it "as irreplaceable as the Crown Jewels." 

The coprolite, together with a series of other finds in York, also gave historians and archeologists genuine insight into the diets and eating habits of Norse people living in England during the Viking Age. 

The excavation of Grave 581 in Birka revealed a female burial with an array of weapons, suggesting that women may have played more complex roles in Viking society than previously thought. Illustration: Hjalmar Stolpe (1841-1905), Public domain

Birka Grave 581: Male warrior turned shield maiden 

Birka Grave 581 offers us two surprises in one. The first is that the skeleton found inside was misgendered for more than a century. 

Initially discovered by archeologist Hjalmar Stolpe in 1878, the body found in Grave 581 at the archeological site of Birka, in Sweden, was believed to be a male warrior. 

Yet, an osteological analysis carried out by Anna Kjellström in 2014 and then a DNA study from Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson and her team have conclusively proved that the skeleton belonged instead to a woman. 

The second surprise – for some – was that women should have been involved in combat in Viking culture at all. 

Yet while most historical and archeological evidence suggests that men did the bulk of the fighting, especially overseas, it is also believed women were expected to protect their homes when required and, in some cases, also join offensive operations. 

The Lewis Chessmen, an ornate set of 78 chess pieces and 14 tablemen, were discovered on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, in 1831. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lewis Chessmen: True sophistication? 

This discovery made nearly 200 years ago, was perhaps one of the first to challenge the prevailing narrative in Great Britain of the Vikings as mere uncouth raiders and warmongers. 

The Lewis Chessmen constitute an incredibly ornate set of 78 chess pieces and 14 tablemen that was uncovered on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, in 1831. Of particular note are the shield-biting knights, who closely resemble the famous berserkers of the Icelandic sagas.

Although there is still some dispute, most experts today believe that the set is of Scandinavian origin – the pieces have been dated to a period between 1150 and 1200 when Lewis was a Viking colony. 

In the years since their discovery, there has been a growing appreciation for the beauty and attention to detail of Norse craftsmanship from the Viking Age. 

Indeed, countless other artifacts have also been uncovered, including games, jewelry, clothing materials, and weapons, that bear witness to their tremendous skill. 

Unearthed by archeologists in June 2009, the Ridgeway Hill burial site near Weymouth in Dorset revealed 54 dismembered skeletons and 51 skulls. Photo: Oxford Archeology

The Ridgeway Hill Massacre: Northmen to the slaughter 

Another enduring misconception, particularly in those countries that suffered persistent Norse incursions and attacks, is the myth of Viking invincibility. 

Yet, while the Scandinavians who visited the British Isles, France, and other areas of northern Europe were undoubtedly fearsome warriors who posed a serious challenge to the existing powers almost everywhere they went, they also suffered plenty of defeats and disasters. 

There can be no greater demonstration of Norse vulnerability than the Ridgeway Hill Massacre

In 2008, during a construction project in Dorset, England, a burial pit was discovered that contained the remains of more than 50 men of Scandinavian origin. 

Analysis later showed that the victims had been brutally slaughtered at some time between 970 and 1025, with most decapitated. 

This shocking act may well have been carried out on the orders of the king of England as part of the St. Brice's Day Massacre

The Norse would avenge this particular atrocity, however: within just a few short years, the king's son would be deposed, and a Viking king would sit on the throne of England. 

The Viking graffiti in Hagia Sophia provides a physical connection to the time when Norse explorers and mercenaries wandered the streets of Constantinople. Photo: Not home (Public domain)

The Hagia Sophia: Viking graffiti 

The Hagia Sophia is an Islamic mosque and former Christian church in Istanbul, Turkey, that has stood for centuries as a symbol of the might of the Eastern Roman Empire and later the Ottoman Empire. 

It is both a stunning example of Byzantine architecture and a hugely important cultural and historical monument. Its majestic marble parapets also contain two examples of Viking graffiti

The runic inscriptions were discovered in 1964 and 1975, respectively. Though interpretation has proved difficult due to deterioration over time, it seems they were simple messages from two Norse men, Halfdan and possibly Árni, who had visited the mosque. 

The scribblers were likely members of the Varangian Guard, a fearsome fighting force primarily made up of Vikings who served as the Byzantine emperor's personal bodyguards. 

Unveiling a phallic stone and stone globe within a Norse grave in Tystberga, Sweden, during a 2023 excavation provides a glimpse into Viking beliefs surrounding fertility. Photo: Uppdrag arkeologi

Phallic stone: Fertility 

In some ways, this find shouldn't be much of a surprise at all: symbols of fertility are highly prevalent across almost all cultures, from the Romans to Native Americans and in Hinduism. 

At the same time, the phallic stone and accompanying stone globe found at a Norse grave during an excavation in 2023 in Tystberga, Sweden, are still highly notable. 

The former is one of the very few known examples of an elaborately carved stone phallus in Viking archeology. 

There was also an interesting relationship at play between the two stones. 

As archeologist Rebecka Jonsson explained at the time, the combination of a phallic stone and a globe, which symbolized the female element, was extremely rare and indicated a ritual element to the burial. 

L'Anse aux Meadows is a historic site located in Newfoundland, Canada, which confirms the presence of Vikings in North America before the time of Christopher Columbus. Photo: Russ Heinl / Shutterstock

L'Anse aux Meadows: They really did make it 

The Icelandic sagas told of journeys made by legendary heroes such as Leif Erikson and Thorvald Eiriksson to Vinland, a mysterious and bountiful country beyond Greenland

Yet despite centuries of rumors, speculation, and, later, some fruitless searching for evidence by archeologists, no conclusive proof could ever be found. 

However, that all changed in 1960 when Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad set out to examine a rumored Indian burial ground at L'Anse aux Meadows, a remote corner of Newfoundland, Canada. 

What emerged over the next few decades not only confirmed the essential truth of the sagas but also placed Leif Erikson and his fellow travelers as the first European explorers to set foot on the American continent, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. 

And by meeting and interacting with the local population, the Viking explorers also helped close the circle of human migration from its origins in Africa across the globe to east and west. 

A fully intact Viking sock made of wool was discovered in York, preserved by the moist, peaty soil underneath the city. Photo: York Archaeology

Viking skates (and socks): Winter sports 

The finds in York also turned up another delight: the especially peaty soil meant that items were found that would usually have been lost to the ravages of time. 

These included some superb bone and leather ice skates that suggested the Vikings were partial to a bit of winter sport even when on their foreign travels. 

Similar examples – though without the leather shoe section – have been found in many other Norse sites, including at Birka and Sigtuna. 

Back at York, archeologists also discovered several pairs of leather shoes, as well as, quite remarkably, a virtually fully intact Viking sock. 

Made of wool, the sock is today displayed in the museum and was preserved thanks to the moist, peaty small underneath the city. 

Experts have suggested that it was made using the Norse technique of Nålebinding, which is still highly popular today. 

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