11th/12th century AD
Wooden plank with Viking Ship and Weathervane graffiti
A wooden plank with graffiti of a Viking Ship with a weathervane was found at Winetavern Street in Dublin.
Sailing, shipbuilding and exploration were key to the expansion of the Vikings out of Scandinavia from the end of the 8th century, and this artefact tells us more about how this was achieved.
Through sailing, the Vikings travelled from Scandinavia to Ireland and further on to Iceland and Greenland. These journeys would have been extremely difficult. Often, they would sail for days at a time on the open sea, battling waves and wind, with very little shelter on board and in cramped conditions. These ships were powered by rowing and assisted by the wind, so those that did undertake the journey had to have enough stamina to sail and row along while managing the difficult, harsh conditions along the way.
To take such a journey shows the resilience and perseverance of those that travelled, which was crucial for Viking exploration.
Importantly, as the graffiti depicts a weathervane on the ship, it provides key insights into how Vikings navigated across the sea, an aspect that there is not a huge amount of evidence for. The prevailing winds were likely a key element used by the Vikings to help navigate and the presence of the weathervane on this ship further supports this.
The Vikings would have used other elements of nature to assist their navigation, particularly the stars. There is also evidence that they used small handheld wooden sundial compasses to help inform their latitude, particularly if they were sailing too far north or south. Where possible, they kept the coast in view for as long as possible, so the key was to spend as little time as would allow on the open sea.
Further to this, the survival of the artefact itself is a remarkable find. Wood normally does not survive in the archaeological record, however, during the Viking excavations of Dublin it was discovered that some of the areas under investigation were waterlogged. These waterlogged conditions create an anaerobic environment thereby allowing the preservation of organic material, such as wood. This is just one of many artefacts made from wood, leather and even textile, that has stood the test of time and survived in the archaeological record, providing greater insights into life in Viking Dublin.