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Tar Production in the Viking Age

That the Vikings were avid shipbuilders is common knowledge. A new study shows just how industrious they were. Not many online sources have picked up the story yet. A recommended read is the Open Access article in Antiquity or the Smithsonian Magazine.

For shipbuilders throughout the ages, there is nothing special about using tar or resin to seal a boat. The Vikings used resin from pine trees or seal tar, for example. To read more about an experimental reconstruction of Viking tar production, see the Viking Ship Museum website.1

In Hennius’ article, the key to his results is his reassessment of charcoal pits that turn out to be tar pits. On this basis, he analyses how the quantity of tar production shifts from pre-Viking times to the Viking Age. In the earlier period, Scandinavians produced tar on a small scale. Probably to build houses, or for “daily household activities”. By the early Viking Age, these tar pits are much larger and located well outside the urban areas. The author argues that increase of shipbuilding and increased tar production go hand in hand. And another result of the large-scale tar produce is that it also becomes an important trade commodity.2


  1. Vikingeskibsmuseet, ‘Tar’, Last Accessed 04 November 2018.
    Vikingeskibsmuseet, ‘Bottom Paint’, Last Accessed 04 November 2018.  ↩
  2. Andreas Hennius, ‘Viking Age tar production and outland exploitation.’ Antiquity, Volume 92 (365), pp. 1353, 1355 [pp. 1349–1361]. 

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