PDA

View Full Version : How did the Vikings navigate?



Yannox
2004-Mar-26, 04:02 AM
To reach England & Normandy, the Vikings had to sail across one of the roughest most featureless seas in the world at night. In clouded skies, in frozen open ships, how did men who couldn't read or write navigate so well in pitch black nights without stars, maps or compasses & consistently reach their destinations? Indeed, how did they survive days and days on an open decked small ship during a North Sea 70 mph howling snow storm? And immediately on reaching shore to be attacked by very angry indigens in a fight to the death and beating them hollow! They weren't just more hardy than us, or a different breed of man: were they a different species?!

AGN Fuel
2004-Mar-26, 04:26 AM
To reach England & Normandy, the Vikings had to sail across one of the roughest most featureless seas in the world at night. In clouded skies, in frozen open ships, how did men who couldn't read or write navigate so well in pitch black nights without stars, maps or compasses & consistently reach their destinations? Indeed, how did they survive days and days on an open decked small ship during a North Sea 70 mph howling snow storm? And immediately on reaching shore to be attacked by very angry indigens in a fight to the death and beating them hollow!

I don't know, but if you're going to posit that the answer is a supreme deity, I'm going to be very upset. :wink:

Musashi
2004-Mar-26, 05:08 AM
Odin!!

Archer17
2004-Mar-26, 05:14 AM
I'm not sure how this qualifies as 'General Astronomy' .. I'm descended from the Vikings on my father's side, I'll ask around and post my answer in a more appropriate forum. BTW, I've had numerous physicals through the years and as far as I can tell I'm not even a teensy-weensy different species. :wink:

Ut
2004-Mar-26, 06:29 AM
You seem to be under the impression that the Vikings were simply a bunch of savages that came upon a raft one day and jumped on, to boldly go where no one had gone before.

The Vikings would have followed the shores from Denmark around to Normandy, never simply wandering out into the middle of the North Sea. They didn't travel exclusively by sea, either. They would have known basic navigational skills common between land and sea travel, such as finding North via Polaris. Over time, they did learn the lay of the land, and they did have and make maps. They even eventually settled in France and Great Britain. Hey, if the Angles and Saxons could reach Great Britain, why not the Norse?

Brady Yoon
2004-Mar-26, 07:04 AM
dead reckoning?? :-? Btw, are you sure the compass wasn't around at that time?

AstroSmurf
2004-Mar-26, 08:24 AM
This really isn't General Astronomy. However, this bit is perhaps closer to being on topic:

I think fairly recently, archeologists found a clay disc with two inscribed curves and a central pin, whose shadow follow these curves like a sundial if you hold the disc horizontally. However, this only works if you are at the correct latitude, sort of like a sextant does. I don't know the specifics of how it was thought to be used, but studies show that this instrument can be used to follow an east-westerly course along the latitude of the southmost tip of Greenland. Impressive stuff, but I can't help wondering if any of these archeologists have actually tested this at sea...

novaderrik
2004-Mar-26, 09:33 AM
these are the same archaologists that find the remains of a fire or garbage pit and then tell you the entire life story- complete with names and family geneologies- of the settlement that was there.

frogesque
2004-Mar-26, 11:07 AM
yannox wrote:

....In clouded skies, in frozen open ships, how did men who couldn't read or write navigate so well in pitch black nights without stars, maps or compasses & consistently reach their destinations?.......

Vikings, who incidently discovered America long before Columbus, were very well versed in sagas, legend and poetry and used a runic alphabet to incise writings on wood and stone. Although warlike they were by no means the ignorant savages as you suggest

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vikings/runes.html.

The priciples of navigation by the sun and stars was well enough known and not every day or night on the North Sea is wild and black. They were seafaring, had generations of exprience of lore, weather patterns, land formations, sense of smell and sea currents to draw on. Navigation isn't just about GPS, clocks, maps and dead reckoning. What made the Vikings so feared was their skills of seamanship and their fierce warrior code. Combined with a ship design that was highly manouverable, not totally dependant on the wind yet able to travel away from coasts meant their raids were lightning quick and unannounced. They were masters of hit and run tactics.

It is also thought by some that they may have used a mineral (either Iceland spar or cordierite) that reacts to polarised sunlight as a sort of solar compas. This though is disputed on the grounds that there is no actual historical evidence.

QuagmaPhage
2004-Mar-26, 12:13 PM
To reach England & Normandy, the Vikings had to sail across one of the roughest most featureless seas in the world at night. In clouded skies, in frozen open ships, how did men who couldn't read or write navigate so well in pitch black nights without stars, maps or compasses & consistently reach their destinations? Indeed, how did they survive days and days on an open decked small ship during a North Sea 70 mph howling snow storm? And immediately on reaching shore to be attacked by very angry indigens in a fight to the death and beating them hollow! They weren't just more hardy than us, or a different breed of man: were they a different species?!
I think that the only correct thing in your post is the phrase and beating them hollow. 8)

For more information read: Sun Compass (http://home3.inet.tele.dk/pmh/kompas.htm)
The linked page is mainly in Danish but the links at the top is in English.

Glom
2004-Mar-26, 12:48 PM
Njord gives them a hand. (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/n/njord.html)

The Vikings had cool gods.

Paul Beardsley
2004-Mar-26, 12:56 PM
The Vikings would have followed the shores from Denmark around to Normandy, never simply wandering out into the middle of the North Sea.

What about their trips to the Orkneys and Iceland, as well as the aforementioned trips to Greenland and America?

One important thing to remember is that they lost a fair number of ships at sea - there was a hit-and-miss element to their navigation.

Interesting topic, even if it is only passingly concerned with astronomy.

Patrator
2004-Mar-26, 01:38 PM
How did the Vikings navigate?

"An acquisition Sun sensor, a cruise Sun sensor, a Canopus star tracker and an inertial reference unit consisting of 6 gyroscopes allowed three-axis stabilization..."

Wait a minute, I'm thinking of the wong Vikings here.:D :D :D

Psi-less
2004-Mar-26, 02:54 PM
To reach England & Normandy, the Vikings had to sail across one of the roughest most featureless seas in the world at night. In clouded skies, in frozen open ships, how did men who couldn't read or write navigate so well in pitch black nights without stars, maps or compasses & consistently reach their destinations? Indeed, how did they survive days and days on an open decked small ship during a North Sea 70 mph howling snow storm? And immediately on reaching shore to be attacked by very angry indigens in a fight to the death and beating them hollow! They weren't just more hardy than us, or a different breed of man: were they a different species?!

To quote Paddy Griffith in "The Viking Art of War": "They had no charts or maps, but they surely memorised verbally-transmitted lists of landfalls for any given journey, expressed in days of fair weather sailing expected from one headland or island to the next. They may not always have known exactly where they were, but they surely usually had a pretty good idea." Then he goes on to list a selection of 9 landfalls made by accident according to the sagas and eddas. Add to that that most experienced sailors are not inclined to go out "during a North Sea 70 mph howling snow storm", they did not always "immediately on reaching shore" become either the attackers or the attacked (folks tend to forget how much time the Vikings spent as traders) and bear in mind that one of the first (if not the first) raid in Britain was at Lindisfarne where it's not too hard for a group of armed fighting men to beat a group of unarmed monks "all hollow". Not to take anything away from the Vikings, mind; I've a fair portion of Viking in my background (Swedish--they tended to invade Russia rather than hit Britain, though a number of them wound up in Normandy). They were remarkable sailors for their time, but nothing supernatural. If you're a North American, take a look at the Rocky Mountains sometime and you might easily find yourself saying, "People went over those things on foot and by ox-cart, hauling all of their worldly possessions?!!? They must have been supernatural!" The answer is that people can be as hardy as their environment requires and we're a very, very adaptable species.

Psi-less

Taibak
2004-Mar-26, 03:19 PM
The Vikings would have followed the shores from Denmark around to Normandy, never simply wandering out into the middle of the North Sea.

What about their trips to the Orkneys and Iceland, as well as the aforementioned trips to Greenland and America?

Same situation. The distances from Scotland to Iceland, from Iceland to Greenland, and from Greenland to Labrador are shorter than you might expect, so keep in mind that they're actually taking one of the easiest routes across the Atlantic. As others have mentioned, they had also developed basic navigational techniques based on the Sun and stars, as well as a lot of collective sailing experience. They weren't exactly flying blind.

Ut
2004-Mar-26, 03:21 PM
The Vikings would have followed the shores from Denmark around to Normandy, never simply wandering out into the middle of the North Sea.

What about their trips to the Orkneys and Iceland, as well as the aforementioned trips to Greenland and America?

One important thing to remember is that they lost a fair number of ships at sea - there was a hit-and-miss element to their navigation.

Hitting the Orkneys and Iceland would have been the hardest part. They probably knew of Iceland either from legend or from other peoples who just happened to come across it. Knowing generally where it was, they would have gone searching for it. The trip from Iceland to Newfoundland isn't that hard to make. It pretty much invoves going randomly west from Greeland. Even then, I think I remember hearing about them being off the coast of Baffin Island aways back in geography class.

skrap1r0n
2004-Mar-26, 03:28 PM
From what I understand, they were seasonal raiders. I am a HUGE fan of historical fiction. Now I understand the books are fiction, but a lot of research goes into the books to make them historical fiction.

In many of the books I have read, there were not many raids during the foul months.

Also, the Vikings were fairly intelligent and extremely hardy. We have an image that they were brainless barbarians, but the fact is, they were pretty darn smart.

Sorry I have a soft spot for the culture, I lived in southern Norway for 8 years when I was a child

As far as how did they navigate? My guess is they followed coastlines. Most of the raids took place on the eastern shores of the British Isles. My guess would be, that they would follow the coast line to Denmark or the netherlands, put polaris on your right shoulder and go for it. It's not ALWAY overcast, and if you can get one hole in the sky to see polaris and head west from denmark or the netherlands you are going to hit land.

frogesque
2004-Mar-26, 05:34 PM
Opening up this debate somewhat, there was a surprising discovery made about an Egyptian mummy, Henut Taui which showed traces of both nicotine and cocain in her tissues. These results have also been discovered in other mummies from fresh uncontaminated tombs.

Since neither nicotine (in appreciable quantities) nor cocain are derived from Old World botanical plants then, providing all the data are correct, there must have existed some form of trade route between Asia and South America. The direct route is approximately 3000 miles across the open Atlantic with a few island stops on the way. The Egyptians were not skillfull sailors but the Phoenicians, as well as notable astronomers, were, so could they have made this voyage and traded the goods on?

References:
Case for (http://www.uiowa.edu/~anthro/webcourse/lost/coctrans.htm) and criticisim (http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/Entomology/courses/en570/papers_2000/wells.html)

Parrothead
2004-Mar-26, 05:50 PM
I have Baltic blood in me. From what I remember from readings is yes Vikings were seasonal travellers. Most of their travelling was done in daylight, and the sun was mainly used as a guide, although Polaris was used as well when they sailed in darkness. In sailing from Scandinavia to Iceland, Greenland and eventually Labrador and Newfoundland, the path would be far enough north that in sailing around the time of the summer solstice, they would have the benefit of the midnight sun. They did have a form of a sun compass which allowed them to stay within certain latitudes while sailing. When coming close to land they would use sightings of birds to guide them to shore.

informant
2004-Mar-26, 06:51 PM
And immediately on reaching shore to be attacked by very angry indigens in a fight to the death [...]
That may have happened a few times, but I think it was more often the other way around.

daver
2004-Mar-26, 07:01 PM
Henut Taui which showed traces of both nicotine and cocain in her tissues.

Some of these are discussed in the bad archeology links from the BA's web site.

Mr. X
2004-Mar-26, 07:01 PM
Must have been fun when there were still spots on this planet that hadn't been mapped and studied rock by rock 15 times over.

aurora
2004-Mar-26, 10:39 PM
I have Baltic blood in me. From what I remember from readings is yes Vikings were seasonal travellers. Most of their travelling was done in daylight, and the sun was mainly used as a guide, although Polaris was used as well when they sailed in darkness. In sailing from Scandinavia to Iceland, Greenland and eventually Labrador and Newfoundland, the path would be far enough north that in sailing around the time of the summer solstice, they would have the benefit of the midnight sun. They did have a form of a sun compass which allowed them to stay within certain latitudes while sailing. When coming close to land they would use sightings of birds to guide them to shore.

This is correct. They sailed mostly in daylight because they sailed mostly in the summer. So mostly they used the sun. To get to the Faeroes, or Iceland, or Greenleand, they sailed along norway to the right latitude, and then sailed west staying close to that latitude (and using the sun or sometimes stars) to get directions and to get their rough latitude.

The sagas were kind of like ancient sailing instructions. They knew quite a few techniques, learned the hard way I'm sure.

The Watcher
2004-Mar-27, 04:04 AM
How did the Vikings navigate?

They managed to land on Mars alright so I don't think a quick jaunt across the North sea for a picnic would have been too difficult.

Celestial Mechanic
2004-Mar-27, 05:15 AM
Actually, I always thought that the Vikings homed in on the scent of Spam(TM)! :D

(Ducks and runs for cover!)

Psi-less
2004-Mar-27, 02:23 PM
Henut Taui which showed traces of both nicotine and cocain in her tissues.

Some of these are discussed in the bad archeology links from the BA's web site.

Here's a good response on the "drug mummies" from Cecil Adams ("The Straight Dope"): http://tinyurl.com/23s5o {And Celestial Mechanic just got whapped on the head by a knight armed with a chicken!}

Psi-less

newt
2004-Mar-29, 04:28 AM
Sorry, nothing to add specifically as to navigation techniques, but you might enjoy "The Farfarers", by Farley Mowat, in which he suggests that the Vikings were preceded in making North American landfall by other Europeans.
A good read, including conjectures about sea travel of people following walrus and whale populations, etc., especially during periods when the pack ice is suspected to have been receding. Oh, and while fleeing the Vikings:)

Cheers. Newt.

Maksutov
2004-Mar-29, 11:56 AM
Haven't seen much in the way of a reply from yannox. I wonder what the point of his OP was? Based on track record, it had to be some kind of item on the creationist agenda.

BTW, Glom, I'm with your "The Vikings had cool gods." Unlike other belief systems, these guys and gals were somewhat "down to earth" and could really kick butt. :)

Just as much evidence for them as any others. :wink:


[edited to change contraction to adjective]

Robwick04
2004-Mar-29, 12:10 PM
There are actually a couple of meathods that we are pretty familiar with.

One is actually a rule of thumb...er, palm. If you are travelling east to west or west to east, and measure the distance between the sun and the horizon at noon, you can tell how far north or south you are. There is pretty good evidence that typically they measured it in "hands" -- so many hands meant you were so far south. Imagine you are at a relatively high latitude -- the sun will be low on the horizon at noon. If you drift south, the next day (week, whatever) it will be higher in the sky -- more hands!

There was also a device known as a "sun compass" which uses cast shadows. Essentialy, an elipse on the face of the instrument is rotated to meat the shadow cast by a rod in the center. When the tip of the shadow touches the line, the compass is pointing North. This is a latter day instrument and probably didnt show up until the 11th century or so. i think they may have shown one on the recent History Channel "Barbarians" show but I may be mistaken.

And then, of course, there are the stars. As long as you didnt go so far south the north star disappeared you should have been OK.

Crazy Vikings.

Ut
2004-Mar-29, 03:41 PM
Haven't seen much in the way of a reply from yannox. I wonder what the point of his OP was? Based on track record, it had to be some kind of item on the creationist agenda.

Really. You'd think with such claims as "How did the Vikings get ALL the way to France and England without being able to read, write, navigate, sail, walk, swim, or ride a horse" being refuted with "Well, everything you just said was pretty much wrong, so it was relatively easy!" would invoke some sort of responce...

aurora
2004-Mar-29, 07:29 PM
Haven't seen much in the way of a reply from yannox. I wonder what the point of his OP was? Based on track record, it had to be some kind of item on the creationist agenda.

Really. You'd think with such claims as "How did the Vikings get ALL the way to France and England without being able to read, write, navigate, sail, walk, swim, or ride a horse" being refuted with "Well, everything you just said was pretty much wrong, so it was relatively easy!" would invoke some sort of responce...

Based on a re-read of his original post that started this thread, I'd have to surmise that he was thinking the Vikings were aliens.

That wouldn't seem to coincide with his previous mode of operation, though.

themusk
2004-Mar-29, 10:57 PM
The navigational feats of the Vikings pale before that of the Polynesians, who crossed vast tracks of ocean in outrigger canoes aiming at comparative flyspecks of land scattered throughout the Pacific.

Remarkable as their navigation skills were, they aren't a mystery. These skills were documented and continue to be preserved and practiced today. (http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/pvs/L2wayfind.html)

Alien shmailen! Why can't people give us homo sapiens sapiens our due?

Could it be that the doubters are a different species???!! :lol: