Dissemination text on fishing and sea capture in the Viking Age. Audio files are below the text; those who want to listen instead of reading press here. In addition, a video about stockfish in Viking Age is attached at the end.
For the communities along the coast of Norway, fishing, seal hunting and whaling have played a major role. Already by the early Norwegian Middle Ages, sea fishing was regulated in the legislation, which shows that the activity must have been of great economic importance to the coastal communities.
In Lofoten, there was a rich supply of marine species – both fish, sea mammals, and seabirds. The marine fauna provided both food and other processed products.
For example, eiderdown was used as a lining in leather and textiles due to the down’s good insulating properties. Bird-catching and the gathering of eggs provided nutritious meals.
Cod liver and blubber from seals and whales were used to produce oil. Marine oil provided light and was also excellent for impregnating ship ropes and clothes, tarpaulins, leather tent canvases, ships and sails. Marine oil mixed with tar provided particularly good protection.
Oil was produced in cooking pits. The production took place by first filling the pits with stone and wood, setting the wood on fire to heat the stones. After the fire was extinguished, blubber and red-hot stones were distributed in the pits, and the blubber could be melted without catching fire. The cooking pits you see on the floor in the exhibition were not used to produce oil, but to prepare food.
Small whales could be driven ashore by boats to be slaughtered on the beach afterwards. The meat provided food, the blubber provided oil, and whale bones could provide both large and small items. In the exhibition we have several whalebone plates and a great weaving sword.
During the fishing and hunting seasons, there was good access to fresh fish and fresh meat. Drying of both fish and meat was a common method of preservation, and what could not be consumed fresh was dried for later use.
The sea around Lofoten is a spawning ground for cod from the Barents Sea. The cod that every winter takes the long trip from the Barents Sea to the Norwegian coast, we call skrei. The cod is large and muscular, and it has reached mature age before taking the trip to the spawning grounds. The cod is at least seven years old. Today, stockfish is a major export item, and the Vikings also had the opportunity to produce far more stockfish than was needed for local consumption.
The rich supply of marine resources made it possible to produce a surplus of various products. Many of the marine products were well suited for transport by boat over long distances, and for the chieftains in Lofoten, it is likely that marine commodities constituted a significant economic power base.
Down, marine oil, sealskin ropes, stockfish, sea otter skins and whale bone plates may have been some of the commodities the chieftains from Lofoten brought with them on their voyages.
Click here to watch video about stockfish in the Viking Age.