What does the word "Viking" actually mean? A vikingur was "a hit and run raider."
Dragon-head post found in the Oseberg Viking Ship when it was discovered at a burial site in Norway. Copyright, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Norway, all rights reserved. Permission to reuse granted if specific instructions are followed.
After building their ships, these Norsemen would sail to places like Britain where they would terrify monks and loot their treasures. (When Vikings first landed on British shores, the defenders did not yet have the sophisticated weapons they would develop later.) "Going Viking" meant to sail away on a plunder-and-loot trip.
It wasn’t just full-time sailors who embarked on such raiding (or trading) adventures. (Click on "Thorkel and the trading voyage.") Sometimes farmers, or craftsmen, also joined in. After a raid, the men returned to their normal occupations either at home or in a new settlement.
Norsemen invented the longship, among other vessels, which they sailed to distant places. Archeological evidence reveals that Vikings - just like Anglo-Saxons - occasionally used their ships for underground burials.
One of the most rare, and exciting, discoveries in Britain was the burial ship at Sutton Hoo. Measuring 85 feet (27 meters) long, and 15 feet (4.5 meters) at its widest, the Anglo-Saxon ship (the link depicts an artist’s conception) was placed into the ground sometime during, or shortly after, 625 AD - predating the first Viking incursions. It remained undisturbed until excavations in 1939. (To see many of the solid-gold artifacts found at the site, visit the "British Museum Compass" and search for "sutton hoo.")
Scholars believe Sutton Hoo’s ship burial took place in the 7th century. Are we able to date when Vikings built their boats? Since Viking ships were made from wood, experts can reasonably fix the time frame by using the science of "tree rings." With that method, referred to as Dendrochronology, we can also create a tree-ring chronology with this animated game.
Vikings relied on ships to reach, and explore, new territories. But a Shoshone teenager, named Sacagawea, used a different means of transportation as she helped Lewis and Clark with their Corps of Discovery expedition.