20 November 2014

Let's Do What the Vikings Did

Written by Published in Art & Culture

In the age of digital and networked societies, it may seem that only new technologies can move us forward. Martin challenges us to see how collaborative training in traditional skills can pave new ways into the livelihoods of European villages

The European project Green Village – featured before in Sublime – resulted in an explosion of innovation, giving birth to a whole set of new values, ideas and training materials. The main lesson learned is the realisation that for communities to prosper and thrive, sustainable development should be based on four pillars: environmental and economic sustainability (there is often a trade-off between these two) as well as cultural and social sustainability.

As we set off to find a new theme to inspire our sustainability learning and training, we have chosen the Viking Age for some very specific reasons: Norse people in the early medieval period used what they had to hand – for example, building with stone, wood, clay, turf – whatever was locally available. They were not insular but seemed very open to new ideas, technologies and designs. There are many examples of ‘hybrid’ buildings that archaeologists have identified – with Norse, Celtic, Saxon features all incorporated. They copied things – no problem here… why re-invent the wheel? We know that Eastern clothing and fashion had a great impact of costume and adornment in Viking society. The Norse were (vocationally) skilled in metal and wood working, building, boat-building, farming, trading, etc. We believe they were very cultured, enjoying song, dance, drama, the spoken word, literature (later) – the Icelandic sagas are one of the world’s most important cultural offerings.

In short, the Viking's ways had important lifestyle attributes reflected in all four pillars of rural sustainability from which we could draw a great deal. And from that inspiration the VAST-VIEW European-wide partnership was born. Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Romania and the United Kingdom joined in to transfer knowledge and skills, and learn from each other. But, you may ask, ‘why Romania? – the Vikings are not majorly recorded as settling or even visiting there?’ The answer is simple, in Romania we can see the only functioning medieval cultural landscape left in the European Union, with oxen still ploughing, horses extracting timber, leaf hay being cut for winter cattle food, village scale blacksmithing and more. This sets Romania as the ideal canvas for recreating the Viking ways, as in those countries where the Norse originally settled these customs have been completely lost, except for some museum examples.

Our prime objective in VAST-VIEW is to put culture to work, expanding and furthering the ideas that sprang from Green Village – i.e. rural sustainability and vocational training. The name expresses the core values and objectives:

VAST (Viking Age Skills Training) VIEW (Venues, Infrastructure, Environment and Work)

VENUES – places for people to create, re-enact, train and develop their own cultural and creative rural economy.

INFRASTRUCTURE – of course, the venues are included here but also the infrastructure of networks that swap, exchange and transfer skills and knowledge, including e-learning possibilities, blended learning, etc.

ENVIRONMENT – we were determined to maintain our green credentials, to use local materials, low-carbon solutions, hand work and show people that good environment equals good business.

WORK – we were also very keen to show that the cultural and creative industries were no longer consisting of dusty old museums that constantly lost money but could also lead into proper and lasting jobs to keep people in the countryside.

And here's what's been achieved …

At Authausen near Bad Düben in Germany, the VAST VIEW project focused on the restoration of a Germanic longhouse from the early medieval period. Skills taught and learned included replacing timbers in the ground that were decayed, wattle and daub (woven willow and clay) walls, repairing reed thatch, laying a cobbled stone floor and wood carving on the house gable end boards.

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At Rímeţ in Alba County, Romania, the multi-national project team reconstructed a typical steep roof thatched mountain house. Skills were carpentry, foundation building, clay rendering and thatching with long straw. The house will be used as a traditional skills training centre and museum.

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At Greengill near Gilcrux in West Cumbria, UK and international volunteers built a Viking Age blacksmiths forge. It will be used for teaching traditional metal working

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At the Nymendigab Museum in Denmark, VAST VIEW built a traditional fishermans hut, known as an Essehus. They used local and recycled materials, and reed thatching and carpentry were the skills learned.

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At Reykir in Iceland, a Viking Age training facility begins to emerge, and is linked to the work of 'Green Village'. Skills learned were building with stone, turf and timber. In Iceland resources for building – especially wood – are scarce and the Viking settlers often used driftwood. The lava stone is hard and durable and can be chiseled into blocks – it breaks naturally into column-like hexagonal pieces

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EU Lifelong Learning ProgrammeVAST-VIEW is funded through the Icelandic National Agency for the European Union's 'Lifelong Learning Programme' (LLP) and is a 'Leonardo da Vinci 'Transfer of Innovation' project.
Participating partners: Grampus Heritage and Moorforge (UK), Náttúrustofa Vestfjarða/Westfjords Natural History institute, Agricultural University of Iceland (LBHI) and Stokkar og Steinar (Iceland), Satul Verde Association (Romania), Bildungshaus Heideland (Germany), ed-consult (Denmark).

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