Saturday, December 29, 2018

How did the Vikings avoid Hypothermia

John Bartram, I learn history through the archaeology I study and places I visit.

I grew up sailing in the same seas also, before modern, artificial fabrics, so how I sailed was pretty-much as did the Vikings and other Norse of ancient times. Even my boats were wooden, with natural-fibre cordage and sails. They sure would get heavy when wet and I really appreciated the modern materials when they became available.

Wet-weather gear were called oilskins and I remember my father standing in the face of storms, wearing his (expensive) oil-soaked silk jacket. The point here is the oil, so an oiled skin would resist water and provide warmth.

We wore the heaviest, wollen gear possible, the sort made for fishermen up in the isles off the north of Scotland. Mind you, when a wave crashes over you, I never did find a means of stopping the cold water running down my chest. I wore masses, from undergarments, to woollens, to oilskins. You might think I’d drown if overboard, but I could swim in any weather, weighed down by any clothes except boots (which you kick off). Really, I was tested in winter and in waters riven by cross-currents.

Faroese postage stamp with a picture of a Viking helmsman in a wadmal tunic.

Wadmal: “(Old Norse: vaðmál; Norwegian: vadmål, "cloth measure") is a coarse, dense, usually undyed wool fabric woven in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, and the Orkney, Faroe and Shetland Islands from the Middle Ages into the 18th century.”

Hypothermia: I’d never heard of it, so it couldn’t have been much of a problem. Even now, I love feeling the cold air outside.

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