These questions were the focus of a furious debate among researchers during a seminar entitled “Colourful Vikings” hosted by the Centre for Historical-Archaelogical Research and Communication in Denmark (as also known as Sagnlandet Lejre).
Archaeologists at Sagnlandet Lejre are currently reconstructing a full sized royal Viking hall.
When finished, it will measure 60 metres long, be slightly oval shaped, and built from planks of oak. But exactly what colours the original hall was painted with, remains a mystery.
Eighteenth century preservationist repainted Viking objects
Archaeologists have found a range of wooden Viking objects that have retained some colour, and preserve some evidence of the fashions of the day. But even so, we cannot be completely sure about the exact colours used, says Mads Christensen, a chemist from the National Museum of Denmark.
He refers to objects found in the tomb of Gorm the Old, one of Denmark’s earliest kings, in west Denmark.
“Various wooden objects found in Gorm the Old’s tomb in Jelling were probably painted with white, red, green, black, and yellow. They’re dated to around 960 CE,” says Christensen.
The colours of these 1,000-year-old pieces of timber are no longer visible, but Christensen was able to chemically extract traces of pigment from the wood. But he still cannot tell how intense the original colours might have been.
“We can determine that the colours were there, but we can’t tell how intense they were,” he says.
On top of this, the objects were likely repainted with a protective layer by a well-meaning conservationist in the eighteenth century, which somewhat muddles the results.
Kusnitzoff, Johanne Uhrenholt. 2016. “What colour did the Vikings paint their houses?”. Science Nordic. Posted: October 16, 2016. Available online: http://sciencenordic.com/what-colour-did-vikings-paint-their-houses