Most Viking inventions and innovations were related to the hit-and-run military campaigns conducted during their raids and involved shipbuilding, camping, combat, and other related practical enterprises. Despite their penchant for waging guerrilla warfare, it seems that the Vikings were vain about their appearance. When they sailed off in search of plunder, they took with them the combs they created from deer antlers.
“You might expect these to be throwaway objects, but in some cases, they were superbly decorated, and all were massively overengineered,” archaeologist Steve Ashby said. He added that the combs were made of the same material as specialized tools like polishers, saws, and rasps.
For Vikings, appearance was an important aspect of their identity. “They took a great deal of care with their grooming and often carried combs with their swords and knives on their belts. They frequently even took combs to the grave,” Ashby explained.
After the Norman Conquest in the 11th century, comb-making died out in England. This may have been the result of the Forest Law, or perhaps antlers became prohibitively expensive. But, in Sweden, combs imported from Norway continued to be purchased and used.
Roman and Celtic designs provided the bases for the earliest Viking ships. These vessels were propelled by oars rather than paddles. In choppy waters, such ships tended to capsize. They were also slow, so trips were usually brief and followed the course of the shoreline.
During the eighth century, a Viking invention revolutionized shipbuilding and maritime voyaging. The keel gave stability to Viking ships so that they became seaworthy. It also became a base to secure the mast. Instead of relying on oarsmen to power the ship, a huge sail of up to 245 meters (800 ft) was added as an important propulsion method.
With the keel, Vikings were no longer limited to short forays along the shore. They were able to carry food, timber, and animals as cargo across distances of 6,400 kilometers (4,000 mi) in the Atlantic Ocean.