8: Tar Made Vikings Successful
The Vikings terrorized much of Europe in the eighth century, and their seafaring skills even took their longboats across the Atlantic. The secret behind the sturdy vessels (and the ability to do some widespread pillaging) was tar.
This surprising technological innovation was discovered by accident. In recent times, road workers in Scandinavia came across large pits. Tests dated them between AD 680–900 when the Vikings began to emerge as a powerful threat.
Archaeologists recognized the structures as kilns and, eventually, as a site where tar was produced on an industrial scale. The location was also a pine forest. The Vikings used pine wood as a key ingredient to make the substance.
Investigations showed that the kilns made enough to waterproof fleets of longships. The Norsemen’s raiding success lasted centuries. If they had never figured out how to turn pine trees into tar, history would look quite different.