Skip to Content
Uncategorized

The Mathematical Secret of Viking Jewelry

A long-standing puzzle over the craftsmanship behind Viking bracelets and necklaces has finally been solved–mathematically.

The beautiful bracelets and necklaces made by Viking artisans leave archaeologists with something of a conundrum. These objects are made from rods of gold and silver which have twisted together into double helices. The puzzle is the regularity of these helices, which are remarkably similar in jewelry found in places as diverse as Ireland, Scotland, the Orkney Islands and Scandinavia.

How could craftsmen have achieved this regularity in such disparate places?

The answer comes today thanks to the work of Kasper Olsen and Jakob Bohr at the Technical University of Denmark. They point out that two wires become maximally twisted when no more rotations can be added with deforming the double helix. They go on to demonstrate the properties of maximally twisted wires. (We looked at a similar but more detailed argument about the properties of old rope a few weeks back.)

Olsen and Bohr then measured the properties of helices in Viking jewelry are twisted. It should come as no surprise to find that Viking jewelry is maximally twisted, which neatly explains why it all looks so similar. “Maximally rotated geometry is universal and therefore independent of the skills of the craftsman,” say Olsen and Bohr.

Problem solved.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1008.4306: Hidden Beauty in Twisted Viking Neck Rings

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent

My avatars were cartoonishly pornified, while my male colleagues got to be astronauts, explorers, and inventors.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.