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Anna Askbåge and Lena Elfving Nixon in front of a viking bath house. Photo: Dajana Kovacevic/Swedish Radio
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Mia Westlund is making a harp. Photo: Dajana Kovacevic/Swedish Radio
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Peter Gråskägg Serleus carving a sandal. Photo: Dajana Kovacevic/Swedish Radio
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Children making flat bread. Photo: Dajana Kovacevic/Swedish Radio

What did Vikings smell like?

Despite what many think, people a thousand years ago were not totally filthy. 

"We know they took baths during the viking era," says Lena Elfvinge Nixon,"there were saunas in the gardens, people had bathtubs."

She is one of many people in Sweden interested in the viking era, and this week there is a major festival in a field in southern Sweden, where enthisiasts are recreating some of the elements of medieval life.

Lena Elfvinge Nixon says to Swedish Radio Malmö that during the later middle ages public baths were set up, and both men and women used them. But she says there was "not just bathing going on" in these public facilities, and so when the more prudish renaissance times began, about 500 years after the viking years, these bath houses were closed for "moral reasons", and this means people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were much dirtier than the viking period.

But what about the smell?

Lena Elfvinge Nixon says that the wood fires that everyone used to keep warm would have definitely given people a rather smoky smell, and the close contact with livestock would have added to the odor, plust few people owned many changes of clothes, since cloth was so expensive.

But she says the viking era Swedes were very careful about their appearance, leaving behind many ancient combs and tweezers as proof. And they could have just taken off their shirts and washed them on a regular basis.

Also at the festival is Mia Westlund, who is making a medieval harp out of birch wood, using only viking era tools. She says that posessions during this era were often decorated, since they were so expensive and had taken so long to make.

The viking festival is organised by the Vikinga Tider, Viking Times, group, taking place between the southern towns of Löddeköpinge and Kävlinge, and it will close on Saturday with a market

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