Warrior in Chain Mail
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Video Game Technology Used for Good

You can't just throw on a rare Vimose coat. National Geographic used video game technology to simulate how the armor coat would have interacted with the wearer's body, how it's worn, and what its design can tell us about its owner's preferences.
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Some people would argue that video game technology is a bit of a pointless pursuit. After all, it’s just a lot of processing power going toward a pastime for whiling away the hours. What’s the point of spending all that time and energy on games?

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However, video game technology can be used for a lot of good. And we’re not just talking about beating your buddies in Mario Kart, either, though that is very good. When video game technology applies to real-world problems, it is fascinating and helpful.

Simulating Ancient Armor

A new technique for simulating ancient armor uses existing video game rendering to see how real-world artifacts would have worked in the past. The storied Vimose coat, the best-preserved example of a coat of chain mail from the Third Century, is a perfect candidate for this approach.

It was discovered in a Danish bog 1,800 years after its owner was felled in battle by Danish warriors, the Vimose coat. The high-ranking German warrior who wore the armor must have been troublesome for the locals to take down because his armor was offered to the bog as a victory ritual, an offering to the defenders’ deities for their win.

Well-Preserved Due to Environment

Bogs have been a boon for historians the world over, thanks to their unique conditions. Many bogs have environments devoid of oxygen, the gas responsible for oxidation, allowing metals and organic components alike to go untouched by the tide of time for centuries. Historical artifacts pulled from bogs like the one about the Vimose coat have been invaluable for reconstructing an image of what life was like in ancient times.

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As for the coat itself, it’s an excellent specimen, one of the most robust indications of how advanced “barbarian” society was during the Roman era. The coat would have taken hundreds of hours to create as it consisted of nearly 20,000 hand-crafted rings. It was an expensive luxury for any warrior of that era.

Simulating Behavior

With a rare and priceless artifact like the Vimose coat, you can’t just throw it on and parade about with it, says Martijn Wijnhoven, a co-author of a recent study into the artifact. Wijnhoven and the team used video game technology to simulate how the armor coat would have interacted with the wearer’s body, how it’s worn, and what its design can tell us about its owner’s preferences.

“If you want to interact with it to test how it behaved, you have to come up with other solutions,” Wijnhoven told National Geographic. The solution they did come up with proved invaluable, showing how the 19,000 rings interacted with clothing and how they would have been worn.

For instance, the team discovered that the coat would have likely been fastened down with a belt, keeping it from slipping as much in combat. Likewise, it would have likely been worn over a padded coat due to its loose fit, offering the user the most protection without sacrificing speed and mobility.

Technological Marvel

The simulation also showed something fascinating about the coat: it is more advanced than researchers previously assumed. The prior historical consensus held that barbarian tribes would have needed to scavenge for Roman armor or import armor from other countries. However, the Vimose coat has a unique neck clasp that isn’t seen in contemporary Roman artifacts, suggesting that the barbarian culture may have been more technologically advanced than Roman reports indicated.

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 Roman historians may have downplayed the barbarians’ technological achievements, coloring our modern perspective. | Image Credit: Shutterstock

With new technology helping to map out ancient artifacts, historians hope to see the technology more widespread. After all, artifacts are studied for generations to come when they are safely sealed up and only experimented on in the virtual world instead of the real one!