As the world awaits the second half of season five of History Channel’s epic show Vikings, which will premiere on November 28, 2018, archaeologists in Ribe, Denmark have been excavating a real life Viking city and say that “Deep beneath street level are thousands of Viking finds.”
Denmark is the spiritual and historical home of the Vikings. They were feared across Europe for their raiding and pillaging but there is more to the story than that. According to a report in Phys.org, the ‘Northern Emporium Project’ consisting of a team of archaeologists from Aarhus University and Southwest Jutland Museums (Denmark) “have dug down to three meters,” finding traces of what the researchers have called “the first cities of the Nordic region.”
A runestone at the Ribe VikingeCenter. ( Ribe VikingeCenter )
Around 700 AD, maritime trade in the North Sea was being developed and Ribe was a logistically advantageous departure point for sailing ships. By 800 AD, when the ‘Viking Age’ officially began, Ribe was a crucial port in Scandinavian shipping and this is why archaeologists are reporting “changes in the remains of workshops” and stacks of evidence of artisans and craftsmen.
The project, “Northern Emporium,” has excavated about 100 square meters (1076.39 sq. ft.) of cultural layers in the oldest part of Ribe. So far, Archaeology.org reports; “ runic inscriptions , amulets, beads, coins, combs, dog excrement, gnawed bones” and even “a piece of a lyre (a harp-like stringed instrument), complete with tuning pegs” have been found.
Wood and other organic materials are preserved in deep underneath the Danish city of Ribe. For example, this piece of lyre with six tuning pegs, was found in a layer from the first half of the 8th century AD. ( Museum of Southwest Jutland )
Ribe has actually been known about for many years , but the results of earlier excavations using less advanced technology were “difficult to interpret” and suggested that Ribe was “a seasonal market town for generations before people started to settle there more permanently.” However, new life was breathed into the project in 2016 when the Carlsberg Foundation brought new funding, thus enabling “a new and bigger excavation.”
New ‘high-definition’ archaeological methods were developed specifically for this excavation by the Centre of Excellence for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) and were funded by the Danish National Research Foundation. Therefore, the city is being examined with high technology, including “3-D laser surveying, DNA research, and soil chemistry.”
3-D scans are used to document and analyze the many layers of flooring (yellow) and layers of soil (blue) from the Viking age houses. In the cut out area loom weights and other larger object can be seen in situ on the floors. ( Sarah Croix )
The scientists said the project “will set a new standard for archaeological research of cities through the development of field methods that include geochemical element analysis, micromorphology, and dynamic, electronic methods for documenting the excavation.”
The value of Ribe in cultural terms is that the people who lived here weren’t primarily farmers, as in most other Viking settlements at this time, but they were “ craftsmen, seafarers, tradesmen , innkeepers, and maybe even lyrists” according to the researchers . The project archaeologists told reporters that one of their “most important discoveries” was finding out that “solid houses existed in Ribe only a few years after the earliest activities in the area, no later than the 720’s CE.” This means that the city had a resident population of trade and craftsmen in what is being defined as an “urban community of sorts.”
Shipping trade networks can be said to have ‘caused’ the emergence of Ribe, and so far, evidence of many different trades has been unearthed, including: “ironsmiths, amber workers, leather workers, comb makers, and jewellers, who worked with pewter, lead, copper alloys, silver and gold.”
Specialists have tracked the chronology of bead production at Ribe and said, “the style of the beads changes according to the fashions of the day,” and they added “the production stops around the emergence of the Viking Age” at which time “mass produced beads were imported from the Middle East.”
The bead-makers of 8th century Ribe used pieces of glass gathered from old Roman mosaics as their raw material. They didn’t have access to newly manufactured glass. This is one of the many details that tells us about the city’s network. ( Museum of Southwest Jutland )
Reports from analysis of the Ribe beads revealed that the glass had “originated in Palestine and Egypt” and it was “several centuries old when it arrived in Ribe.” The researchers believe the beads were maybe “taken from old Roman mosaics, probably in Roman cities such as Cologne or Trier.”
Other exciting findings at Ribe include; a Roman carnelian gemstone decorated with the picture of Venus and a fragment of an ornately decorated Roman ceramic, terra sigillata, which archaeologists said , “must have been picked up at a Roman ruin or grave and brought to Ribe as an amulet or souvenir.”
Scientists now intend to spend “hours and hours analyzing samples to trace the activity in the city’s earliest houses” looking at isotope studies to map the craftsmen’s network. Questions like; where did the craftsmen get their raw materials? What did they make? And who bought their wares? all remain unanswered. But not for long.
Top image: A representative 3D model of part of a Viking city. Source: Art Reference Source/ Deviant Art
By Ashley Cowie