Many Viking artifacts are discovered by accident; this trove from a highway construction site in Norway is no exception. (Ed.)
by: Staff Writers
From: News Limited Network
WHEN archaeologists Geir Grnnesby and Ellen Grav Ellingsen found a silver button, a set of balance scales and and other artef acts during a dig in mid-Norway, they realised they had intriguing evidence of a Viking-age trading area mentioned in the Norse Sagas.
The finds came from two separate boat graves in an area in
called L, a farm in part of
Steinkjer. Nord-Trndelag County
The archaeologists, who both work at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's University Museum, were there to conduct a routine investigation because of an upgrade to Norway's main national highway, the E6.
But instead of a simple highway dig, the researchers found themselves with a potential answer to an unsolved puzzle about a mysterious Viking trading place that is named in ancient sagas, but that has never before been located.
"These finds got us thinking about the descriptions in the Sagas that describe Steinkjer as a trading place,"
the researchers wrote of their findings in Vitark, an academic journal published by the
. University Museum
"The Sagas say that Steinkjer, under the rule of Eirik Jarl, was brief ly even more important than Nidaros, before Olav Haraldsson re-established Nidaros as the king's residence and trading city."
As a medieval city and a religious capital, Nidaros played an important role in international trade throughout the Middle Ages. The Lewis Chessmen, an exquisite set of 12th century chess pieces worked out of walrus ivory and whales' teeth, are widely believed to have been crafted in the Trondheim/Nidaros area.
Olav Haraldsson was the Norwegian king who is often credited with bringing Christianity to
and whose sainthood, proclaimed in
1031, a year after his death, was confirmed by Pope Alexander Norway III in 1164.
Not surprisingly, he features in a number of different Norse and Icelandic sagas. It was these sagas that mention a major trading place in Steinkjer that was even larger than Nidaros. But until archaeologists started the dig in L, they had f ew clues as to where this Viking-age commercial powerhouse might be.
Apart f rom obvious clues, such as coins or metal or glass items that were clearly from foreign lands, archeologists have to rely on much more subtle evidence that can stand the test of time.
One such hint that a location might be a trading place is the geography of the place itself , the researchers wrote in Vitark.
"Even though there is no archaeological proof that there was a trading place in Steinkjer during Viking times, there are several aspects that support this idea," the researchers wrote.
Most importantly, they note, Steinjker is located in a natural trading areas, at the mouth of a river at the innermost part of
fjord. It is also in a place where
f armers have been working flat fields for centuries. Trondheim
The researchers also plotted all relevant finds from
, and again and again, the finds
suggested a major trading area in Steinkjer. Nord-Trndelag County
Beads made of amber and glass are commonly traded, and the area around Steinkjer was rich with finds of these goods, with 254 beads found in 28 different locales, the researchers said.
While beads, swords and imported jewelry help suggest that Steinkjer was home to a major trading place, two specific finds, in boat graves in L, were among the most persuasive finds.
One, a silver button made of braided silver threads that appears to have originated in the
British Isles, suggests that the person in the
grave had a high status.
The second is a set of balance scales found in another boat grave. The balance scales were constructed in a way that led the archaeologists to believe it came from the west, not from
Scales themselves naturally suggest trade, and when the researchers looked at all the scales found in Nord-Trndelag, they again found a clear concentration in the Steinkjer area.
If all of these concentrations of finds support the location of a major trading place in Steinkjer as mentioned in the Norse sagas, then where is it?
Here, the archaeologists can only make an educated guess. Based on the f act that sea levels were four or five metres higher in this area 1000 years ago, the location of the existing church in Steinkjer is the most logical place for the trading place to have been, the researchers say.
But confirmation of the fact that Steinkjer was a major trading area in the Viking age raises yet another puzzle: If Steinkjer was such an important area for international trade, why did trade eventually shift to
, as it did? Trondheim
Grnnesby says that the shift in trading areas was surely due to the tremendous power struggles between different rulers in the area. Nidaros along with Levanger, another trading area, simply had more support than Steinkjer. "We see that Steinkjer disappears in the sources in the Middle Ages while the same sources show that (nearby) Levanger was a trading post," he notes.
Nevertheless, determining the exact answer will require finding more than silver buttons, scales and beads, and may be an answer that we will never really know.
Some of the objects uncovered in the dig on the site of a future highway in Norway.