The archaeologists discovered a great deal under the streets of Dublin, Ireland before the dig was shut down by the construction project that uncovered the site.
What has been discovered is truly amazing and the artifacts give us a good look at what life must have been like in 10th and 11th century Viking Dublin. (Ed.)
***Wood Quay: revealing the heart of Viking Dublin
Jun 01, 2017
|Overlooking the Wood Quay excavations in the heart of Dublin. (Photo: National Museum of Ireland)|
As Pat Wallace stood in the shadow of Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral in 1974, the view that lay before him was truly spectacular. It was not the soaring religious building that held his attention, though, but something a little closer to the earth. Pre-development clearance of the Irish capital’s historic centre had laid bare an early medieval time capsule: waterlogged layers of well-preserved archaeology some 3m deep, containing unprecedented echoes of the town’s Viking past. With over 100 houses, thousands of objects, and a wealth of environmental evidence, the four-acre site at Wood Quay would shed light on every aspect of life in the early medieval settlement over a period of five centuries. And, at the age of just 25, Wallace had been placed in charge of the entire investigation.
The finds so captured the popular imagination that, in 1978, a 20,000-strong march campaigned to ‘Save Wood Quay’. (Photo: Thaddeus Breen. Image enhanced by Nick Maxwell for History Ireland 22/2, 2014)
|Amber cross pendants like this are an unusual local innovation – although popular in Dublin, they are not often seen in Scandinavia. (Photo: National Museum of Ireland)|
The project’s specialist reports have now been transformed by Wallace into a major new publication, telling the full story of the site and its game-changing finds. The window that it opens on early medieval Dublin is set to transform our understanding of Viking Age towns.
Ploughshares to swords
Dublin’s Viking Age is traditionally defined as stretching from the settlement’s foundation in c.AD 840 until the Norman Conquest of Ireland in 1170 – though with a culturally mixed material record from the 10th century onwards, perhaps indicating a mixed population, the period is more accurately characterised as ‘Hiberno-Scandinavian’ rather than ‘Norse’.
|Some of the Fishamble Street ‘Type 1’ houses. Each was divided in three, with a central aisle containing the hearth, flanked by areas for seating and bedding. (Photo: National Museum of Ireland)|
The result was a small riverside community, made up of just a handful of semi-sunken structures, dating from the 9th century. It would not remain small for long, though; just a generation later, towards the end of the 9th century, the site was completely redeveloped, backfilling the buildings, levelling the ground, building boundary fences, and erecting a multitude of post and wattle structures.
This dramatic transformation marks the beginnings of the town proper – the Essex Street area turned into an enduring focus of industrial activity, which continued into the 11th and 12th century, marked by thick spreads of charcoal and ash, while densely populated residential zones sprang up elsewhere, including on what is now Fishamble Street.
|Finds like this child’s boot provide a wealth of information about what Dublin’s early medieval inhabitants wore. (Photo: National Museum of Ireland)|
This latter area was particularly productive for Wallace’s team, as it was home to diverse features of the medieval town, from sections of the defensive earth banks that encircled it in the 10th and 11th century, to its waterfront marketplace. The most impressive aspect of Fishamble Street, however, was its houses. Numbering over 120 – around a fifth of the structures identified across the site – they make up the best-preserved and most extensive series of 10th- and 11th-century buildings found at any European site west of the Elbe.
This is an extract from a feature published in CA 328. Read on in the magazine. Click here to subscribe.