Re: [allthingshistory] A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town
So cool, RB! :-)On Jul 16, 2013 5:04 PM, "Robert Blau" <robert-blau@...> wrote:
A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town
July 10th, 2013 in Other Sciences /
Archaeology & Fossils
[Photo: A silver button. A set of balance scales.]
When archaeologists Geir Grønnesby and Ellen Grav Ellingsen found
these and other artefacts during a dig in mid-Norway, they realized they
had intriguing evidence of a Viking-age trading area mentioned in the
The finds came from two separate boat graves in an area in
Nord-Trøndelag County called Lø, a farm in part of Steinkjer. The
archaeologists, who both work at the Norwegian University of Science and
Technology's University Museum, were there to conduct a routine
investigation required 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
"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 from Dec. 2012. "The Sagas say that Steinkjer, under the rule of
Eirik Jarl, was briefly even more important than Nidaros, before Olav
Haraldsson re-established Nidaros as the king's residence and trading
Norway's medieval capital
Nidaros, now the modern city of Trondheim, was Norway's capital during
Viking times, and the country's religious centre. The world's
northernmost Gothic Cathedral, Nidarosdomen, was built in Trondheim,
with its first stones laid in 1070 over the grave of Olav Haraldsson.
The oldest existing parts of the cathedral date from 1183.
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, and traded away.
Olav Haraldsson was the Norwegian king who is often credited with
bringing Christianity to Norway and whose sainthood, first proclaimed in
1031, a year after his death, was confirmed by Pope Alexander III in
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 Lø, they had few clues as to where this Viking-age
commercial powerhouse might be found.
1000 years of dirt and development
Archaeologists seeking to find a 1000-year-old trading place have
precious few leads to pursue.
Almost certainly there were no permanent buildings, which would be the
easiest to find, and many items that would have been traded would be
made of organic materials that might not survive the ravages of the
Apart from finding 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 Trondheim fjord.
It is also in a place where farmers have been working flat fields for
Swords, beads and jewelry
Another clue that archaeologists use to locate the possible trading
place is a detailed map of the locations of all kinds of different
archaeological finds that might suggest trade.
The logic here is that greater numbers of traded goods are more likely
to be found in close proximity to a place of trade, with fewer traded
goods found farther and farther from trading areas.
So the researchers plotted all relevant finds from Nord-Trøndelag
County, and again and again, the finds suggested a major trading area in
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 nearby Stjørdal had a higher number of bead finds – 485 beads,
all told – the researchers noted that most of those beads came from
two large finds, which makes it less likely that the beads were linked
directly to a trading place.
Twenty-two examples of a special kind of Viking-age sword, called the H
sword based on the design of its hilt and one that is associated with
trade, were also found in Steinkjer, the most of any area in
Five of six pieces of imported jewelry found in Nord-Trøndelag were
found in Steinkjer, while six of 10 imported brooches from
Nord-Trøndelag also came from Steinkjer.
Scales and a button
While beads, swords and imported jewelry help suggest that Steinkjer was
home to a major trading place, two specific finds, in boat graves in
Lø, 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 Norway.
Scales themselves naturally suggest trade, and when the researchers
looked at all the scales found in Nord-Trøndelag, they again found a
clear concentration in the Steinkjer area.
Under the church, in the city centre
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
Here, the archaeologists can only make an educated guess. Based on the
fact 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 Trondheim, as it did?
Grønnesby 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.
Provided by Norwegian University of Science and Technology
"A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town." July 10th, 2013.