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Re: [allthingshistory] A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town

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  • Martin Baxter
    So cool, RB! :-) ... So cool, RB! :-) On Jul 16, 2013 5:04 PM, Robert Blau wrote:   A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 17 8:33 AM

      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
      Norse Sagas.
      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
      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 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
      is it?

      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.

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