New discovery could rewrite Viking fortresses’ history

New discovery could rewrite Viking fortresses’ history

TUE 26 FEB 2019 09:35 PM

New discovery could rewrite Viking fortresses’ history:

Someone brought ceramics through the gates at the Viking ring fortress “Borgring” after it had burnt down. The discovery reveals an afterlife at the fortress that archaeologists had not previously considered.
Someone brought ceramics through the gates at the Viking ring fortress “Borgring” after it had burnt down. The discovery reveals an afterlife at the fortress that archaeologists had not previously considered. 

While most archaeologists and historians can agree that Denmark’s 5 Viking ring fortresses were most likely built by Harold Bluetooth around 980 CE, they remain divided regarding their purpose.

Was it to defend the kingdom? A demonstration of power? Or to cement the Christianisation of the Danes?

Many archeologists believe that the fortresses were built with only one objective in mind, and then disappeared more or less as quickly as they first appeared.

But newly found pieces of ceramic pottery discovered in the main gates of Denmark’s 5th Viking ring fortress, “Borgring,” are now challenging this theory.

The pottery belongs to the 1st half of the 11th century, which puts it well after the assumed construction of the fortress. Shards of the same type of pottery were found in 2016 at the fortress’ eastern gate.

The discovery of ceramics at the north gate suggests that last year discovery was not a random find, says excavation leader Nanna Holm who also works as a museum curator at the Museum of Southeast Denmark.

It also suggests that over time the fortresses have served various purposes, says Nanna Holm, who leads the excavation.

“We need to be open to the possibility that the ring fortresses were not just built to only remain for a short time, and then disappear completely afterward. I think that the fortresses are more nuanced than that,” she says.

The pottery is strongly inspired by an English style known as Stamford Ware, and dates back to the first half of the 11th century.
The pottery is strongly inspired by an English style known as Stamford Ware, and dates back to the first half of the 11th century. 

“I love it when we discover things that help make the story fit into place. This suggests that the fortresses did not necessarily disappear when they had achieved their intended goal—and this is a great story,” says Holm

Both the east and north gate appear to have partially burnt down, but the ceramics were discovered in soils that date after these fires—meaning that someone brought the ceramics into the gates after the fire.

The ceramics at the north gate are located in the same age layers of soil as at the east gate, indicating that both sites were simultaneously occupied.

In the east gate, archaeologists also discovered floor layers, a fireplace, and a Viking toolbox in connection with the pottery.

This probably means that the gates did not burn down completely and that some parts of the buildings at least partially remained for people to move into.

“Activity at one gate could just mean that it did not collapse completely after the fire. Now we find that the north gate was also used in the same period, and that suggests that you could still use the gates,” says Holm.

Few similar finds in Denmark

The pottery dates back to the first half of the 11th century and is strongly inspired by an English style known as Stamford Ware.

There are only a few known examples of this type of ceramic outside England during this period, and it only shows up in the Viking political power hubs of Lejre and Roskilde in Denmark and Lund in Sweden.

The discovery surprises archaeologist and Stamford Ware expert Jesper Langkilde, a museum curator at Roskilde Museum, Denmark. He was not involved in the excavations at “Borgring.”

“It is exciting because we only know of a few examples of this type of ceramics from Denmark and Skåne [in Sweden]. It demonstrates that there was activity at ‘Borgring’ at the beginning of the 11th-century, and it also suggests that this activity was something significant,” says Langkilde.

“This type of pottery has been associated with Knud the Great and his close relation to England, so we should perhaps think of this as something that signifies a royal presence or at least some higher social status,” he says.

Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.