Archaeologists find Viking shipyard

(ORDO NEWS) — In one of the most important cities of ancient Scandinavia, another place was discovered where ships could moor. But who was allowed to moor there?

Archaeologists from Stockholm University (Sweden) have discovered a unique shipyard of the Viking Age in ancient Birka on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren.

It is a depression in the coastal zone, lined with stone, with a wooden boat at the bottom. In addition, the researchers found many unused and used ship fasteners, grindstones and woodworking tools.

The city of Birka is one of the largest trading centers of the Vikings, which functioned in 750-975 AD. Before the Vikings, the place was also not empty: many burials of the Vendel period (550-793 in Sweden) were found there.

Archaeologists find Viking shipyard 2
Shipyard 3D computer model

In Viking times, Lake Mälaren was a bay of the Baltic Sea, and Birka itself was a seaport. Birka is mentioned in the “Biographies of St. Ansgar” (this Christian missionary visited the city twice) and the writings of Adam of Bremen (and this chronicler wrote from hearsay, during his time the city was already abandoned).

The most interesting for archaeologists is the territory, which, because of the color of the soil, is called the Black Earth. This site was the site of the most artifacts, even though it was not the center of the city. It’s more of a gentle slope down to the water.

The main urban area was located in the west of the island, was much larger than Chernaya Zemlya and was surrounded by a wide defensive wall. In the southwest of the Black Earth there was a hill 30 meters high.

The remains of a fortification were found on it – obviously, an observation post from which the approaches to the island were clearly visible.

In Birka and its environs, four harbors have been found today, but this is the first time that a shipyard has been discovered.

The main harbor received ships directly next to the Black Earth: scientists even suggest that the color of the soil there is darker than on the rest of the island, precisely because of the intensive use of the territory. The entrance to the harbor was protected by an underwater palisade (apparently in case of unfriendly visits).

In the north there was another harbor – Kugghamn, which could include heavy ships. There is still no consensus among scientists about whether the Vikings used this harbor: some believe that the harbor dates back to the time of the Hansa and was intended for the Frisian Coggs. However, some elements of the harbor date back to the Viking period.

There were two other small harbors on the island (in the bays of Korshamn and Salviken), which may have been intended for local fishermen. Now they have found a fifth place where the ships could stand – at the berthing facilities next to the shipyard, quite large in size.

The fact that Birka was a large trading center is evident from the finds. A huge number of dirhams (Arab silver coin) speaks of active trade with the Arab Caliphate. There is also an assumption that the Vikings of Birka went to Central Asia as early as the 8th century, that is, before the founding of Kievan Rus.

Samples of silk, glass (from the Rhineland), a large amount of amber (obviously intended to be sent via the Great Amber Route ) indicate that the Vikings were not only attracted to the East.

In several burials in Birka, archaeologists found trading scales, and in more than a hundred – weights. That is, the profession of a merchant was so respected that it was reflected in the grave goods.

For such a city, the discovery of a shipyard is quite expected, however, it happened only now. The city and its environs were repeatedly investigated with the help of georadar mounted on drones, and the data obtained were carefully mapped.

As a result, it became clear that in Birka, in addition to the urban environment, there is a very large port with the remains of everything you need – from piers to launches and shipyards.

But the discovery raises new questions. For example, why is the main harbor protected by an underwater palisade, but the place where the shipyard was found is not?

In addition, it is not clear whether this shipyard was public (the Vikings met such institutions) or private. If the latter is true, there must be another shipyard: with such intensive trade, a monopoly on services of this kind could not last long.

And, of course, it is not clear on what basis those who entered the protected harbor were separated, and those who remained on the pier near the shipyard or in the northern harbors.


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