Viking Sites - Archaeological Ruins of the Ancient Norse

Viking Farmsteads, Villages and Ritual Centers in Europe and America

Viking sites on this list include the archaeological remnants of the early medieval Vikings at home in Scandinavia as well as those of the Norse Diaspora, when hordes of young adventurous men left Scandinavia to explore the world. Beginning in the late 8th-early 9th century AD, these rowdy raiders traveled as far east as Russia and as far west as Canada. Along the way they established colonies, some of which were short-lived; others lasted hundreds of years before being abandoned; and others were slowly assimilated into the background culture.

The archaeological ruins listed below are just a sample of the ruins of the many Viking farmsteads, ritual centers, and villages which have been found and studied to date.

Oseberg Viking Ship Under Excavation, ca. 1904-1905
Stern view of the Oseberg Viking ship after months of excavation, Norway, c1904-1905. The oak ship, which was found in a large burial mound, was probably built in the early 9th century and buried in 834. The Print Collector / Print Collector / Getty Images

Oseberg is a 9th-century boat grave, where two elderly, elite women were placed into a ceremonially constructed Viking oaken karvi. The grave goods and age of the women have suggested to some scholars that one of the women is the legendary Queen Asa, a suggestion which has yet to find archaeological evidence to support it.

Oseberg's main issue today is one of conservation: how to preserve the many delicate artifacts despite a century under some less-than-ideal preservation techniques. More »

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Ribe (Denmark)

Viking Longhouse Reconstruction at Ribe
Historic viking longhouse reconstruction with oak shingles roof at Ribe Viking Center, heritage centre in South Jutland, Denmark. Tim Graham / Getty Images News

The town of Ribe, located in Jutland, is said to be the oldest city in Scandinavia, founded according to their town history between 704 and 710 AD. Ribe celebrated its 1,300th anniversary in 2010, and they are understandably proud of their Viking heritage.

Excavations at the settlement have been conducted for a number of years by the Den Antikvariske Samling, who have also created a living history village for tourists to visit and learn something about the Viking life.

Ribe is also a contender as the place where the earliest Scandinavian coinage occurred. Although a Viking mint has yet to be discovered (anywhere for that matter), a large number of coins called Wodan/Monster sceattas (pennies) were found in Ribes original marketplace. Some scholars believe that these coins were brought to Ribe through trade with Frisian/Frankish cultures, or were minted at Hedeby.

Sources

  • Frandsen LB, and Jensen S. 1987. Pre-Viking and Early Viking Age Ribe. Journal of Danish Archaeology 6(1):175-189.
  • Malmer B. 2007. South Scandinavian coinage in the ninth century. In: Graham-Campbell J, and Williams G, editors. Silver Economy in the Viking Age. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. p 13-27.
  • Metcalf DM. 2007. Regions around the North Sea with a monetised economy in the pre-Viking and Viking ages. In: Graham-Campbell J, and Williams G, editors. Silver Economy in the Viking Age. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. p 1-12.
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Cuerdale Hoard (United Kingdom)

Coins from the Cuerdale Hoard
Coins from the Cuerdale Hoard, mostly English with some from the continent, including Hedeby and Kueic coins. Found near Rebbes, Lancashire in 1840. CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

The Cuerdale Hoard is an enormous Viking silver treasure of some 8000 silver coins and pieces of bullion, discovered in Lancashire, England in 1840 in the region called the Danelaw. Cuerdale is only one of several Viking hoards found in the Danelaw, a region owned by the Danes in the 10th century AD, but is the largest found yet to date. Weighing almost 40 kilograms (88 pounds), the hoard was found by workmen in 1840, where it had been buried in a lead chest sometime between AD 905 and 910.

Coins in the Cuerdale Hoard include a large number of Islamic and Carolingian coins, numerous local Christian Anglo-Saxon coins and smaller amounts of Byzantine and Danish coins. Most of the coins are of English Viking coinage. Carolingian (from the empire established by Charlemagne) coins in the collection came from Aquitaine or a Netherland mint; Kufic dirhams come from the Abbasid dynasty of the Islamic civilization.

The oldest coins in the Cuerdale Hoard are dated to the 870s and are the Cross and Lozenge type made for Alfred and Ceolwulf II of Mercia. The most recent coin in the collection (and thus the date usually assigned to the hoard) was minted in 905 AD by Louis the Blind of the West Franks. Most of the rest can be assigned to the Norse-Irish or the Franks.

The Cuerdale Hoard also contained hack-silver and ornaments from the Baltic, Frankish, and Scandinavian regions. Also present was a pendant known as "Thor's hammer", a stylized representation of the Norse god's weapon of choice. Scholars are unable to say whether the presence of both Christian and Norse iconography represents the owner's brand of religion or the materials were simply scrap for bullion.

Sources

Landscape near Hofstadir, Iceland
Landscape near Hofstadir, Iceland. Richard Toller

Hofstaðir is a Viking settlement in northeastern Iceland, where archaeological and oral history reports a pagan temple was located. Recent excavations suggest instead that Hofstaðir was primarily a chiefly residence, with a large hall used for ritual feasting and events. Radiocarbon dates on animal bone range between 1030-1170 RCYBP.

Hofstaðir included a large hall, several adjacent pit house dwellings, a church (built ca 1100), and a boundary wall enclosing a 2 hectare (4.5 acre) home field, where hay was grown and dairy cattle were kept over the winter. The hall is the largest Norse longhouse yet excavated in Iceland.

Artifacts recovered from Hofstaðir include several silver, copper, and bone pins, combs and dress items; spindle whorls, loom weights, and whetstones, and 23 knives. Hofstaðir was founded about AD 950 and continues to be occupied today. During the Viking Age, the town had a fairly robust number of people occupying the site during the spring and summer and fewer people living there during the rest of the year.

Animals represented by bones at Hofstaðir include domestic cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and horses; fish, shellfish, birds, and limited numbers of seal, whale and arctic fox. Bones of a domestic cat were discovered within one of the house ruins.

Ritual and Hofstaðir

The site's largest building is a hall, typical for Viking sites, except that it is twice as long as an average Viking hall—-38 meters (125 feet) long, with a separate room at one end identified as a shrine. A huge cooking pit is located in the southern end.

The association of the site of Hofstaðir as a pagan temple or a large feasting hall with a shrine, comes from the recovery of at least 23 individual cattle skulls, located in three distinct deposits.

Cutmarks on the skulls and neck vertebrae suggest that the cows were killed and beheaded while still standing; weathering of the bone suggests that the skulls were displayed outside for a number of months or years after the soft tissue had decayed away.

Evidence for Ritual

The cattle skulls are in three clusters, an area on the west exterior side containing 8 skulls; 14 skulls inside a room adjoining to the great hall (the shrine), and one single skull located next to the main entry way. All of the skulls were found within wall and roof collapse areas, suggesting that they had been suspended from the roof rafters. Radiocarbon dates on five of the skulls the bone suggest that the animals died between 50-100 years apart, with the latest dated about AD 1000.

Excavators Lucas and McGovern believe that Hofstaðir ended abruptly in the mid-11th century, about the same time a church was built 140 m (460 ft)away, representing the arrival of Christianity in the region.

Sources

More »
Ruins of Gardar, Village Igaliku, Igaliku Fjord, Greenland
Ruins of Gardar, Village Igaliku, Igaliku Fjord, Greenland. Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Garðar is the name of a Viking age estate within the Eastern Settlement of Greenland. A settler named Einar who came with Erik the Red in 983 AD settled in this location near a natural harbor, and Garðar eventually became the home of Erik's daughter Freydis. More »

Interior of the Reconstruction of the Big Hall at l'Anse aux Meadows
Interior of the Reconstruction of the Big Hall at l'Anse aux Meadows. Eric Titcombe

Although based on the Norse sagas, the Vikings were rumored to have landed in the Americas, there was no definitive proof discovered until the 1960s, when archaeologists/historians Anne Stine and Helge Ingstad found a Viking encampment in Jellyfish Cove, Newfoundland. More »

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Sandhavn (Greenland)

Ruins of a Norse church at Herjolfsnes, near Sandhavn
Ruins of a Norse church at Herjolfsnes, near Sandhavn. David Stanley

Sandhavn is a joint Norse (Viking)/Inuit(Thule) site located on the south coast of Greenland, approximately 5 kilometers (3 miles) west-northwest of the Norse site of Herjolfsnes and within the area known as the Eastern Settlement. The site contains evidence of co-existence between medieval Inuit (Thule) and Norse (Vikings) during the 13th century AD: Sandhavn is to date the only site in Greenland where such co-habitation is in evidence.

Sandhavn Bay is a sheltered bay that extends along Greenland's southern coast for some 1.5 km (1 mi). It has a narrow entrance and a wide sandy beach bordering the harbor, making it a rare and exceedingly attractive location for trading even today.

Sandhavn was likely an important Atlantic trading site during the 13th century AD. The Norwegian priest Ivar Bardsson, whose journal written in AD 1300 refers to Sand Houen as the Atlantic Harbor where merchant ships from Norway landed. Structural ruins and pollen data supports the notion that Sandhavn's buildings operated as mercantile storage.

Archaeologists suspect that the coexistence of Sandhavn resulted from the lucrative trade capabilities of the coastal location.

Cultural Groups

The Norse occupation of Sandhavn extends from the early 11th century through the late 14th century AD, when the Eastern Settlement essentially collapsed. Building ruins associated with the Norse include a Norse farmstead, with dwellings, stables, a byre and a sheepfold. The ruins of a large building which might have functioned as storage for Atlantic trade import/export is called Warehouse Cliff. Two circular fold structures are also recorded.

The Inuit culture occupation (which dates roughly between AD 1200-1300) at Sandhavn consists of dwellings, graves, a building for drying meat and a hunting cabin. Three of the dwellings are located nearby the Norse farmstead. One of these dwellings is round with a short front entranceway. Two others are trapezoidal in outline with well-preserved turf walls.

Evidence for exchange between the two settlements includes pollen data which suggests that the Inuit turf walls were partly built from the Norse midden. Trade goods associated with Inuit and found in the Norse occupation includes walrus tusks and narwhal teeth; Norse metal goods were found within the Inuit settlements.

Sources