Established in the middle of the 8th century on the island of Björkö, Birka is credited for being the oldest town in Sweden. Protected under UNESCO’s World Heritage program, Birka also counts as a Viking Age proto-town and is the perfect destination for time-travelling hipsters who want to experience the real feel of Viking culture.
Once an important trading center that connected Scandinavia with the rest of the world, Birka is today known for its rich archaeological sites. In fact, the latest discoveries just outside the city may have affirmed the status of this settlement as one of the most significant sites in the Viking world.
It was a team of Swedish and German archaeologists which confirmed the discovery of a large manor at the site of Korshamn, one of the main harbor bays of the island. The explorations were performed with the help of ground-penetrating radars as fieldwork was conducted in September 2016. The archaeologists now claim they have located one of the most significant Viking halls of the era. Early estimates indicate that the manor most probably dates to the period after 810 AD.
“This kind of Viking period high-status manors have previously only been identified at a few places in southern Scandinavia, for instance, Tissø and Lejre in Denmark,” stated Dr. Johan Runer, an archaeologist at the Stockholm county museum.
The first hints to the big discovery came as Dr. Runer and his colleagues located several large house terraces at Korshamn. Further investigations uncovered a major Viking period hall on the site, with a length of around 40 meters. The size of the manor implies that it could only have been the property of the highest-ranking person on the island, which was Herigar – the King’s representative and Birka’s royal bailiff.
Fenced areas of the site suggest that the manor was “linked to religious activities”. Herigar is also considered to have built the first Christian church on the Swedish island after he was Christianized by Saint Ansgar, the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen sent to bring Christianity in Northern Europe.
“The site could say something very important about the establishment of the town of Birka because it is a place that dates back further than Birka,” have said Dr. Runer in another interview with TT Newswire.
According to the team, the identification of the house terraces at Korshamn and the subsequent geophysical surveys of these, together with the one of the house plateau conducted in September 2016, offer unique opportunities which have never been encountered before. This will lead to a deeper understanding of a site which is not only central to the early history of Sweden, but also a key location of the wider Viking world.
As the explorations proceed, we can only learn more about the first Christian mission in Sweden, the role of the royal administration, and the start of early urban life in Scandinavia.