Early Medieval Farming Village Unearthed Near Famed Viking Site

Nov 14, 2017

By Tom Metcalfe

Archaeologists in Denmark have unearthed the remains of a 1,500-year-old farming village near the famed Viking site of Jelling in central Jutland.

The excavated village contains traces of up to 400 farm buildings, including several longhouses that would have each formed the center of a family farm.

Based on the distinctive shapes of the buildings, researchers have dated the remains to between A.D. 300 to 600 — a time known as the early medieval period in Europe, during the Germanic Iron Age in Denmark.

“The carbon-14 dates will come later,” said Katrine Balsgaard Juul, an archaeologist and curator with the Vejle Museums in southern Denmark, who led excavations at the site from October 2016 until this October. “We’ve taken soil samples from all the main houses, but they are still being processed.” (Dating sediments using the carbon-14 isotope can offer more precise ages, the researchers noted.)

“But in Denmark we have a very long tradition of excavating early medieval settlements, so we are quite confident with the dates, even without the carbon-14 dating,” she said.

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4 comments on “Early Medieval Farming Village Unearthed Near Famed Viking Site

  • From the article above:

    Now that the excavations have been completed, the site will be developed into a modern village of about 40 houses, she said, but the memory of one of the ancient longhouses will be preserved.

    “We have made plans with the city hall [to] mark out one of the [early medieval] houses on the site,” Balsgaard Juul said. “We will make it visible above the ground where the post holes were, and then people can come and see where the actual village was situated in the early medieval period.”

    Wait, what?! Build forty houses on top of this historic site? It’s not like they found a couple of spoons and a few fish bones. It seems like there are a good amount of buildings and interesting items strewn around the place. This makes me nervous. How do they know they’ve found everything there? What if someone, some day, needs to go back and check something that doesn’t jive with the explanations proposed right here, right now? I don’t like this at all.

    Am I just being too American about this? Maybe Europeans have become somewhat satiated with finding ruins that are one thousand years old but to me, this is fantastic and special. I don’t care if the Danes already have a wealth of Viking sites to study, why wreck this one? What if there’s something special about this one that we don’t see clearly in the present but would make itself apparent in the future.

    Ok, I don’t want this to turn into Disney Viking World with a Viking gift shop, (I admit that this did come to my mind as it does on every historical site I’ve ever visited. 🙁 my bad. ) but I do want it to be set aside and preserved.

    I watched with horror as a Brit businessman pointed out (on a show) where Richard III was assumed to be buried…under space number such and such…under a tarred over carpark!!!!

    And any-who, if a gorgeous gift shop helps to pay for the care and maintenance of our historic sites then I don’t have a problem with it. Galling American Capitalism in action, I plead guilty. Sue me.

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  • There really might be very little left to see, post holes and waste trenches. Only a reconstruction might afford any kind of experience for the ordinary Jane.

    Richard the Third was possibly covered by other things before a car park. Leicester is at least two millenia old and stuff gets built on a lot over here. My Tivo delivers large numbers of a favourite programme, Time Team…. an historical archaeology programme often sent into places that are due for redevelopment. There is stuff everywhere! Building over sites doesn’t mean that undiscovered archaeology is not still there if the exposed archaeology was done thoroughly where buildings and foundations are put.

    However, you have such little of this stuff, I agree something really special is needed to note it.

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  • LaurieB #1
    Nov 14, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Wait, what?! Build forty houses on top of this historic site? It’s not like they found a couple of spoons and a few fish bones. It seems like there are a good amount of buildings and interesting items strewn around the place.

    I agree with Phil.

    Sites from this sort of period are built with wood, thatch and wsattle or mud, much of which has long rotted away, but the strips if humus rich soil or the foundation post-holes and trenches are excavated, the outline of buildings is clear. Details such as the depth of the post holes and the diameter of the posts, are evident in the soil, but can be destroyed by excavation.
    Sometimes foundation stones or low walls trace an outline in the ground.
    Other times there is nothing except the change in the nature of the soil which is visible to geophysics or outlined by vegetation during droughts.

    Frequently, there are layers upon layers on the same site, with the lower ones inaccessible as log as the overlying ones are preserved.

    And any-who, if a gorgeous gift shop helps to pay for the care and maintenance of our historic sites then I don’t have a problem with it. Galling American Capitalism in action, I plead guilty. Sue me.

    Some archaeological sites/museums have replica items (wooden toy swords, coins, helmets) for sale in their gift shops – as at this even older Roman site!


    Two Roman swords and a pair of 2,000-year-old wooden toys like those available in a museum gift shop have been discovered at a fort.

    The metal blades and wooden toy swords were unearthed during an excavation of a Roman cavalry barrack at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall.In another room were two small wooden toy swords which the spokesman said were “almost exactly the same as those that can be purchased by tourists visiting the Roman wall today”.

    Other items found in the barracks’ floor included bath clogs, leather shoes, knives, brooches, arrowheads and ballista bolts.

    Dr Birley said: “You can work as an archaeologist your entire life on Roman military sites and, even at Vindolanda, we never expect or imagine to see such a rare and special object as (the swords).


    As we climb Vindolanda’s two complete reproduction towers, (they’re safe this way) we see the scope and breadth of living history; we gain perspective not merely on its appearance, but on on how Hadrian’s Wall, (nothing of its stature near Rome) actually functioned as a crucial and sophisticated military system, one alive with horsemen and mini castles precisely and repeatedly set within a fully integrated network.

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  • @OP link – Post holes

    Balsgaard Juul said the main features of the site were the thousands of post holes left by buildings constructed at different times during the 300-year period.

    “We basically found 20,000 post holes, and that’s quite a lot, especially for my colleague, who measured it all with a GPS,” she said.

    The position of many post holes showed that many buildings had been constructed on the same plots of land used by earlier buildings.

    “It seems likely that there was some sort of core within this early medieval village, where the houses were rebuilt at least five times in a row,” she said. “We usually say that these types of houses have a duration of at least 30 years, so it means that some areas of this village were inhabited for a very long time.”

    The ancient village included between eight and 10 longhouses at different times, each around 110 feet (33 meters) long and 18 feet (5.5 m) wide.

    An example of ancient remains of wooden structures being shown up by irregularities in crops, and soil irregularities from post-holes and long rotted posts, is in some of the wooden henges around Stone Henge, which date back thousands of years!


    Insall’s photo is shown below, Woodhenge is just above left of the centre. (see link)

    These marks later proved to be the surface traces of six concentric rings of postholes, uncovered by Maud and Ben Cunnington in their excavations between 1926 and 1928.
    These posts date to between 2600 and 2400BC.

    When their excavations were over, they installed short concrete markers to show the positions and sizes of the postholes, using colour-coded tops to indicate which holes belong to each concentric ring.

    These are the markers that are still in place today.

    The monument shares the same solstitial alignment as Stonehenge, pointing to summer sunrise in one direction and the winter sunset in the other.

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