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The Archeology of Viking-Age NorthNorway: A Historiographical Summary

Lyonel Perabo (2014)


Supervisor: Orri Vesteinsson

There are no doubts in the academics mind that in the XXIst century the term Viki g
carries a number of more or less desirable associations. While for the longest time it had
been synonymous, in the mind most western-Europeans, with blood thirsty raiding, pillaging
and rampage, it has nowadays been fused with a much less negative image of daring
seafarers, merchants endowed with a strong sense of law and social order that could also
bring wealth and civilization where they would go.

till, e e toda , the popula k o ledge a out those so alled Viki gs does ot
extend beyond those few facts and the general public might tend to see Scandinavia as a
single monolithic block when it comes to the Viking Age. Even in more learned circles, the
focus of interest and academic research most often focuses on those few places that are
deemed

e t al su h as the t adi g to

s of Bi ka, Hede , Kaupa g o Ri e and the

overall process of Christianization of Scandinavia and its integration to the European


3

Medieval Ages .
This trend, despite being long-lived has, in recent years been challenged by
archeologists and other scholars that have sought to put an emphasis on regional variation
4

within the Scandinavian sphere of influence of the Viking Age . The present essay, born from
the opinion that research pertaining to localized and specific areas might help enrich the
broader picture of the Viking Age as a whole will seek to present the historiography of the
Viking-Age Archeology of North-Norway. The temporal borders of this paper will, quite
5

unsurprisingly, include the Viking Age (VIIIth to XIth Centuries ) but will also discuss relevant
scholarship focusing both on earlier and later periods. The geographical borders of the
present essay will be placed in such a way as to include the three northernmost counties
(fylker) of the modern Norwegian state: Nordland, Troms and Finnmark. The reason for such
a choice is based both on ethno-cultural and geographical grounds but it mostly reflect the
state of the scholarship focusing on the Iron-Age political entity known as Hlogaland that
stretched between the Namdalen region of North-Trndelag and extended all the way into
1

This is in part due, at least in the Anglo-Saxon world, to authors belonging to the so- alled B itish
e isio ist s hool su h as a e Kings and Vikings; York; Methuen; 1982).
2
See for example Jones, Gwyn; A History of the Vikings; Oxford, Oxford University Press; 2001; 99 114.
3
See for example Walaker Nordeide, Saebjorg (Ed.); The Viking Age as a Period of Religious
Transformation; Turnhout; Brepols; 2012.
4

See for example Graham-Campbell, James; Vikings in Scotland; Edinburgh; Edinburgh University Press; 2003
or Duczko, Wladyslaw; Viking Rus Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe; Leiden; Brill;
2004.
5
Viki gs a d the Viki g Age ; The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages; 2010.

the Northern reaches of the modern Troms County . Naturally, both of these boundaries are
bound to have been somehow arbitrary traced and the various approaches of specific
scholars will be presented and put in a larger geographical perspective.
The period of academic scholarship studied will stretch from the 1850s to the early
XXIst century and will therefore cover more than a century and a half. The first part of this
essay will focus on the earliest scholars and their first attempts to study and delimitate the
Viking Age of North-Norway. This part will roughly cover the period between 1850 and 1960.
The second part of this essay will take an altogether different approach and focus on a
number of scholarly works published in the past fifty years that deal, directly or indirectly
with the Archeology of Viking-Age North-Norway. Each work will be treated separately while
also be put in context with the preceding and following works on the subject. Those works
that have been chosen represent the few actual books that have been published focusing, in
parts at least, on the subject of the present study. Reviewing those hundred-and-fifty years
of Archeology of Viking-Age North Norway will hopefully provide a solid background to
encounter this topic and permit him or her to discern the most important issues and the
ways they have been treated within this particular area of scholarship.

The Birth of Norwegian Archeological research: 1844 - 1885

When it comes to the study of the past and particularly the archeological study of the VikingAge, North Norway appears to have followed the impetus of the southern part of the
country with remarkable celerity. At a national level, the first organization for the study of
Norwegian history was the Foreningen til Norske Fortidsminnesmerkers Bevaring, founded in
Oslo (then Christiania) as early as 1844 by the painter J.C. Dahl who sought to create an
organization for the protection of ancient monuments chiefly among those the stave7

churches (stavkirker) . The o ga izatio s fi st task

as to esta lish a atalogue of he itage


8

monuments worthy of protection before publicly advocating for their preservation .


6
7
8

Urbanczyk; 1992; 11 13.


Myklebust; 1995; 25.
Holm; in Bertelsen (Ed.); 1989; 18.

In 1851, the organization welcomed a new chairman in the person of Nicolay


Nicolaysen who soon found new ways to implement its goals. In 1860 he received a grant
fo

the No

egia go e

e t a d e a e the ou t s fi st atio al a ti ua ia . I

1866 the organization published its first catalogue of sites and started shortly thereafter to
9

buy some of those monuments . In 1912, the organization was merged into the newly
established Riksantikvaren and was given the official task to answer for the protection of
heritage sites.
Meanwhile in 1875, Oluf Rygh, originally a professor of History at the University of
Christiania was awarded the newly created chair of professor of Archeology, the first one of
10

its kind in the Nordic countries . Among the numerous books he authored, his most
11

influential was most certainly Norske Old Sager which, originally published in 1885 was the
first catalogue of finds of Norwegian pre-historic antiquities. Despite relying mostly on
south-No

egia fi ds, R ghs o k also i luded several finds from North-Norway that had

been collected by the newly-established museum of Troms.

The Dawn of North-Norwegian Viking-Age Research: 1850 1962:

The museum of Troms was established in 1872 a couple of years after its counterparts in
Trondheim, Bergen and Christiania and two years later, in 1874, a department of archeology
12

was established . While the establishment of the museum of Troms was the most
important landmark in the history of North-Norwegian Archeology the first scientific
excavation in the region took place twenty years earlier under the supervision of A.G. Nordvi.
Nordvi, a trader who incidentally studied Archeology in Copenhagen conducted excavations
at the Stone-Age settlement of Mortensnes on the Varanger fjord between approximately
13

1850 and 1860 . When the museum of Troms was established he was offered the post of
curator of the archeological department but ultimately refused the offer.
9

Fo e i ge til No ske Fo tids i


Holm; Op. Cit; 17.

10
11

es e ke s Be a i g ; De to e No sk Lexicon; 2014.

In a surprising bilingual Dano-Norwegian/French edition.


Urbanczyk; Op. Cit.; 17.
13
Holm; Op. Cit; 19.

12

In his stead, three intellectuals succeeded each other as conservators of Troms


useu s a heologi al depa t ent: Thomas Winther (1874 1877), Hans Horst (1877
14

1880), and O. Nicolaisen (1880 1924) . Being the first officials in charge of archeological
research in North-Norway, the three scholars (who worked together already under the
15

administration of Th. Winther ) focused their effort into cataloging sites of interest. During
their tenures, particular attention was devoted to grave-sites and the first expeditions were
centered on mid and south-Troms. O. Nicolaisen, who kept his position for 45 years kept a
16

strong focus on grave-sites, cataloging over 2000 and excavating over 700 . During his time,
the regional division of Archeological prerogatives was established and Troms was given
the task to coordinate excavation and research in North-Norway from about the level of the
17

Arctic Circle (just North of Tjtta) up to the Russian border in East-Finnmark , a division that
will be seen in some later work (Simonsen; 1970/1991).
While neither Winther nor Horst ever published the result of their excavations, they
delivered the result of some of their finds to Oluf Rygh who included them into his catalogue
of Norwegian finds in 1885. This work, just like his posthumous Faste Fornlevninger

18

which

was one of the very first archeological works pertained solely on North-Norwegian material
consisted almost solely of a listing and categorization of finds. Due to the death of Rygh in
1899 and the limitation imposed by the lack of a full-ti e positio fo the

useu s u ato

no more scientific work focusing on North-Norwegian Archeological Material was published


for several decades O. Nicolaisen nevertheless continued his excavations and kept on
publishing reports every year between 1894 and 1922. Then, in 1928 the Troms museum
19

finally hired a full-time, scholarly-trained archeologist, Gutorm Gjessing . Gjessing, together


with the famed archeologist Anton Wilhem Brgger were the first scholars to analyze the
archeological data in order to propose settlement patterns for pre-Medieval North
20

Norway . At that time, the question of a potential northern expansion of southern


14
15

Sjvold; 1964; 1 2.

It is important to note that at the time the position of archeological curator at the museum of Troms was
based on a volunteering basis. None ever received any salary for their work which had to be accomplished on
evening and week-ends as all three men had as well paid positions as teachers. For further reading see Holm;
Op. Cit.; 20.
16
Ibid. 23 24.
17

Ibid. 19.
Rygh, Oluf; Faste Fornlevninger I Troms Stift; Troms stift; 1901.
19
Ibid. 27.

18

20

See for example Opphavet til Hlyjarlenes Rike; Hlygminne 1930; 99 107 for Gjessing and The
Prehistoric Settlement of North-Norway; BM 1932, N. 2. For Brgger.

Norwegian culture in the arctic was a central one

21

and both Brgger and Gjessing

developed a theory that the spreading of Germanic culture in North-Norway was due to
22

immigration from the south-western part of the country in the Early Iron Age . Gjessing was
also the first scholar to put an emphasis on the necessity to study both
Scandinavian/Germanic and Smi material culture and settlement in order to paint a truer
23

picture of pre-historic North-Norway .


In the following years, Harald E. Lund, taking over the position of curator for Troms
Museu s A heologi al depa t e t (1940 1946) spent an extensive amount of time
dedicated to field-work. He was notably instrumental in collecting data in the mysterious
North-No

egia

ou t-sites

24

as well as attempting to link archeological data with literary

information passed-down in the Icelandic Sagas

25

. Shortly thereafter, the Dane Povl

Simonsen (conservator of the department of Archeology 1951 - 1992) started a series of


excavations of specific micro-regions within North-Norway. His cataloging work started with
various districts in Troms before moving down to Nordland

26

and continued well into the

27

sixties .
It is at this period that Thorleif Sjvold, the previous conservator of the Archeology
department (1946 1951) released the first volume of his seminal cataloging work: The Iron
Age Settlement of Arctic Norway, books that must be looked closely at.

Thorleif Sj olds Catalogue of North-Norwegian Iron-Age Antiquities

Sjvold, a native from the south-Norwegian city of Tnsberg took over the position of
conservator of the archeological department of Troms museum just after the war. During
the conflict, most archeological artifacts that had been collected by the museum were sent
to a safe haven in the Malangen fjord and it was only when the war ended that those
21
22

Urbanczyk; Op. Cit. 16.

Holm; Op. Cit.; 27 30.


Urbanczyk; Op. Cit. 16.
24
Storli; 2006; 41 42.

23

25

Urbanczyk; Op. Cit. 16. See for example Lund, H.E.; Hlygske Hvdingseter fra Jernalderen; Stavanger;
Stavanger Museums rbok; 1955.
26
Holm; Op. Cit.; 30
27

His first notable work was Nordland Oldtid; Oslo; Fylkesbindet fr South-Trndelag og Nordland Fylker; 1954.

artifacts found their way back to Troms. Having witnessed the disturbance caused by the
war first-hand, Sjvold took for himself to catalogue every Iron-Age artifacts that was ever
28

found in North-Norway . The task, a huge one if any took over fifteen years to fully come to
fruition. Due to the phenomenal amount of data collected, Sjvold divided his work between
a volume reviewing finds from the Roman and Migration Periods, published in 1962 and a
second that focused on finds from the Merovingian and Viking period which only saw the
light of the day in 1974. In these books (Written in English, surprisingly enough when
thinking of the times) Sjvold makes the case for North-Norway as a coherent geographical
entity

29

and devotes two-third of his works to the systematic cataloging of mostly grave30

found artifacts, arranged from south to north by municipality and county . Each volume
ends with a chapter long chapter where each type of artifact is discussed and used to glean
potential information pertaining to the settlement of Iron-Age Arctic Norway.
Sjvold, despite discussing potential settlements patterns appears to be somehow
plagued by his approach. In both volumes of his work, he indeed focuses almost entirely on
grave finds, supplemented by stray finds and in some rare cases, hoards. While he does
mentions the original settings of each find, he does so only in passing and only put artifacts
in context with other artifacts and if he, at the end of both volumes, put the information he
obtained in perspective he only does so at the artifactual level. Virtually no mention is made
of house-mounds, boat-houses and the place of artifacts within the landscape. All in all,
j olds Iron Age Settlement of Arctic Norway, despite compiling a wealth of archeological
data never since equated remains, at its core, an antiquarian enterprise, much closer in spirit
to R ghs

o k tha a

othe No th-Norwegian archeological overview published

since then.
Still, despite this inherent flaw, Sjvold managed to actually gather a huge amount of
intelligence and by his almost mathematical review of finds, back several well-articulated
theories. One of the most notable, using finds of agricultural items was to argue for a
31

northern limit of Norse/Germanic population at the level of the Malangen fjord . Another
theory he came to subscribe to through the review of his date was that the Norse/Germanic
28
29

Sjvold, Thorleif; The Iron Age Settlement of Arctic Norway Vol I;Oslo; Universitetsforlaget; 1962; 1 2.

Contrary to others (C.F. Simonsen; 1970), Sjvold includes all three northernmost counties in his study,
including the southern tip of Nordland. In order to access the artifacts excavated from this zone, Sjvold

reviewed the archives of the museum in Trondheim. See Ibidm; 1.


Ibid.; 3 4; 15 20.

30
31

Sjvold, Thorleif; The Iron Age Settlement of Arctic Norway Vol II;1974; 363 365.

material culture was spread in North-Norway by ways of immigration from south-westernNorway (Rogaland). This theory, first upheld by Gjessing and Brgger in the 1930s

32

would

very soon be challenged and has not found any real strong backing in the North-Norwegian
scientific community since Sjvold. It was actually already put into question by Povl
i o se i his se i al o k pu lished a ouple of ea s p io j olds se o d olu e.

Po l Si o se s Re ie of Ar ti Heritage Sites
The Da e Po l i o se , ho took o e j olds position as the head of the archeological
department of the Museum of Troms in 1951

33

wrote one of the most well-known popular

book on North-Norwegian archeology, namely Fortidsminner Nord for Polarsirkelen (1970).


The book, that proved so popular that a second, revised edition came out in 1991, is
ha a te isti of i o se s esea h i te est. I deed,

hile Fortidsminner i ludes fi ds

from the earliest pre-history to the modern era (1600/1700) it is clearly tilted towards StoneAge finds. While it had always been known that Simonsen was first and foremost a scholar of
34

the Stone-Age , the reason why his work contained so much of pre-Metal-Age entries
results maybe more from his method than his likings.
Contrary to Sjvold who focused almost a hundred pe

e t o a tifa ts, i o se s

focal point is first and foremost set on the places. With each entry, ranging from Tjtta on
the edge of the Arctic Circle to the Russian border near Kirkenes, Simonsen starts with giving
practical instructions on how to access the site before describing its features and
peculiarities. In cases where an area is ripe with multiple heritage sites, a simple map is often
included but pictures remain rare, except those featuring rock art or other Stone-Age
remains. Regarding the Viki g Age, i o se is

ust of use he talki g a out the pe iods

35

graves where he underlines their diversity . Simonsen also spends some time putting into
perspective Iron-Age court-sites (Tunanlegg) and house-mounds. He also links the latters to
some south- este
defe ded

ou te pa ts

ut is o e all skepti al of the i

ig atio

theo

j old, Gjessi g a d B gge : I h o g ad disse No d o ske je alde -bondere

var innvandrere srfra og I hvor grad de nedstamment fra sen steinalders deltisbnder her
o d et i fo elpig ikke i o se ;
32
33

Ibid.; 346.

And kept it until 1992.


Framskritt for Framtida i Nord; Reidar Bertelsen (Ed.)Et. Al.; Troms Museums Skrifter XXII; 1989; 30 31.
35
Simonsen, Povl;Fortidsminner Nord for Polarsirkelen; Oslo; Universitetesforlaget; 1991; 22.

34

Another difference between Simonsen and Sjvold is that while the latter built his
argumentation almost solely on grave, he also made some careful use of selected written
sources, more especially The Account of Othere. Simonsen on the other hand is not
concerned about written sources whatsoever and may at best slip a sentence or two
regarding local rumors of a given site. The absence of putting the sites in perspective with
either written sources or artifacts render the use of Fortidminner li ited fo the s hola
researching Viking-Age North-No

ut his a al sis of the histo

of the egio s

settlement certainly remains to this day a useful tool to consult.


But beyond the achievements of the book itself, Simo se s

ok

as also

symptomatic of a new way of approaching the question of the Viking-Age settlement of


North-No

a . I deed, i o se s do

ight fo us o pla es athe tha a tifa ts ill e a

trend that will be steadily emulated by scholars that would end up succeeding to him and
Sjvold in the field of North-Norwegian Viking studies. In the years following the release of
Fortidsminner fe e a d fe e

o k of a ti ua ia

of the now leading archeologist in the field


i o se s fo us o

37

atalogi g e e p odu ed

36

and some

started publishing works that took even further

pla es. At the sa e ti e

, the U i e sit of T o s

as

established and contributed directly to a renewal of interest in North-Norwegian archeology


as well as the formation of a new generation of archeologists. If North-Norwegian
archeological research had been until then mostly been the result of individual work, the
establishment of UIT created an propitious environment for larger-scale work and
international cooperation such as those that took place in the 1980s in Borg and Vgan.

Prze ysla Ur a zyks North-Norwegian Monograph

The first foreign scholar to dedicate himself fully to the study of North-Norwegian
archeology was Przemyslaw Urbanczyk, a Polish archeologist from Warsaw who got the

36

See for exemple Vinsrygg Synnve; Merovingartid i Nord-Noreg; Bergen; Historisk Museum, Universitet
i Bergen; 1979.

37

O e of the ost ota le, Ola e e Joha se pu lished the i flue tial Viki g Age Fa s; Esti ati g the
Numbe a d Populatio ize ; Norwegian Archeological Review 15; 1982; 45 66. Where he among other thing
opposed the idea of a massive Iron-Age immigration from Rogaland.

opportunity to work on a certain numbers of finds in North-Norway in the 1980s thanks to a


38

collaboration program between the universities of Warsaw and Troms . His first-hand
experience as a field archeologist combined with his close contact with local researchers
permitted him to produce one of the most important monographs of North-Norwegian
39

History and Archeology: Medieval Arctic Norway . The book, which starts with an apt stand
40

der forschung

cleverly makes use of the now sizable scholarship on the subject while

making newer use of a great many type of sources.


Indeed, if Urbanczyk certainly focuses more on places than individual artifacts he also
brings a whole new perspective into the field of North-Norwegian archeology by his
authoritative study of written sources. Contrary to for example Lund

41

who attempted first

and foremost to link North-Norwegian finds and sites to places mentioned in the Sagas of
the Icelanders, Urbanczyk uses first and foremost official documents, Church decrees and
other more reliable historical sources as an additional tool to help comprehend the medieval
42

reality of a few selected sites like the port of Vgan . Another recurring feature of
U a z ks o k is the a he t eats the te po al o de s of his su je t. While the ulk of
Medieval Arctic Norway is indeed focused on Medieval (as in, Post-Viking) Settlement in
North-Norway, Urbanczyk does not see the pre-Medieval and Medieval period in isolation.
A o di g to hi
Middle-Ages

43

I o Age is: A i t odu tio to the p i ipal

otif of o side atio s i the

and he sees several issues like the question of Norse-Smi relations as

developing over several centuries, crossing over between the Viking-Age and the Medieval
44

period .
I additio to a k o ledgi g the eed to look fo a

igge pi tu e i o de to sol e

questions of anthropological nature, Urbanczyk also applies a wider vision to the studies of
i di idual a heologi al sites as ell. I his dis ussio of the

u h de ated

ou t-sites

(tun-anlegg) the author looks both for precedents on a national scale, the setting of the
North-Norwegian sites themselves and their relation to nearby environment. Arguing on the
basis that the sites were situated far from food-production areas, he discards them as
38
39

40
41

Urbanczyk; Op. Cit.; 11.


Urbanczyk, Przemyslaw; Medieval Arctic Norway; Warsaw; Semper; 1992.

Ibid. 16 19.

Lund; Op. Cit;


Urbanczyk; Op. Cit. 121 148.
43
Ibid. 19.

42

44

Ibid. 61 66.

permanent dwellings

45

and by studying the symmetrical designs of some of them, he sees


46

them as being set up for meeting of equals . Finally, on the basis of radiocarbon dating that
sets most of them in the Roman Iron-Age, he interprets them as meeting places between
47

southerners and locals where prestige goods were exchanged . Their decline is the
explained in socio-economic term; in the post-Roman Iron-Age period: The i ulatio of
alua le goods

o ed f o

e t ep e eu ial a ti ities

48

the itual sphe e of e ip o al e ha ge to the sphe e of

All in all, while Medieval Arctic Norway indeed only deals marginally with Iron and
Viking-Age archeology, it achieves the remarkable feat of integrating this period into a wider
chronological context while widening the field of play by the innovative use of previously
neglected sources. Its broad focus is most definitely one of the newer trends of NorthNorwegian archeology together with its surprisingly reverse counterpart: the localized
studies of sites and settlement.

The Paris of the North

49

Throughout the Ages

While the establishment of the University of Troms in 1969 helped foster North-Norwegian
Archeology further than ever before it helped, through the creation of a new regional center to
switch the mechanism of research from a top-down operation to a more grassroots process.
Starting in the mid-1970s various young and aspiring archeologists started to engage themselves
in their local communities in search for heritage site that might be studied. Olaf-Sverre-Johansen
50

focused on the Lofoten archipelago, most especially Vestvgy , Birgitta Wik studied the
remnants of the farm in Tjtta extensively

51

and Reidar Bertelsen started, as early as 1975 to

52

study various areas in Troms County . Most of these


45
46

Ibid.; 182.
Ibid; 182 183.

47
Ibid.; 185.
48

Ibid.; 186.
The Pa is of the No th is the i k a e of T o s. It
due to the cutting edge fashion local ladies exhibited.
50
Op. Cit. 1982.

49

51

52

Storli; 2006; 43.


Be telse , Reida ; Ga dhauga i Hadsel ; Hofdasegel

as esto ed upo the it i the XIXth entury

227 278.

studies were conducted over the course of several years and resulted in papers that were
most often published in local publications such as rural rbok (Yearbook) and did therefore
not systematically reach the greater academic community. The local scientific community
however, a tiny-knit group of a no more than a dozen people at any point of time

53

kept

excavating and researching and eventually releasing full-fledged books. One of the best
examples of such work is undeniably Troms Gjennom 10.000 r: Fra Boplass til By edited by
54

Reidar Bertlesen, Anne-Karine Sandmo and Ragnhild Hgst .


Published in 1994 and part of multi-volume popular series aimed at amateurs of local
history rather than academics, the book focuses, as its name indicate quite clearly, on the
region of Troms, roughly between the western edge of Kvalya until the Lyngen fjord.
While the book deals with the pre-history of Troms from the early Paleolithic all the way
until the establishment of the city itself in 1794, a sizable portion of its content are devoted
55

to the Viking-Age sites and finds in the region .


I this se tio , the autho s follo a lea

Post-j oldia

li e a d atte pt as

u h

as possible to paint a truthful picture of the settlement and society of the region and if a
56

large portion of their discussion on the Iron-Age focuses on graves , they rarely discuss
artefactual data, choosing instead to focus on whole settlements
58

as boat-houses

57

or specific buildings such

59

or Hollegroper . Following this method and regularly making use of The

Account of Othere, the authors arrive to the conclusion that the Troms area was, in the
Viking-Age, an area of ethno-cultural contact between Smi and Norse populations and that
ethnic identification and differentiation is a tricky task for modern scholars that might
60

nevertheless be addressed by the study of grave-artifacts .


Despite catering more to the more general (Norwegian-speaking!) public than to the
academic community, Tro s Gje

r is nevertheless an interesting product of

the development of North-Norwegian archeological science. Another product, probably more


prone to a more global scrutiny is the excavation of the chieftain hall at Borg in lofoten.
53
54

Cf the a k o ledg e t se tio of ooks su h as U a z k;

Bertlesen Reidar, Anne-Karine Sandmo and Ragnhild Hgst (Eds.) Troms Gjennom 10.000 r: Fra
Boplass til By; Troms; Troms Kommune; 1994.
55
Ibid. 124 187.

56

57

58
59
60

Ibid.; 135 158.


like the in Greipstad in Kvalya: Ibid.; 174 177.

Ibid.; 161.
Pits for harvesting whale oil. Ibid.; 134.
Ibid.; 134; 146.

The Excavation of the Worlds Biggest Viki g-Age House

One day in 1981 a farmer ploughing land in the hills of the island of Vestvgy pulled out a
great number of pottery shards, pieces of charcoal and other debris that seemed for the
least out of place in the middle of a potato field. Upon meeting with the local amateur
archeologist Kre Ringstad, a team from the Museum in Troms was contacted. They quickly
came to the conclusion that they were in the presence of an extremely important heritage
site and formal excavation was scheduled. Between 1983 and 1989, these archeologists who
most notably included Gerd Stams Munch and Olav Sverre Johanssen unearthed the
biggest Iron-Age building ever found in Scandinavia and finally published the result of their
finds in 2003 under the name Borg i Lofote , A Chieftai s Far

61

i North-Norway .

The excavation, one of the most extensive ever to take place in North-Norway
revealed a wealth of buildings and artifacts that bear the witness to Borg being an important
North-Norwegian center throughout all the Iron-Age. The main hall, erected for the first time
in the Vth or the VIth century lasted for about 200 years before being pulled down and
replaced by yet a bigger building sometimes in the VIIIth century which was in use until the
62

end of the Xth century . On the site were found some outstanding finds, both in a local and
global sense. Gullgubber, imported gilded glasses, Vendel-e a golde
contained numerous prestige items

63

ha essthe hall

as well as traces of animal husbandry on a very large

scale. The outstanding hall has been interpreted as a political and religious center

64

due to

its central location near numerous other sites of interest like a Merovongian grave site,
65

boathouses and a tun-anlegg .


The artifacts themselves have also been thoroughly studied and in an almost
66

antiquarian way, they are presented type by types: One chapter is dedicated to pottery ,
67

another to soapstones , and another on glass vessels


61

68

a d so o Ea h a tifa t fou d o

Stams Munch, Gerd, Olav Sverre Johanssen and Else Roesdahl (Eds.); Borg i Lofote , A Chieftai s Far
in North-Norway; Trondheim; Tapir Academic Press; 2003.
62
Ibid.; 13.
63
Ibid.; 14 15.

64

65
66

Ibid.; 257 263.

Ibid.; 25 32.

Ibid.;199 210.
67
Ibid.;141 158.
68
Ibid.; 211 230.

the site is thoroughly analyzed and catalogued before being studied in the context of other
si ila a tifa ts. What is diffe e t f o

fo e a ple j olds

o k is the fa t that a tifa ts

are as well systematically placed in the context of their emplacement within the hall
that e e

e o d this, the a e

ost e tai l

ot left alo e to tell the sto

hieftai s hall. Othe a heologi al te h i ues a d app oa hes ha e

ee

69

and

of Bo gs

used i

the

excavation in order to paint a clearer picture of the hall. Palynology and the study of plant
remains, a discipline that has been gaining in momentum in the past thirty years is given a
sizable chunk of space
hearths within the hall)

70

71

as is soil analysis (useful to help determinate the placement of


72

and the study of biological remains on vessels .

Overall, the amount as well as the diversity of the data collected at the hall in Borg
has permitted to paint a rich and vivid picture of an important center in the Viking-Age of
North-Norway. Both the artifacts and the settings have been studied on their own before
being combined in order to back each other up and hence reinforce both their final results as
well as their unique value. As a consequent, the legacy of the Borg find and excavations can
still be felt today with works such as those of Inger Storli owing much to the way Borg has
been approached and studied.

The Archeology of Political Development: Inger Storli and the Tun-anlegg

Inger Storli, the current head of the department of archeology at the Troms Museum has
been involved in archeological research since the 1980s. Her first book, Stallo -Boplassene.
Spor Etter de Frste Fjellsamer? published in 1994 was the culmination of many years of
study of Smi settlements. Likewise, Hlogaland fr Rikssamlingen, Politiske Prosesser i
Perioden 200-900 e. Kr could be seen as the development of an old idea first expressed in
1989 in the multi-authored Framskritt for Framtida i Nord. In this article, Storli attempted to
present the political situation of Viking-Age North-Norway through the lens of the Icelandic
Sagas. More than fifteen years later, her second book takes a different approach to the
69

Ibid.; 63 69.

70
Ibid.; 87 101.
71
72

Ibid.; 77 85.

Ibid.; 159 166.

question, namely how the evolution of political power and processes can be traced in the
archeological record.
to li, as

e tio ed ea lie fo uses

ai l to the

ste ious

ou t-sites o Tun-

anlegg, a type of sod-walled constructions characteristic of Iron-Age North and SouthWestern Norway. After a short introduction to the current state of the research in North73

Norway , she presents the different theories and methods of the few scholars that have
preceded her in the field. To summarize, as she does at the very end of her work, four main
theories regarding these Tun-Anlegg have been made over the years:
-

The a e li ked ith the hieftai s politi al a d eligious po e

They are the actual sat of chiefdoms

They are meeting places for the exchange of goods

They are non-permanent dwelling set up for meeting of locals

Usi g a e

s ste ati

a d uite j oldia

74

ethod of des i i g a d a al zi g the


75

feature of each of the eleven sites known from North-Norway , Storli is able to find that the
76

only correlation between those court-sites and other heritage sites are large boat-houses

a d dis a d the idea of a li k ith the hieftai s po e o g ou ds of a al ost total la k of


77

weapons or prestige-goods find . It is quite interesting to see here that while Storli makes
the case for a link between Tun-Anlegg and large boat-houses solely on the ground of the
landscape, she uses the absence of chieftain-related artifacts in order to disprove any strong
connection between them and the sites.
However, the discussion of the presence (or rather the absence) of artifacts only
takes a fe

pages out of to lis

o k. Espe iall to a ds the e d of he

much more intensive use of carbon dating

78

ook, she

akes

or the comparison between the setting of Tun-

79

Anlegg and Icelandic ing sites . The author indeed came to the conclusion, partly through
the a al sis of the e olutio of the sites size o e ti e f o

a a ea

ith s all a d fe

booths to huge, symmetrically organized court sites that these reflect the switch from an
73

Storli, Inger; Hlogaland fr Rikssamlingen, Politiske Prosesser i Perioden 200-900 e. Kr; Oslo; Novus
Forlag; 2006.
74
Ibid.; 182.
75
Ibid.; 39 40.

76

77
78

79

Ibid.; 83.

Ibid.; 84 100.
Ibid.;

. Whe e she dis isses U a z ks ea l dati g of the sites.

Ibid.; 147.

egalitarian political system to one where the power is held in fewer hands or as she puts it
he self: Ette

i s

ka ut iklige a tu a legge e, f a

a ge s og p e, til f og sto e

lukkede anlegg, leses som en metaforisk av konsentrajonen av

akt p f e he de

80

. She

concludes by proposing to see the Tun-Anlegg as meeting places not unlike the later
Icelandic ing places where free men would meet regularly in order to deal with political and
81

judicial issues .

Despite the fact that Inger Storli did indeed make use of artefactual data in her study of the
Tun-Anlegg, those artifacts she referred to ultimately did not weight that much in her
general argumentation and she stayed rigorously committed throughout her book to situate
and explain those sites within their geographical and political contexts. In that sense, Inger
Storli, just like virtually all the archeologists that have been actively researching the prehistorical age of North-Norway has only been following the greater trend of Viking age
Archeology where the study of the landscape, the focus on central/peripheral places and the
82

cross-over between archeological and other types of sources have become common . In
2014, the time of extensive catalogues and study of artifacts thereof alone cannot suffice to
solve the archeological and historical problems that we are becoming increasingly aware off.
However, one should be careful not to swing the axe too far from the artifacts so to speak. It
has indeed been demonstrated many times and as recently as the excavations at Borg that
tremendous information can be gleaned from the artifacts themselves. One must only be
cautious to use each method and source in relation with the other and the best scholarship
is then bound to ensue.

80

Ibid.; 165.
Ibid.; 188.
82
A rather recent symptomatic example could be Anders Andrn; Fragments of World Views: Archaeological
Studies on Old Norse Cosmology; Stockholm; Nordic Academic Press; 2013.

81

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