Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Viking houses in Aarhus, Denmark

Model of early Viking Aros
I am in Aarhus, Denmark for a 3-day conference on early cities. Papers are focusing on cities and methods for studying cities, particularly for the Viking era, Medieval Europe, the late Near East, and the East African coast. I had a couple of hours free before the sessions started, so I visited the Viking Museum in downtown Aarhus. This is a gem of a museum that marks the spot where some Viking houses and deposits were excavated several years ago. It is a small self-guided museum in the basement of a modern building.

Reconstructed plank road
Aarhus, called Aros in the Viking era, was an important craft and trading center. The site was fortified, and then the fortifications were expanded by King Harald Bluetooth in the tenth century. I posted about Harald Bluetooth and his planned circular structures previously.  He founded a church, in the plaza here, and eventually the Cathedral was built in its place. Inside the fortification wall ran a plank road. The archaeologists recovered several of the planks intact, and a portion of the plank road is reconstructed in the museum. You can still see the cart tracks in the original boards, and they are shown in the reconstruction.

House outlines drawn on the floor.

Pit house with skeleton, reconstructed
Pit house excavation with skeleton
One of the things I like best about this museum is that the locations of the excavated houses are shown drawn on the floor.  There were several rectangular pit houses here. In one, a skeleton was excavated in the middle of the floor. This find is reconstructed in the museum.

Urban houselot in Viking Aros
The museum has a painted reconstruction of an urban houselot from the Viking period. Notice the yard around the house, something shown in the town model at the top here (Soren Sindbaek, Viking archaeology specialist and co-organizer of the conference, thinks that the houses in the model may be shown with a more regular layout of the town than actually existed). These houses showed evidence of regular domestic activities, as well as several kinds of craft production. People produced craft goods in their homes,; dedicated workshops separate from houses were a later development.

Runestone from Aros
The museum also shows some nice carvings found in Aarhus (although not at this particular excavation). The runestone says, "Toke Smith raised this stone
after Trolle Goodman's son, who gave him gold and redemption." Was old Toke an ancestor of mine? I love these old runestones. I was impressed at the numbers of them spread over the landscape, still standing, when Cindy and I visited Uppsala a few years ago.
Carving of Loki

There is also a small carved stone with an image of the Norse god Loki. Harald Bluetooth introduced Christianity to Denmark, and Viking carving show both indigenous and Christian images and messages.

The Aarhus cathedral
The museum is just across the street from the Aarhus Cathedral. The church has very nice centuries-old paintings preserved, and it is full of large old gravestones. I could not resist taking a photo of a gravestone that must mark the burial of an archaeologist or a bioarchaeologist.

Grave stone in the cathedral
We took a break from the conference sessions today to make a trip down to the Moesgaard Museum, just south of Aarhus. This is a fantastic museum of anthropology and archaeology, focusing on the Danish past.. The building is brand-new, with a large gently sloping roof planted in grass. Kids were sledding down the hill - that is, the roof of the museum - today. The exhibits on the Iron Age, the Viking period, and the bog-people exhibits are first-rate. There are some innovative features in this museum; its well worth a visit .

I have really enjoyed Aarhus: the conference, the museums, and people, and the food. Thank you to the conference organizers, Rubina Raja and Soren Sindbaek. They direct the "Centre for Urban Network Evolutions" at Aarhus University.