for National Geographic News
Hundreds of ancient coins unearthed last week close to Sweden's main international airport suggests the Vikings were bringing home foreign currency earlier than previously thought, archaeologists say.
Buried some 1,150 years ago, the treasure trove is made up mainly of Arabic coins and represents the largest early Viking hoard ever discovered in Sweden.
Archaeologists from the Swedish National Heritage Board unexpectedly found the stash of 472 silver coins while excavating a Bronze Age tomb near Stockholm's Arlanda airport. (See a map of Sweden.)
Kenneth Jonsson, a professor of coin studies at the University of Stockholm, has independently dated the hoard to about A.D. 850.
"That date is very early, because coin imports [by the Vikings] only start in about [A.D.] 800," Jonsson said.
The discovery contains more coins than Sweden's only other known large Viking hoard from the period, which was discovered in 1827, Jonsson added.
"That coins were so important to the Vikings at such an early date is very interesting" and suggests they may have engaged in intensive overseas trade earlier than previously believed, he said.
The newfound hoard consists only of eastern coins, which is unsurprising, since early Viking hoards are typically dominated by coins from the Middle East.
But the oldest coins came from Persia, said dig team member Karin Beckman-Thoor.
These Persian coins must have been in circulation for centuries before being buried and "were very high quality," she said.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES