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Vikings' Home Reveals Extent of Their Wanderlust

Excavations in the land of the Vikings are yielding dramatic new evidence of the great distances travelled by the Norse warriors' longboats.

Archaeologists working in the area still known as Vikin, south of Oslo, have uncovered the remains of one of the Vikings' first towns—and of the palace and sacrificial temple of the king who ruled it.

The dig is already providing unique evidence about the political, social, and commercial organisation of the first Viking traders and raiders.

Persian rock crystal jewellery, Islamic silver coins, Baltic amber, cornelian and amethyst beads from southern Russia and India, pottery from France and the Rhineland, Italian glass, and looted silver from England have all been unearthed as part of a pound two million archaeological investigation being carried out by Oslo University archaeologists at the site of the ancient Viking town of Kaupang.

The town, which eventually stretched for more than 500 meters along the seashore near the modern Norwegian town of Larvik, was founded in the 780s—the time that the Vikings started to launch their raids against Britain and other parts of Europe.

The town flourished for more than a hundred years and may have been the embarkation point for many of the marauders who terrorised Britain, Ireland, France, the Low Countries, Spain, and Italy.

Among the silver items unearthed in the excavations so far, are Anglo-Saxon silver book-mounts—almost certainly ripped from illuminated bibles looted from monasteries in Northumberland and Yorkshire.

As the only known town in ninth century Viking Norway, it was the probable power-base of the famous Viking royal dynasty—the Ynglingas, the putative descendants of the Norse God Yngvi-Freyr, the Shining One, a popular Viking deity who owned a supernatural sword, a magic ship and a flying chariot pulled across the heavens by a shining golden boar. Some traditions even associate that dynasty and Kaupang with Harald Finehair, the nineth century king who began the unification of Norway.

What was probably the Ynglingas's original palace has been discovered by the Oslo archaeologists just half a mile from Kaupang. Excavations are revealing the remains of a partly stone-paved hall-house, 33 metres long and 11 metres wide, with massive curved boat-like walls. It was built on a man-made 300-cubic-meter stone and earth platform located at the top of a 13-metre high cliff. Such a platform building has never been found in Norway before.

Inside the newly discovered palace, excavations are yielding pottery, evidence for textile manufacture and the scattered fragments of glass, amber and cornelian bead necklaces. Even before the town developed, the hall-house had probably become a royal centre and may well have been the palace of the famous early eighth century king, Halfdan Kvitbein—Half Dane the White Leg. As successive Ynglinga kings were seen as descendants of the god Yngvi-Freyr, their palace was also a religious shrine to the deity.

The director of the excavations, Professor Dagfinn Skre of the University of Oslo, says the archaeological investigations around Kaupang are "showing the trading and raiding connections between Kaupang and the British Isles and other areas of Europe".