Archaeologists from Stockholm University discovered the remains of a Viking Age shipyard, the university announced Wednesday, while excavating at Birka, known as Sweden’s first town. The find sheds light on the organization of the Viking’s maritime activities.
Established during the mid-8th century C.E., Birka is one of the best examples of city-like trading posts set up by Vikings for long-distance maritime trade. Located on the present-day island of Björkö, the ancient site, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, would have been a major trading hub for merchants and tradesmen across Europe.
Birka had a rampart surrounding the city for defense and legal, economic, and social boundaries. The shipyard, however, as well as a boat landing site currently undergoing research, are both located outside of the rampart. Until this point, efforts have been focused within the rampart.
Archaeologists from Stockholm University conducted a systematic survey of the shipyard using mapping and drone investigations. Along the shore, the team uncovered a stone-lined depression with a wooden boat slop at the bottom, where boats would have been serviced. They also found large quantities of unused and used boat rivets, whetstones made from slate, and woodworking tools.
“A site like this has never been found before, it is the first of its kind, but the finds convincingly show that it was a shipyard,” said Sven Isaksson, professor of archaeological science at Stockholm University, in a press release.
Previous research conducted at Birka showed several of the remains, but it wasn’t until the items were recovered that archaeologists had a clearer understanding of the area’s overall functionality.
“We can now show that Birka, in addition to the urban environment, also has a very rich maritime cultural landscape with remains of everything from jetties to boat launches and shipyards,” notes Isaksson.
The team plans to continue excavating and analyzing fragmentary source materials at Birka to better understand the maritime cultural landscape.