‘First of its Kind’ Viking Age Shipyard Discovered at Birka, a Swedish World Heritage Site

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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.

This article was published in ArtNews on June 16, 2022.

Published by Jules William Press

Jules William Press is a small press devoted to publishing the best about the Viking Age, Old Norse, and the Atlantic and Northern European regions. Jules William Press was founded in 2013 to address the needs of modern students, teachers, and self-learners for accessible and affordable Old Norse texts. JWP began by publishing our Viking Language Series, which provides a modern course in Old Norse, with exercises and grammar that anyone can understand. This spirit motivates all of our publications, as we expand our catalogue to include Viking archaeology and history, as well as Scandinavian historical fiction and our Saga Series.

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