An airport pre-construction excavation in Norway paved the way for the discovery of 1,500-year-old longhouses – glass shards and beads showing how Iron-Age Norwegians actively traded and loved their bling.
Excavation at the Main Air Station at Ørland – poised for expansion to house the country’s fighter jets – revealed the ancient pre-Viking artifacts. The location couldn’t be any less strategic, as it was a sheltered area running from the southern to the northern coasts.
“And it was at the mouth of Trondheim Fjord, which was a vital link to Sweden and the inner regions of mid-Norway,” said Ingrid Ystgaard, archaeology and cultural history project manager at NTNU University Museum.
From Bling To Bones
What archaeologists found at the site were beads, glass, ceramics, and metal objects. An example was a delicate blue glass bead and several amber ones, suggesting a preference for bling. There was also a green drinking glass reminiscent of imports from Germany’s Rhine Valley.
Ystgaard considered the artifacts a testament to the former residents’ wealth. “It says something that people had enough wealth to trade for glass.”
A little extra was found as well: lots of old animal and fish bones, primarily because the soil was composed of ground-up seashells that aren’t too acidic and won’t eat away at the bones.
Ystgaard noted that it was a lucky moment, where experts won’t even find middens or prehistoric trash heaps on archaeological sites that are older than the medieval age.
“Nothing like this has been examined anywhere in Norway before,” Ystgaard said, who added there were plenty of bones to determine the animals they originate from. The digging also unearthed salmon and cod remains as well as bones from seabirds.
Treasure Trove Of Archaeological Finds
Strategically-located Ørland will shelter new facilities to accommodate 52 newly purchased F-35 fighter jets – and archaeologists had a field day when excavation for the expanded runways began.
According to Norwegian law, an archaeological dig and the necessary follow-up for any significant finding is required for any construction site.
Based on the size of the expansion site, the archaeologists need to study about 91,000 square meters (979,516 square feet) of land or three times a shopping center’s size. This “bonanza,” said Ystgaard, allows them to see links among various longhouses, garbage pits, and other discoveries.
Over 20 field workers are devoting 40 weeks on the site until the 2016 field season.
Ground Holes And Other Finds
The Ørland site has long been cultivated, with the farm name Vik reflecting the beginnings of the bayside site 1,500 years past.
Field staff also sought discolored soil that meant there was organic material accumulation, in this case indicating a fire place where longhouse posts were positioned.
Soil marks so far indicate three buildings arranged in a U shape, with the two parallel longhouses measuring 40 and 30 meters (131 and 98 feet) and linked by a smaller structure. There were also graves and a harbor containing boat houses not far from the site.
For Ystgaard, the findings were no less than amazing. “There was a lot of activity here. Now our job is to find out what happened here, how people lived,” she said.
The project costs 41 million Norwegian kroner or about $4.6 million, excluding funds for excavating machines and workers’ room and board.