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Aerial view of Birka. The Borg is at the top of the photo, the main settlement area in the middle of the photo and the cemetery at he the bottom of the photo among the trees.
Image: Wikimedia. (click on the images to enlarge)

Birka was a trading site that was located on the island of Björkö. Birka flourished from the 8th to the 10th centuries AD. Its position in Lake Mälaren, which is now linked to the Baltic Sea by the Södertälje Canal led to it becoming an important mercantile centre with extensive trading ties to Western Europe, Scandinavia, the Slavic and Byzantine east, as well as the Arab World.

The trading site was established in the second half of the 8th century and is one of the earliest emporia in Scandinavia. There are three main parts to the site: a fortified area, “the Borg” , the main settlement area with its extensive deposits of “Black Earth”, fronting on to lake Mälaren and the cemetery. The mounds of the cemetery are more visible in the snow-covered photo. From 1990 to 1995 a series of important excavations took place in the Black Earth.

During the Viking Age Lake Mälaren functioned as a bay adjacent to the Baltic Sea, and Birka was perfectly positioned near the northern long-distance trade routes that ran between the British Isles, Western Europe, the Kievan Rus, the Byzantine Empire, and the Abbasid Caliphate.

The Boatyard

Archaeologists from Stockholm University’s Archaeological Research Laboratory have discovered a unique Viking Age shipyard site at Birka, challenging previous theories about Viking maritime activities. This unprecedented site includes a stone-lined depression with a wooden boat slip, revealing large quantities of unused and used boat rivets, slate whetstones, and woodworking tools. The findings suggest that this was a shipyard where people serviced their ships. Through systematic survey and drone investigations, the researchers have unveiled a rich maritime cultural landscape at Birka, with remnants ranging from jetties to boat launches and shipyards. The town’s ramparts, previously known for defense, also served as legal, economic, and social boundaries. The newly discovered shipyard at Kugghamn, located outside Birka’s rampart, raises questions about the dynamics of Viking Age trade and who was allowed to dock where. Ongoing archaeological investigations aim to provide a nuanced understanding of Birka’s maritime history, exploring boat landing sites and addressing questions about landing permissions. The researchers emphasize that their work extends beyond fieldwork, involving analytical laboratory techniques to extract more information from fragmentary source materials.

For further information see:
A Viking Age Shipyard at Kugghamn, Birka

The Cemetery – image: Wikimedia

The Borg – image: Wikimedia

Entry point in a defensive wall at Birka
image: Wikimedia

Excavation of the Boatyard