Gene Fornby: An Ancient Swedish Village That Predates the Vikings

Gene Fornby: An Ancient Swedish Village That Predates the Vikings

In the heart of northern Sweden, just outside Örnsköldsvik, lies a remarkable treasure from the past: Gene Fornby. This reconstructed archaeological open-air museum offers a captivating journey into the ancient world, providing a vivid glimpse into a village that thrived over 1500 years ago. Join us as we explore the intriguing history of Gene Fornby, a village that predates the Vikings and has become a popular tourist attraction since opening its doors to the public in 1991.

An Abundant Life in Ancient Times

Gene Fornby was home to a resilient family that had prospered for generations. They enjoyed a bountiful existence, sustained by the rich land and the gifts of the sea. Their days were filled with farming the fertile soil, fishing in the nearby waters, and even seal hunting. Back then, iron, bronze, and pearls held immense value, and the villagers engaged in trade with neighboring settlements, offering finely crafted items forged in their own smithy. The lush surrounding forests provided timber for crafting homes, boats, and various artifacts.

The Past of the Gene Fornby

Reconstructed long house at Gene Fornby under snow.
Reconstructed long house at Gene Fornby under snow. | Image Source: CC BY 2.5 )

Operated by the Örnsköldsvik Museum & Art Gallery, Gene Fornby invites visitors to step back in time during the summer months. Interpreters and historians, dressed in authentic period costumes, transport you to an era long gone. Education and entertainment are key priorities, but it doesn’t end there. Both the university and the local museum continue to be actively engaged in ongoing research, unearthing new insights into the village’s history.

Ancient Secrets of the Gene Fornby

From 1977 to 1988, archaeologists from the University of Umeå meticulously excavated Gene Fornby, shedding light on its rich history. The site’s origins date back to the Roman Iron Age and the Migration Period, approximately between 400 and 600 AD. These findings challenge previous assumptions, proving that the region had a thriving population even before the Viking Age (792 to 1066 AD).

The Smithy: A Hub of Innovation

Iron objects made in the forge (Örnsköldsvik Municipality)
Iron objects made in the forge (Örnsköldsvik Municipality)

Gene Fornby boasted one of prehistoric Scandinavia’s largest forges. Archaeologists unearthed evidence of iron production, bronze casting, and even a textile workshop. Notably, the bronze casting molds discovered here are a rare find, with only around ten similar molds found across the Nordic region. This site played a crucial role in the local iron industry.

Resting Beneath the Mounds

Within the main excavation area, archaeologists discovered a cemetery adorned with nine low burial mounds, with an additional four mounds nearby. These thirteen burial mounds are believed to be the final resting places of chieftains, dating from 100 to 600 AD. This significant discovery challenges the previous belief that this part of Sweden had no resident population before the Viking Age.

Treasures of the Gene Fornby

A ‘grophus’ or house at Gene Fornby
A ‘grophus’ or house at Gene Fornby Image Source: CC BY SA-3.0

Among the artifacts uncovered at Gene Fornby are a treasure trove of historical items. Knives, arrowheads, bone combs, pottery, clothing buckles, buttons, and an array of beads in bronze, glass, bone, and clay offer a fascinating insight into daily life. The evidence of handicraft production suggests a thriving local industry.

A Tale of Two Phases

Gene Fornby’s history unfolds in two distinct phases. The first phase featured a longhouse, a barn for storing corn, and a workshop. Later, during the second phase, the villagers dismantled these structures and constructed a new longhouse, barn, and a sizable smithy. In total, the excavation area revealed fourteen houses, with thirteen belonging to the Iron Age settlement and one dating back to the 1200s.

Preserving the Past: A Decade-Long Battle

The path to preserving Gene Fornby was not without its challenges. The City Council of Örnsköldsvik engaged in a lengthy debate over the site’s ‘use,’ despite its designation as an archaeological location by The Swedish National Heritage Board. After a decade-long struggle, advocates for preservation garnered increasing support, ultimately achieving victory in 2012. In 2013, the site was officially transferred to the Örnsköldsvik Municipality for conservation.

Featured Image Source: Reconstructed longhouse at Gene Fornby    Source: CC BY-SA 3.0

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