In the vast tapestry of Ancient Norse literature, a hidden gem awaits discovery – Kaupang, nestled in the enigmatic district of “Skiringssal,” Norway. This elusive Viking settlement, alluded to in Ohthere’s Voyage, has been the subject of a quest spanning centuries. Let’s unravel the journey that led to unearthing this historical needle in the haystack.
Tracing Kaupang Through Ohthere’s Voyage and the Seven Books
Scholars delving into the annals of ancient Norse history meticulously dissected Paulus Orosius’ Seven Books, a fifth-century narrative challenging narratives of Christian influence. Ohthere’s Voyage, chronicling the exploits of Viking explorer Ohthere, references a port named “Sciringes-heal,” intricately linked to the esteemed Yngling dynasty. Despite numerous references, the location of Skiringssal remained elusive for centuries.
The Quest for Kaupang: Unveiling the Mysteries
In the 18th century, Gerhard Schøning identified Skiringssal as more than just a district—a royal burial site with a temple. Jakob Fredrik Neikter, in 1802, ingeniously connected it to Ohthere’s described port. Jens Kraft, drawing insights from 15th-century documents, pinpointed Tjølling’s Kaupang as a former trading village. Peter Andreas Munch’s historical insights clarified the town-district naming convention, leading to a scholarly consensus on Kaupang’s location. The torch was then passed to archaeologists.
Kaupang Under the Archaeological Lens: Answers and New Queries
In 1867, Nicolay Nicolaysen embarked on an excavation journey, anticipating the discovery of the burial site of Gudrød the Hunter-King, one of the Yngling kings. Unfortunately, his efforts yielded no royal graves or significant historical artifacts. Major archaeological exploration resumed in 1947 when diligent agricultural workers, digging a ditch for turnips, unearthed a trove of archaeological artifacts. Under the stewardship of Charlotte Blindheim, subsequent decades witnessed extensive exploration.
By 1957, a concentration of graves was discovered on the stone ridge known as Bikjholberget, many laden with imported goods. Blindheim concluded that these were merchant graves, prompting the search for the settlement itself. By 1976, the town had been unearthed, with Blindheim declaring it as the port noted by Ohthere. From 1998-2003, an archaeological team further probed the site, seeking to deepen our understanding of Kaupang’s origins, age, and permanence.
Kaupang’s Contemporary Portrait
The meticulous work conducted by Dagfinn Skre and his team in the 2000s culminated in a profound understanding of Kaupang. It was a permanent settlement, thriving from around 800 AD until its abandonment in the 10th century. The port, home to 400-800 residents engaged in trade and craftsmanship, revealed a diverse array of archaeological finds from Persia, Russia, India, the Baltic, and beyond. The proximity to the Skirings-sal, a hall of royal power at Huseby, suggests a strategic founding location.
There remains uncertainty about the reasons behind Kaupang’s abandonment. Theories vary, with some attributing it to the establishment of other trading centers and others to a decline in Pagan activities amidst the rise of Christianity.
Regardless, Kaupang stands as a testament to historical significance, a hub of trade, royal power, and Viking influence. Its discovery, after over two centuries of scholarly dedication and a touch of luck, underscores the perseverance of those seeking the truth in the folds of history.