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New findings at Birka, "Sweden's first city"

Huge jetties may have been Viking "marketplace"

Published tisdag 21 augusti 2012 kl 13.57
"More than just pillagers"
(4:36 min)
A 2007 diving expidition off the coast of the Birka island west of Stockholm. File photo: Scanpix

Estimates say that around 1,000 inhabitants lived in what many have called Sweden's first city, the Viking settlement Birka.  But archaeologists diving off the coast of the island have found traces from what could have been jetties shooting out about 100 metres into the water – far bigger than the smaller decks previously imagined.

About 1300 years ago, Birka became what many have called Sweden's first city with trade connecting northern Europe with the rest of the continent with the Arab world.

Radio Sweden spoke to Andreas Olsson, a marine archaeologist heading the 13-man team diving off the coast of the island.

"The jetties went from the shoreline about 100 metres out," Olsson says. "It's enormous, acutally. Usually, when thinking about the Viking age, people imagine smaller jetties going out about 20 metres."

Olsson says the finding gives a more nuanced view of Vikings compared to the common tale of pillagers and warriors.

"They were good at trade. The finds give us an insight into how developed the technology was. Building these structures in seven metres of water must have been quite a challenge."

"We haven't been able to reconstruct any of the jetties in detail. I think they probably used the ice in winter time to build on. When spring came, and the ice melted, the structures were placed on the seabed."

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