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Grobiņa archaeological ensemble

Date of Submission: 22/05/2017
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
State Inspection for Heritage Protection of Latvia
Coordinates: N56 32 06 E21 09 58
Ref.: 6258

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is situated in the western part of Latvia not far from the Baltic Sea and City of Liepāja, in the territory of Grobiņa town and its vicinity. The first inhabitation of Grobiņa is connected with the Stone Age, later in the first millennium AD Grobiņa became a centre of the West Baltic tribe Curonians.  In the 7th century Norsemen appeared in Grobiņa. They developed in Grobiņa and its vicinity agrarian and international trade settlements. At that time Grobiņa was connected to the Baltic Sea by the Ālande River. The Norsemen communicated with local Curonians and established a peculiar form of ethnic symbiosis represented in artefacts, dwelling sites and burials. Up to the 9th century AD an important Norsemen, Viking and Curonian proto-urban settlement existed in Grobiņa. Grobiņa’s position close to the Baltic Sea, along Ālande river, made it an area that was easily accessible by water. Furthermore, the rich soil meant the area was excellently suited for extensive agricultural activities which could sustain a growing population, not only of the local Curonians, but also the new Scandinavian settlers.

The co-existence of Norsemen and local Curonians has been represented in archaeological findings in flat burial sites (Smukumi, Priediens, Atkalni), burial mound sites (Priediens, Pormaļi) and hillfort Skabārža kalns with its settlement. In Priediens burial mound site a picture stone was discovered, which is the only such finding outside the territory of Scandinavia. Probably Grobiņa was mentioned under the name of as Seeborg in  854 in the Chronicle of Archbishop Rimbert Vita sancti Ansgari, where the raid of the king Olaf to Curonian territories was described. It is possible that the Norsemen and Vikings are connected with a wider agrarian territory around Grobiņa. Since 1929, archaeological investigations have been performed in Grobiņa.

The present burial grounds occupy a large territory on the outskirts of Grobiņa and form a natural background for Grobiņa as urban settlement. The burials are situated in the oldest part of the town, where the hillfort and settlement on the banks of Ālande river are also located. The territory of the settlement is partly covered by the buildings of Grobiņa, but other parts are accessible for archaeological excavation and other investigations. The open agricultural landscape is partly intact, even if the burial grounds of Pūrāni and Priediens are partly covered by trees and scrub and no longer as open as during their time of construction. Furthermore, natural erosion and continuous agricultural activities have contributed to a levelling of the surface of the burial grounds of Priediens and Atkalni.

Porāni burial mound site. The burial mound site once had 30 burial mounds ranging 5.7 – 8.3 m in diameter, and 0.3 – 0.6 m in height. In archaeological excavations (1929, 1930, B. Nerman) six mounds were studied. These are typical Scandinavian burials, where the dead were cremated outside the mounds and then  the ashes were buried together with the included grave goods under the central part of the mound in the subsoil layer in roundish pits on average 0.65 -1.5 m long and 0.3 – 0.55 m deep. In general, this burial site can be dated to 7th-9th century AD and feature the same Scandinavian artefacts that have been found in Smukumi and Priediens burial sites.

Smukumi flat burial site. This burial site is situated on a slight elevation. The burial site has no visible borders in the surrounding flat terrain. Archaeological excavations in this site were carried out in 1929, 1930, 1962 and 1987 (headed by respectively B. Nermans, F. Balodis, P.Stepiņš, V. Petrenko), and more than 100 burials were excavated. This is a typical Scandinavian cremation burial site of 7th-9th century, where the dead were cremated outside the grave pit and then the ashes were buried together with fire-damaged grave goods in 0.1-0.35 m deep pits, which can be seen under the topsoil as round or oval spots saturated with ashes and coal. Women’s graves are characterized by Scandinavian box brooches and other types of brooches, pendants, rings, locks, glass beads, chains, bracelets and neck rings; men’s graves were characterized by weapons: single-edged and double-edged swords, thrusting and throwing spearheads, shield bosses, and jewellery - horseshoe brooches and belt buckles. Both women’s and men’s graves contained single-edged bone combs, pincers, knives etc. Next to the cremation graves several later skeletal graves were also discovered. 

Priediens burial mound site. This large burial mound site once had around 2,000 burial mounds of different sizes (diameter mostly 7-10 m, height mostly 0.5 m), but over the course of time most of them have lost surface reference points. During archaeological excavations (1929, 1930, 1951, 1955, 1957, 1969, 1984 - 1989) more than 100 mounds, ditches around them and area in-between the mounds were studied. In most cases the dead were cremated outside the mound sand then buried in approximately half-a-metre deep and one metre long pits dug in the subsoil under the central part of the mound. The mounds are related to Scandinavian burial sites of 7th-9th centuries and fire-damaged grave goods typical to Scandinavians have been found in them. In the Northeast part of the site next to Scandinavian burials a Curonian flat burial field has been discovered containing skeletal graves dating from circa 2nd to 8th century. Among these skeletal graves there are also several cremation graves. Scandinavian graves contain jewellery which also shows Baltic influences. Among other finds particularly interesting is a unique picture stone (height 0.70 m, thickness 0.08 m). It is covered with an intricate ornamental composition and depiction of two water birds.

 Atkalni flat burial site. Atkalni flat burial site is situated on a slight, hardly noticeable elevation. The burial site has no visible borders. As a result of agricultural activities the upper layer of soil has been mixed; deeper layers are undisturbed. In archaeological excavations in 1988-1989 (headed by V. Petrenko, I. Virse) seven cremation graves were unearthed, as well as several pits dug in the subsoil and one Neolithic skeletal grave. Artefacts found in the cremation graves are analogical to Curonian late Iron Age burials, the finds from the pits were dated to the middle of 1st millennium AD, and the skeletal grave – to the Neolithic Age, which shows that the site has been used for a long period of time.

Grobiņa Hillfort (Skabārža kalns) is located in the western part of Grobiņa town, on the right bank of the Ālande River. The first notable description of the hillfort was published by A. Bielenstein in 1869, but small-scale trial excavations were performed by B. Nerman in 1929 – 1930. The hillfort lies on a peninsula formed by a river curve and a watermill-pound. The plateau is flat, oval, up to 80 m long and 40 – 45 m wide. In the eastern part, there is about 30 m wide and 2 m high rampart with a levelled surface. Cultural layer is up to 1.2 m thick, dated back to period between the 5th and 13th centuries. To the east and north of the hillfort the site of an ancient settlement was identified covering an area of about 3 ha. The cultural layer of the settlement is up to 0.6 m thick.  Most scientists consider that Grobiņa Hillfort can be identified with “Seeburg” mentioned in the Rimberts Chronicle. In about 854, it was occupied by King Olaf.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Grobiņa archaeological ensemble, which comprises both settlement and burial sites, with the material evidence preserved on the site that is found mostly underground, is a unique and universal pan-European site providing information about the early experience of Scandinavians trying to explore overseas lands. In the following centuries, their expansion becomes more diverse and spreads throughout the entire Northern Hemisphere creating a single area of Viking culture with Norse communities being established in the area ranging from Greenland to Russia.

Grobiņa archaeological ensemble contains well-preserved and still visually recognisable archaeological sites with rich and outstanding evidence of material culture providing a glimpse into the overseas expansion of the Norsemen and the interaction between various cultures during the Pre-Viking Age starting from the 7th century. Although contacts between the east and the west coast of the Baltic Sea existed already in the earlier pre-historic times, it was the middle of the 7th century when Scandinavians began migrating overseas in great numbers and settling permanently in essentially different culture area. During the period from 7th to 9th century Grobiņa was the sole settlement where the interaction between Scandinavian and autochthonous cultures took place for several centuries, accomplishing a functioning model where different cultures can co-exist thus attributing Grobiņa a universal value.

Although no further development of this new settlement model can be traced at the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble, because after the 9th century the Scandinavians seem to have left the site, their interaction with the locals, namely, the Curonians, caused a unique transfer of varied cultural and social elements and created multilayered forms of mutual contacts. The experience acquired in Grobiņa supported the transformation of Scandinavians into global contributors to social and political processes in a regionally large and culturally diverse territory, but Grobiņa archaeological ensemble remained the starting point of this unique culture area model.

Criterion (iii): The archaeological ensemble of Grobiņa, which forms part of this nomination, constitutes well-preserved evidence of extensive trade and personal networks created by Viking Age Scandinavians with local Curonians. It thereby illustrates interaction and a fruitful symbiosis between different cultures and ways of life.

The richness and diversity of findings from archaeological excavations demonstrate the importance of Grobiņa as one of the sites of pre-Viking Age and Viking Age in the western part of the Baltic Sea. Grobiņa archaeological complex reflects the interaction between the Norsemen and Viking culture and local Curonian culture; consequently the Curonians were included in wide external relationship network and adopted the Norsemen’ sand Vikings’ mode of life. In their turn, Norsemen probably assumed Curonian agrarian, handicraft and other traditions. As result of this interaction an exceptional and original symbiosis of Norsemen and Curonian cultures developed.

Scandinavians interaction with the locals, namely, the Curonians, caused a unique transfer of varied cultural and social elements and created multilayered forms of mutual contacts. The experience acquired in Grobiņa supported the transformation of Scandinavians into global contributors to social and political processes in a regionally large and culturally diverse territory, but Grobiņa archaeological ensemble remained the starting point of this unique culture area model.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The component parts of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble form a united and territorially-confined complex. They are situated within view of each other and are characterized by clearly-defined and visible Norse remains in the form of burial mounds. Archaeological investigations also clearly linked the sites to the presence of local people (Curonians). The Grobiņa archaeological ensemble form a detached complex of archaeological sites; apart from the sites chosen for this nomination there are no other archaeological sites in the vicinity connected with the presence of Scandinavians.

All the nominated component parts in Grobiņa date back to the Pre-Viking Age and Viking Age. However, while the chronology of the nominated sites clearly includes the Viking Age, it covers a longer time period by also extending to both earlier and later periods. The Grobiņa burials and settlement represent a distinct Norse settlement which formed and evolved outside the main territories of Norse/Vikings.

The Grobiņa archaeological ensemble, although varying in visual quality to different extents, still includes all the respective attributes, namely: construction and layout (Skābarža kalns hillfort, Priediens burial site), materials and substance (all the nominated component parts), location and setting (all the nominated component parts).

The Grobiņa archaeological ensemble includes both visual evidence and evidence discovered during archaeological excavations. Visual evidence includes burial mounds and the Skābarža kalns hillfort, with easily recognisable manmade structures for the military defence of the site (earthworks, moat, artificially-steepened hillsides, flattened top etc.). Visually less-defined evidence includes the flat-grave burial sites and the cultural deposits arising from the ancient settlement.

The boundaries of the Grobiņa burial sites, with their typical mounds, are well-known, although in a minority of cases burial sites have lost their visual features (i.e. burial mounds/barrows). Nevertheless, archaeological evidence is preserved below ground. Skābarža kalns hillfort has entirely preserved its original form and as a separate archaeological site it clearly demonstrates its original function as a military fortification.

The sites of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble are mainly constructed from earth, sand and stone, which do not require traditional conservation. The most appropriate conservation method is preservation of the vegetation (turf).

The Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is located in and partly in the direct vicinity of the town of Grobiņa. On the one hand, this means that unauthorised transformation of the terrain, and thereby damage to the archaeological sites, does not go unnoticed, but on the other, Grobiņa is a living town with development needs, which can pose certain threats to the archaeological sites. Overall though, the potential threats are effectively controlled.

Development pressures, such as urban development or land use, were identified long ago and their impact on the preservation of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble has been minimised. The erosion of the soil due to wind and rain is a potential threat but is controlled by maintenance of the vegetation. Visitor pressure is limited at the moment but installations, like paths, footbridges, stairs and demarcations, will be implemented which will also be able to limit the negative effects of more visitors in the future.

The Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is entirely authentic. Its component parts comprise the landscape and a mutually integrated network of material evidence. The authenticity of the site has been verified by numerous systematic and well-documented archaeological excavations and other research conducted since 1929 and continuing to the present day using modern research methods which offer new data and evidence. The most important research articles on the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble have been published in scientific monographs and other publications in both Latvia and abroad.

Construction and layout

The location and man-made transformations of the Skābarža kalns hillfort are typical, original, easily visible and recognisable. At the burial sites, most of the mounds are visible and largely correspond to their original layout. The Atkalni flat-grave burial site, and the part of the settlement that is not covered by contemporary buildings, have retained their original shape. The part of the settlement covered by contemporary buildings has preserved Viking Age evidence below ground. The sites of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble largely reflect the original formation of the site in relatively flat coastal terrain. Even if the shape of the sites has changed over time, completely authentic evidence has been preserved below ground. There is no doubt that these extensive cemeteries were used for burying the dead, while the settlement and the hillfort represent the ancient population. The majority of Grobiņa’s archaeological sites have not been restored or reconstructed. Individual burial mounds that were completely excavated at the Priediens burial site were reconstructed in their original locations and original form.

Material and substance

The key sites of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble definitely date from the Early Viking Age, although the dating of the Grobiņa archaeological complex covers a longer period of time than just the Viking Age. The sites of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble contain original materials and constructions both below and above ground, and these have not been substituted by new materials or constructions. The Grobiņa archaeological sites have changed in as much as they have been affected by contemporary development and natural erosion processes. Information about the significance of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble derives from systematic and well-documented archaeological excavations conducted on the Grobiņa archaeological sites since 1929, as well as from other research. Most of the research has been published in monographs, and for other research comprehensive reports have been prepared and made available. Although extensive excavations have been carried out on the sites of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble, these have covered only an insignificant area of the sites. Consequently, in the future it will be possible to use more advanced research methods to test the correctness of today’s scientific views.

Location and surroundings

The location of the Grobiņa archaeological sites is of significant value to the complex, because it has not been changed. The location is original and can be easily recognised. Part of the settlement area is covered with modern buildings, which changes the perception of the site. Overall however, the terrain of the site has not changed and it corresponds to the original form. The most important, visually significant, original and easily recognizable features of the site are the Priediens burial mound site, the Skābarža kalns hillfort and several flat-grave burial sites.

Comparison with other similar properties

The aim of the comparative analysis is to compare similar properties on the World Heritage List, the Tentative Lists and other relevant properties not on either list. Furthermore, the comparative analysis should outline the similarities the nominated property may have with other properties and the reasons which make the nominated property stand out. From a typological point of view, the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble falls within the ICOMOS typological category of archaeological heritage. According to the ICOMOS typological framework, archaeological heritage includes all types of archaeological sites and individual monuments – from “earthworks, burial mounds, cave dwellings, settlements (towns, villages, farms, villas), temples and other public buildings, defensive works, cemeteries, [to] routes” – no longer in use or occupied (ICOMOS 2004: 55). As a relatively broad definition, there are numerous World Heritage Sites which fall under the category of “archaeological heritage” - nearly a quarter of the sites on the World Heritage List can be considered archaeological sites.

The comparison of the cultural heritage of the nominated Grobiņa archaeological ensemble should be carried out based on joint thematic and chronological approach. According to the chronological approach, the comparative analysis envisages the review of the cultural heritage sites dated from the 7th to 9th century, while the comparison using the thematic approach includes the sites associated with Scandinavian expansion during the pre-Viking and Viking Age. Accordingly, in order to reflect the values of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble, it must be compared with Scandinavian expansion sites that existed even before the beginning of the traditional Viking Age in the 7th to 9th century (which is the chronological framework of the nomination) and during the Viking Age (9th-11th century). Both the World Heritage List and the Tentative Lists of several countries contain cultural heritage sites that relate with the chronology of the nominated ensemble (for instance, the Carolingian Cathedral in Aachen, Germany, list ref. No 3, or the Canterbury Cathedral, the Medieval Christianity centre in the United Kingdom, list ref. No 496, the Northern European region (for instance, the traditional wooden Urnes Stave Church in Norway built in 12-13th century, list ref. No. 58), or with the topic, namely, the expansion of a particular society (for instance, evidence regarding the consolidation of the power of Longobards during 6-8th century in the Apennine Peninsula, list ref. No. 1318, or the outstanding achievements by the multicultural environment of the Norman kingdom in Palermo in the 12th century, list ref. No 1487), however, these examples represent a different kind of cultural values, i.e. those related with Christianity and Medieval states in Europe. Therefore no comparison will be carried out of the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble with the sites of the mentioned type, because the values of the nominated site, as specified earlier, refer to the social and political organisation of the leader-focused societies, as well as to pre-Christian cultures.

Comparison with properties already inscribed on the World Heritage List

The World Heritage List currently does not contain any sites that correspond to the chronology and topic of the nominated Grobiņa archaeological ensemble sites (Scandinavian expansion from 7th to 9th century). Thus, Grobiņa archaeological ensemble would become the first cultural heritage site inscribed on the List representing the Scandinavian overseas expansion in the Northern Europe even before the traditionally accepted beginning of the Viking Age at the turn of the 8th-9th centuries.

However, the World Heritage List currently holds five sites associated with Scandinavian expansion and the Viking Age. Two of these sites, namely, Hanseatic Town of Visby, ref. No 731, in Sweden, and masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque architecture Vézelay, Church and Hill, ref. No 84, in France, are built heritage sites and do not, strictly speaking, belong to the Viking Age heritage. Visby is a medieval town with roots in the Viking Age, but Vézelay is a medieval religious complex of Benedictines founded in the Viking Age (9th century). Evidence of Scandinavian overseas expansion is represented on the World Heritage List by the following three sites: ref. No 604, Historic Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings in Russian Federation, ref. No 1152, Þingvellir National Park in Iceland and ref. No 4, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site in Canada:

  • Novgorod, which situated on the ancient trade route between Central Asia and Northern Europe, was Russia's first capital in the 9th century while at the same time it was an important trading centre for the Vikings. However, the World Heritage property focuses on the built heritage and the development of a national school of stone-built architecture and art dating back to the 11th century, but with minor focus on the preceding centuries. The majority of historical monuments are associated with Novgorod Republic (12th - 15th centuries) which itself was a unique phenomenon of Medieval Russia. The outstanding archaeological cultural layers of Novgorod of 10th - 17th centuries occupy an area of about 347 ha, with a depth of 7-8 metres and are waterlogged and anaerobic, thus preserving organic materials.
  • Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park contains site where the Icelandic Althing, an open-air assembly of representatives of island’s entire population, was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798. The property includes the remains of the Althing itself and around 50 booths of the “thingmen” built from turf and stone. Remains from the 10th century are thought to be buried underground. This site clearly reflects the transition to statehood in Early Medieval Northern Europe and it has distinguished symbolic meaning in the history of Iceland and the memory of its people. The site also includes remains of agricultural use from the 18th and 19thli>
  • L’Anse aux Meadows is the remains of an 11th century Viking settlement, the first European presence in North America. The excavation of the site shows that the settlement has been constructed using techniques (wooden-framed turf buildings) common in Iceland and Greenland. Thus, the property is seen as a milestone in the history of human migration. The site was discovered in 1960 and then fully excavated between 1961-68 and 1973-76 and protected in 1977. In 1978, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site was among the first 12 sites to be listed on the World Heritage List as the first and only authenticated Norse site in North America.

Although all three above-mentioned cultural heritage sites also include archaeological evidence of the evolution of Scandinavian communities in regions outside Scandinavia, they all relate to a chronologically later Scandinavian expansion activities that took place during the Viking Age starting from the 9th century.

Scandinavian society and culture during the Viking Age is well reflected by the World Heritage List entry No 555, Birka and Hovgården in Sweden. Birka and Hovgården is an archaeological property located on islands in Lake Mälar. Together the two archaeological sites give insights into the elaborate trading networks of Viking Age Europe. As the first site of a Christian congregation in Sweden that was established in 831, Birka also provides insights into the Christianisation of Viking Age Scandinavia. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the urban settlement of Birka was situated on a small island in Mälaren, at the time a fjord connected to the Baltic Sea. Birka’s research history stretches over more than a century and the site has yielded invaluable insights relevant to the study of early urbanisation. The excavations have revealed that Birka was laid out in the second half of the 8th century as a year-round urban settlement.

The settlement consisted of well-structured plots and streets protected by the town walls. A hillfort is located in close proximity to the urban settlement and there are traces of wooden poles in the harbour area indicating that there was a defensive barrier protecting the urban settlement from attack. Hovgården, located on the neighbouring island, is believed to be the royal residence. Birka is mentioned in Vita Anskarii, and was exposed to Christianity through Archbishop Ansgar as early as the early 9th century.

Meanwhile, the changes in the religious and political life of Scandinavian society in Scandinavia itself is represented by World Heritage site No 697, Jelling Mounds, Runic Stones and Church, which is associated with the early days of the Danish State and its transition to Christianity in the 10th century. The description of the site's value in the Tentative List reads as follows: “The Jelling burial mounds and one of the runic stones are striking examples of pagan Nordic culture, while the other runic stone and the church illustrate the Christianization of the Danish people towards the middle of the 10th century.” Jelling is a thoroughly planned complex unambiguously indicating the Danish king’s ability to build monuments to enhance the past. By employing the symbols from the past generations of warlords and kings, early Danish king Harald Bluetooth positioned himself in a symbolic lineage. The site has a stone setting in the form of a ship measuring 358 m in length. In the midst of this ship setting is the central point of the North Mound. The church and the rune stones are located in the position of the grave chamber in ship burials. The South Mound was built over the stern part of the ship between 963 and 970 and comprises a slightly oval mound measuring 75 x 65 m and 9 m in height. The area as a whole is surrounded by a palisade in which only one entrance has been found. Within the palisade are three identical buildings very similar to the houses in the Trelleborg fortresses. Several wooden buildings underneath the church have recently been interpreted as hall buildings rather than wooden churches. However, it is clear that for ruler of emerging state the alliance with the church was important and this is demonstrated by the large rune stone and the actual church building. The large rune stone commemorates the Christianisation of Denmark by Harald, and his conquest of Norway.

Both Birka and Jelling are undeniably exceptional Scandinavian sites from the Early Middle Ages with scientifically high archaeological potential. However, both sites are not associated with Scandinavian expansion overseas, but instead represent an expressive and brilliant example of how Scandinavian society transformed from paganic leader-focused societies into Christian states. 

Among the World Heritage List entries situated in the Baltic States one should mention the Kernavė Archaeological Site (Cultural Reserve of Kernavė), ref. No 1137, in Lithuania. This cultural landscape in the valley of River Neris represents an exceptional testimony to 10 millennia of human settlements in this region. It includes the town of Kernavė, some unfortified settlements, burial sites and other archaeological, historical and cultural monuments from the late Palaeolithic Period to the Middle Ages. The site of 194.4 ha has preserved the traces of ancient land use, as well as remains of five impressive hill forts, part of an exceptionally large defence system. Kernavė is a symbol of Lithuanian statehood, the capital of pagan Lithuania. In historic sources, Kernavė, as the residence of the Grand Duke Traidenis, was first mentioned in 1279 in relation to unsuccessful raid of the Teutonic knights. The 13th and 14th centuries were an exceptional time for Kernavė, then being one of the most important political and economic centres in Lithuania. The town was destroyed by the Teutonic Order in 1365, however the site remained in use until modern times. What Kernavė and Grobiņa have in common is the archaeological values of both sites, however, their historic development has been different, because Grobiņa turned into a meeting place for different cultures, while Kernavė developed into a political and economic centre of the Lithuanian State.

Comparison with sites on the Tentative Lists

Tentative Lists of the Northern and Western European countries include a number of sites that are related with Scandinavian expansion overseas or Scandinavian influence in diaspora territories. Also, the Meanders of the Upper Daugava (Daugavas loki, ref. No 5610) inscribed on the Tentative List of Latvia, contain archaeological sites from the Iron Age. This is a mixed property of which the primary focus is on the natural features – the Upper Daugava valley with nine unique meanders (98 km from Piedruja to Daugavpils) is a depositary of outstanding values of nature, biodiversity and landscapes but reflecting also historical and cultural significance. The Upper Daugava valley’s cultural heritage is proposed as “excellent example of multicultural living from ancient Balts, Vikings and crusaders” dating from the 10th and 11th centuries. Archaeological sites include burial grounds, hillforts, castle ruins, palaces, churches and settlements. The archaeological heritage shows contacts as far as Russia and Sweden and demonstrates the important role of the Daugava as waterway to the Baltic Sea. However, no evidence has been found of permanent Scandinavian presence in the nominated territory, besides the trade activities of Scandinavians in the River Daugava basin relate to later centuries than the chronological framework of the nominated sites of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble.

In Western Europe too, the evidence of Scandinavian immigration processes is related to a chronologically later time starting from the 9th century, and the Scandinavian heritage in these nominations has been included as an accessory, while focusing on other significant values of the cultural heritage. For instance, the Tentative List of Ireland includes a number of sites that comprise an archaeological material from the Viking Age:

  • 5525, Western Stone Forts: this series contains a selection of the most common Early Medieval (700-1000) settlement forms in Ireland, the ring fort which in essence is an enclosed homestead or farmstead. The sites are described as belonging to the sub-group of cashels, ring forts with single dry stone walls. However, the selected sites are distinguished from the vast majority of other cashels by having one or more exceptionally thick and high enclosing walls. Their circular layout is nonetheless typical for the later prehistoric, maritime communities of the North Atlantic seaboard of Western Europe. Based on early historical sources (700-900) and archaeological excavations, these ring forts have been considered to be royal residences.
  • 5528, The Royal Sites of Ireland: Cashel, Dún Ailinne, Hill of Uisneach, Rathcroghan Complex, and Tara Complex: this is an archaeological serial property consisting of the major royal inauguration, ceremony and assembly sites, representing each of the four Irish provinces Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connaught and the region of Meath. These sites are strongly linked to myth and legend and are associated with the transformation of Ireland from paganism to Christianity. While the focus of this series is the sites’ role as Iron Age and early Christian sites, their history dates back to the Bronze Age and Neolithic. As such, they represent sites of continuity as well as transition between paganism and Christianity.
  • 5526, The Monastic City of Clonmacnoise and its Cultural Landscape: founded in the 6th century, Clonmacnoise’s main period of growth was between the 8th and the 12th Archaeological excavations have revealed the town was a civitas thus it is an early example of urbansiation developing outside the Roman Empire. The complex is also known to have been raided by Vikings. The property comprises ruins of an Early Medieval insular monastic city and is thus partially comparable to the urban trade centres of the Viking Age. The core visual remains are standing stone ruins of built heritage.

Another site on the Tentative List of Ireland, the Historic City of Dublin (ref. No. 5523) can be partly associated with Scandinavian expansion overseas and the origins of Dublin, however, the nomination does not underline the archaeological heritage from the Viking Age, but instead focus on the values of the Age of Enlightenment when Dublin experienced major development and expansion in the Georgian period (1714-1830).

Also the Pskov (Russian Federation) nomination (Great Pskov, ref. No 1638) could be possibly related with Scandinavian activities in the Eastern Europe. The property is an historical and architectural ensemble in the centre of Pskov and its surroundings comprising fortifications, religious architecture, natural monuments and built and archaeological heritage from the 7th–20th centuries. However, the archaeological evidence is not the element of main focus of this nomination with the main attention being paid to the outstanding ensemble of old Russian architectural fortifications of the 13th – 18th centuries and monuments of civil and ecclesiastical architecture of the 17th – 20th centuries. 

Archaeological evidence of the Viking Age is part of the Danish Tentative List entry, the Trelleborg fortresses (ref. No 5475). The nomination include Trelleborg near Slagelse, Fyrkat near Hobro, Aggersborg near Løgstør and Nonnebakken in Odense, of which only the former three have been preserved for posterity. The Trelleborg fortresses are characterised by having a circular rampart with a moat and four roofed gates. The fortresses have a severely geometrical street system, the inner area being divided into squares, each with four longhouses arranged in a quadrangle. The architecture of all four fortresses is uniform and strictly symmetrical, as clearly illustrated by the circular shape of the fortifications and the location of the gates at the four points of the compass - apparently without regard to the terrain. Dendrochronological tests and C14 tests have shown that the Trelleborg fortresses were built around 980. But the fortresses probably did not last very long, perhaps only 10 to 20 years. For example, Fyrkat was destroyed by fire and was not rebuilt. As the Trelleborg fortresses were all built around 980, they have traditionally been linked to Harald Bluetooth's efforts to unify Denmark and Norway and make the Danes Christian in accordance with his runic stone proclamation. Another interpretation links the fortresses to the conquest of England and therefore to Harald Bluetooth's son, Sweyn Forkbeard. Whatever the case, the fortresses must be viewed as a monumental and military manifestation of the central power of the late Viking era.

Meanwhile, the Hedeby and Danevirke, an archaeological border landscape (ref. No 6083), a site on the German Tentative List, is one of the most well-known Viking Age complexes from the 9th-11th century. Hedeby developed in the late 8th century and gradually developed into a large and well-structured urban settlement with defined streets and plots, a harbour, extensive burial grounds and eventually also a semi-circular town wall protecting the entire urban settlement. There are extensive remains associated with craft production and long-distance import of mass-produced goods such as quernstones. Geophysical surveys have revealed an extensive settlement much larger than the area currently excavated. The defence structure of Danevirke (construction of which began as early as the 6th century AD onwards as a system of earthen and wooden ramparts and stone walls connected with defensive ditches) is connected to the town wall and thereby highlights the strategic position of Hedeby at the root of Jutland and along its route of communication, Hærvejen (literally the Army Road), which cuts across the peninsula south towards the European continent. Furthermore, Hedeby’s location by the southwestern part of the Baltic Sea and only a short distance from the North Sea’s southeastern ports made it a truly interregional nodal point for trade and long-distance transport of both people and goods. The urban settlement’s many functions have been documented through the still-visible structures in the landscape as well as through archaeological excavations and written sources. Hedeby is mentioned in the 9th century sources as the Frankish and Ottonian Annals, Vita Anskarii and Ohthere’s voyage account. After 11th century the built structures fell into ruin and especially Hedeby was forgotten in the course of the centuries. Later, in the 19th century, the Danevirke was again reinforced as interest in its earlier history and use grew during the struggles between the emerging Danish and German national states. 

In addition to a number of other significant Iron Age archaeological sites, the Viking Age cultural heritage is part of the UK Tentative List entry, Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof: the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland (ref. No 5677). Jarlshof is associated with the Viking Age and it is internationally renowned for its well preserved, multi-period remains that span over 4,000 years of human achievement and provides the best surviving examples anywhere of Iron Age wheelhouses. This site clearly defines in particular the transition from Iron Age/Pictish to Viking periods. There is no comparable rural Viking township in existence, even in the Scandinavian homelands. It represents a time of transformation in culture and lifestyle: a cultural upheaval which strongly influences life today, defining Shetland within the North Atlantic, and providing a visible link between the prehistoric past and the emerging proto-historic, Viking period. They represent the zenith of prehistoric architectural achievement in the North Atlantic world.

Similarly, the Scandinavian expansion overseas in the Viking Age and the exploration of the North Atlantic are reflected by the Danish Tentative List entry Kujataa – a subarctic farming landscape in Greenland (ref. No 1781). In this region, the representatives of local culture met the Norwegians and Danes, and begin the coexistence with these which gradually leads to them abandoning their old settlements and building traditions. Several abandoned settlements can be found inside the area defined while the ruined church at Hvalsø (erected around 1300) is the best preserved Norse Medieval ruin. It is built of stone and apart from its roof it remains almost complete with gables standing up to about 5 m high. Not far away is a hall constructed using the same techniques as in the church and similarly well preserved. Architecturally, these ruins are an expression of the contacts which existed with both Norway and the islands of northern Scotland; they are also in keeping with contemporary styles prevailing on the continent. They thus demonstrate surprising internationality despite the remoteness of this locality in relation to the medieval cultural and power centres in Europe. The episcopal residence at Gardar, now in the settlement of Igaliku, belong to a see that was established in 1126 and functioned with a bishop until the end of the 14th century. Here, at Igaliku, was "Gardar", the westernmost Roman Catholic see and also the first in the Western Hemisphere in pre-Columbian time. Thanks to their location in a relatively barren, marginal area with a low population density, this unique cultural landscape has largely been preserved intact. Unlike anywhere else within the Norse cultural sphere, it is possible to observe buildings of various kinds, and with various functions which, together with landscape elements, play roles in the "social space" which was the setting and scene of action for the Greenlandic/Norse culture. This area offers an absolutely exceptional example of the onset of a culture, its development and its demise, all within a period of some 500 years. The nomination places emphasis on both Greenlandic and Norse culture, farming/living conditions and the cultural landscape as a whole.

Accordingly, the sites inscribed on the World Heritage Tentative Lists could be compared to the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble rather by their thematic profile, archaeological research opportunities and archaeological nature, instead of the chronology of the site inscribed on the Tentative Lists. National Tentative Lists do not contain any other evidence of Scandinavian expansion overseas dated from the 7th-9th century similar to the Grobiņa archaeological ensemble, with Grobiņa representing the earliest region of Scandinavian settlement that took place before the Viking Age. Moreover, irrespective of the multitude of nominations on the Tentative Lists, they rarely represent archaeological sites that could be referred to the Medieval Europe (5th-15th century), instead focusing on the constructions and surface structures.

Comparison with other known properties

The comparison of the nominated property with properties on the World Heritage List and the Tentative Lists so far has clearly revealed a lack of archaeological heritage related to the late prehistoric and medieval Europe. The archaeological evidence in the Northern and Eastern Europe from the Iron Age or the end of the prehistory and the Early Middle Ages is very diverse and rich. Archaeological evidence from this era will reflect changes both in the political structures (for instance, formation of Scandinavian and Slavic states) and the religious life when Northern and Eastern European societies accepted Christianity in any of its forms. The number of sites studied from the point of view of archaeology, not to mention the archaeological sites identified, amount to thousands, therefore for the purpose of comparing Grobiņa archaeological ensemble it is appropriate to choose sites that are, first of all, related with the development of Scandinavian diaspora as a result of overseas expansion, as well as with pre-Viking and Early Viking Age populated centres that existed in Scandinavia itself, which can be expected to reveal archaeological evidence similar to those at Grobiņa archaeological ensemble. Consequently, the thematic (typological), regional and chronological criterion of the regions and archaeological sites selected for the comparison may be justifiably narrowed by covering the most studied and well-known archaeological sites in the Scandinavian world from the pre-Viking and Early Viking Age (7th-9th century) and focusing on sites testifying to overseas settlement and cross-cultural communication.

Overseas settlements of Scandinavians

One of the defining features of 7th – 11th century Scandinavia is the movement of people. These expeditions were made possible by the new shipbuilding techniques which enabled longer journeys. Both men and women took part in this early mass movement of people and consequently it is possible to speak of migrations as well as raids. When settling in their new areas of expansion, the Scandinavians also brought their own cultural traditions with them. This is seen, for example, through the traces of the built environment where they settled, through the portable objects discovered there and indeed through the place names abroad. There were two main routes of Viking expansion: Vestrveg (Western Way) and Austrveg (Eastern Way).[1]  

Settlements of Vestrveg

The most widely known Viking Age overseas settlements are located west of the Scandinavian core region, in Northumbria in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Canada. The westwards migration, along the route commonly referred to as Vestrveg, began as early as the 9th century. Scandinavian expansion westwards featured both takeover of political power in individual lands, as well as mass migration by settling in entire foreign regions. Consequently, Scandinavians exercising spatial colonisation created a common supra-regional Viking culture and established a network of communities both in previously unsettled territories and settling next to the local people. Therefore, it would be appropriate to examine the Viking Age evidence westwards from Scandinavia by looking closely at particular lands and territories. At that time people from present-day Denmark and Norway had become familiar with the areas to the west, following nearly a century of trading and raids. There are clear indications of similar processes of cultural integration at the overseas settlements in England, Ireland and parts of Scotland and on the Isle of Man, the Orkneys and Shetland. Language developments, place names, archaeological finds and, not least, DNA analyses of skeletal remains reveal that Scandinavian communities interacted with native populations. Furthermore, the mixture of Irish and Western Scandinavian DNA profiles also indicates a dual process of migration to north-western Iceland and the Faroe Islands. It is the overseas settlement of Iceland which is the best documented of these migrations.

Ireland: Scandinavians from the area round Viken settled in Ireland. At the time, Ireland was sparsely populated and comprised a series of minor kingdoms whose modes of production were largely agrarian. Furthermore, there were few urban settlements prior to the establishment of Dublin by the Vikings. The Irish Annals also note that slaves were shipped to Scandinavia and areas further east. As the Viking Age coincides with the early Christian kingdoms of Ireland, contacts between Scandinavians and the Irish were governed by conflicts over hegemony. This essentially led to the construction of several fortified structures in the 9th century Scandinavian Ireland. Written sources note that several of the Scandinavian settlements, such as Limerick, Waterford and Wexford, were fortified. At the time when Dublin was founded, in 840, the settlers from Viken were well acquainted with urban settlements and harbours from their home region, where both Kaupang and Heimdal (close to Gokstad) were flourishing. Archaeological excavations of over 200 buildings reveal that the Scandinavian urban settlement of Dublin was distinctly different from the Irish settlements of the time. The excavations have securely established that Scandinavian Dublin was an area of trade and craft production.

England: In the Anglo-Saxon area of what is now the United Kingdom, the Scandinavian settlement was confined to what was known as Danelagen (the Danelaw). The Danelaw was essentially the area where Danish was spoken and Norse law was practised by Scandinavian settlers. However, few new Scandinavian settlements are known to have been built as, in contrast to Ireland, England was relatively densely populated when the Vikings settled. As a result, the Scandinavian population in Northumbria assimilated relatively quickly and archaeological finds testify to a mixed Anglo-Scandinavian material culture. As in Ireland, the conflictual relations between the Scandinavian settlers and the Anglo-Saxons in England resulted in the construction of Anglo-Saxon fortified structures known as burhs.

York (Jorvik) is one of the urban settlements where Viking Age remains are prevalent from the 9th century. However, conflicts regarding supremacy over York grew stronger during the course of that century and already in 876 the large army which once attacked York was dissolved and its members were allocated plots of land in the greater Northumbrian region. Many Scandinavians adopted Christianity and their syncretism is best shown by coins minted in York showing Christian and pagan Norse symbolism and by typical Christian grave slabs bearing pagan symbolism. In England and Ireland the towns of Dublin and York were important places for Scandinavian expansion and both have valuable remains from the Viking Age. However, in both cases the Viking Age layers only form part of the archaeological heritage and they are, moreover, located beneath the modern city which affects their integrity considerably.

Isle of Man: Many sites on the island show traces from the Viking Age, so the settlement site at Cronk ny Merriu is a small pre-Viking promontory fort where excavations revealed a typical Viking house inside the structure. Tynwald, with parliament hill, is the island’s thing site. Large Viking Age burial mounds can be found in the north and the south of the island, where the barrows of Knock y Doonee and Balladoole are still highly visible. Here too, there is a stone ship setting.

Orkney Islands: The Shetlands and the Orkneys in Northern Scotland were settled by the Scandinavians in the 9th century and remained under Norse rule for the next 4-500 years. The Scandinavians appear to have taken over the farms of the previous population, the Picts, either by force or peacefully by assimilation. This is clear at sites like the one on the small island of Brough of Birsay, where a major Pictish settlement was built over by a Scandinavian settlement, later the seat of Orkney´s greatest earl, Thorfinn the Mighty (Þorfinnur ríki Sigurðsson, d. 1065). The Norwegian settlement from the 9th century is typical with large longhouses of turf and stone. Maes Howe is a Neolithic chambered tomb with Norse runic inscriptions and carvings mainly from the 12th century (it is part of the World Heritage Site The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, 514, inscribed in 1999). At Westness on Rousay, two boat burials and a farmstead with two houses, a longhouse and a barn have been excavated. Another site of the Scandinavian origin in the Orkney Islands is Cubbie Roo´s castle in Wyre. This is a stone castle, thought to be the oldest in Scotland, and also the best preserved, linked to the Norse chieftain Kolbeinn hrúga who settled in Orkney in the middle of the 12th century. The castle and its builder are mentioned in Orkneyinga Saga, one of the Icelandic sagas written around 1200.

Shetland Islands: The first Scandinavian settlers arrived here around 800, renamed the island Hjaltland, and it soon became part of the Earldom of Orkney. A thing site was at Low Ting Holm, Tingwall. In nearby Scalloway remains of the temporary settlement of its attendees were discovered. At Catpund, south of Lerwick, soapstone quarries feature large spoil heaps. Perhaps the best known and more widely excavated Scandinavian settlement on the Shetland Islands is Jarlshof, where Scandinavians lived from the 9th to the 13th century. The extent of Scandinavian settlement in the Hebrides, or the Southern Isles, is not as well documented as in the Northern Isles of Shetland and the Orkneys. The settlement seems to have been more scattered or concentrated in certain areas, but only a few of them have been excavated, all of them in the Outer Isles. Only few houses were discovered apart from Jarlshof. Two houses have been excavated on the island of Unst. Surveys have revealed further houses, among which is a preserved longhouse at Hamar.

The Faroe Islands: Many Scandinavian settlement sites have been excavated in the Faroe Islands. Kvívík is a Viking Age farmstead on Streymoy dated to the end of the 10th century. Remains of a 20 m long house still stand 1 m high. It shows the typical Norse construction of earth benches along curved walls of stone and turf, a roof of turf and birch bark and an interior lined with wood; it was accompanied by a detached barn for cattle. An excavated farm at Toftanes near Leirvík consisted of four buildings from the 10th century. Only two burial sites are known on the island. One at Tjørnuvík on Streymoy shows graves marked by stone settings but revealed only few grave goods. The other burial site at Sandur on Sandoy also displays settlement remains and early wooden churches, the earliest being from the 11th century.

Iceland: The Landnámabók (the Book of Settlements), Íslendingabók (the Book of Icelanders) and Íslendingasögur (the Icelandic Sagas, of which more than 40 are still extant, not including the Kings’ Sagas), describe the settling of previously uninhabited Iceland from c. 870 onwards. These accounts provide information about those who arrived, their social status and where they settled. No urban settlement developed on Iceland, instead the settlement followed the patterns of scattered farmsteads known from the western parts of Norway. The material culture was thoroughly Scandinavian, and both dress, weapons, law and language resemble that of Viking Age Norway. Only in the 12th century did Iceland depart from the Scandinavian core region; whereas early states had emerged in Norway, Sweden and Denmark by this time, chiefdoms continued to dominate Iceland even though the Althing emerged as a supra-regional assembly from 930. Quite a few Viking Age settlements have been excavated in Iceland, the most famous is perhaps that of Erik the Red who later became the first Norse settler in Greenland and was father of Leif the Lucky, credited with discovering America. Pagan burial sites have been found in over 160 places in Iceland with more 300 individual graves, including a few boat burials.

Greenland: Two Scandinavian settlement areas are known in Greenland: Eystribyggð (Eastern Settlement) and Vestribyggð (Western Settlement). Around 190 farms were established in Eystribyggð and 90 in Vestribyggð. At that time parts of Greenland were already settled by the Thule Eskimos. Eystribyggð was first colonised from Iceland around the mid-980s, and the leader of this movement, the legendary chieftain Erik the Red, occupied land innermost in the fjord in modern Tunulliarfik, calling the place Brattahlið and the fjord Eriksfjord. Brattahlið is identified as the present-day sheep-farming settlement of Qassiarsuk, where it is now possible to see the ruins of a large Scandinavian community. Archaeological excavations show that the place was inhabited throughout the Scandinavian period, partly as the seat of the secular authorities. According to written Icelandic sources, it was also from here, at the beginning of the 11th century, that the ships which discovered North America set sail. The same sources also relate that Greenland's first church, and therefore also the first church in the Western Hemisphere, was built at Brattahlið by Erik the Red's wife, Tjodhildur. Archaeological investigations in the 1960s were able to confirm this. No surface traces of this church were to be seen, but on the basis of the archaeological observations a turf bank has now been constructed to mark the extent of this small building. The overseas settlements of Greenland retained their Norse characteristics due to frequent contact with people living in Iceland, Norway, Scotland and Ireland. There is little evidence for cultural assimilation between the settlers and the Thule Eskimos. However, during the 12th century, contact with the other Nordic countries declined, as did the Scandinavian population itself. From around 1400, the Scandinavian settlement ceased to exist.

Northern America: The westward voyages of Erik the Red’s son, Leif (the Lucky) Eriksson, took him to Vinland. In the 1960s, archaeological discoveries revealed that Vinland was indeed Newfoundland in Canada. In Vinland, at the site known as L’Anse aux Meadows, archaeological excavations have revealed that a Norse settlement only lasted a couple of decades. According to the saga the settlers left after periods of conflict with the native populations. L‘Anse aux Meadows was the one of the first sites accepted on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978 as the first and only known site established by Vikings in North America and the earliest evidence of European settlement in the New World. It confirms that Vikings travelled to North America and settled there, as written in the Vinland saga. The excavated remains of wood-framed peat-turf buildings are similar to those found in Norse Greenland and Iceland. As such, it is a unique milestone in the history of human migration and discovery.

Settlements in Austrveg

The coastal areas of the Baltic Sea were the other core from which the Vikings explored the eastern parts of Europe from 700-1100. There are a number of known settlement sites, often combined with fortified structures, trade and craft production. Places such as Staraja Ladoga, Rjurikovo Gorodische, Ralswiek, Wolin and Gnezdovo are located along rivers. All of these have a strong element of Scandinavian material culture, allowing localisation of Scandinavian diaspora settlements in these centres situated on the banks of the mentioned rivers with these settlements being part of the single Viking cultural area that covered the entire Northern Europe. Therefore, contrary to the Scandinavian expansion westwards where sea coastal areas played an important role, the travelling and spatial colonisation by Scandinavians in Eastern Europe took place along the major riverways enabling Scandinavians to advance towards Arab lands and Byzantium. Traces of weapons and crafts have been discovered at burial and settlement sites, many of which were protected by fortification structures. A further defining feature of the trading centres in this region is the interaction with native communities. There are clear signs of Scandinavian or Scandinavian-originated influence that affected both everyday objects as well as social and political structures.

Reric: Reric is mentioned in the Frankish Annals of 808 and 809, when the trading centre was destroyed and Danish King Godfred reinforced Danevirke and moved his traders to Hedeby. Reric is thought to have been situated south of Wismar in Germany, where a large settlement, a harbour and a burial ground with Scandinavian artefacts including six boat burials have been discovered near Groß Strömkendorf. The site developed according to an organised layout. The finds date the settlement to the 8th and early 9th century.

Ralswiek: Ralswiek is located on an oblong islet in a protected fjord on the island of Rügen in Germany. Here the settlement is characterised by the production of ceramics, bone and horn artefacts as well as boat-building and metalwork. The settlement is dated to 750-850, whereas the burial ground, which consists of c. 400 burial mounds, had a period of use extending over c. 300 years. Cremation graves and urn graves reveal that the deceased were of Scandinavian origin.

Wollin: Wollin is situated on the Polish island of Wolin at the estuary of the river Dziwna. The settlement has urban features such as plot divisions and streets. During the 9th century, a semi-circular town wall was constructed; a harbour has also been located as has a burial ground with at least 200 graves; of these, 130 have been excavated and dated to the period 900-1200. The archaeological remains resemble those of Birka and Hedeby, but there is great presence of Slav crafts at Wolin.

Wiskiauten: Wiskiauten is a large burial ground situated at Mohovoe near Kaliningrad in Russia. It consists of over 500 mounds dating from c. 850 to c. 1050. The burial tradition and multiple finds are of Scandinavian character. However, recent surveys show mainly local settlement activities as well as local cremation burials from the 7th – 12th centuries. A total of 300 mounds have been excavated. Although the cemetery was investigated by both German and Russian scholars, no settlement has been found in the past 150 years. A research project was started in 2005 that used geophysical survey methods covering an area of nearly 150 ha and, followed by archaeological excavations, discovered settlement activities of the 6th to 13th centuries in the vicinity of the barrow cemetery. It seems that Scandinavians arrived in this area that was already populated by Baltic Prussians, moreover, Prussian presence continued also following the end of the Scandinavian age in the history.

Staraja Ladoga: Staraja Ladoga is situated on the west side of the Volkhov River in Russia. Ladoga is seen as the gateway on the Austrveg for the journey south along the Russian rivers. According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, this was the seat of Rurik, a Swedish king who was called in to help by local chiefs and established a dynasty here in 862. In the 8th century, it was already established as a small market place. By the 10th century, it developed to a large trading centre and noble residence fortified with ramparts. There are several cemeteries in its vicinity. In addition to predominantly Slav material, many Viking Age objects and features testify to a Scandinavian presence in Staraja Ladoga.

Rjurikovo Gorodišče: The site lies on the Volkhov River in Russia close to Novgorod. From a small Slav settlement it developed into a fortified trading centre in the 9th and 10th centuries. The archaeological remains revealed clear traces of Scandinavian and Slav settlement, including typical burial mounds. The market function moved to Novgorod in the 10th century, but Gorodišče remained a military and administrative centre.

Gnezdova: Gnezdova is situated 15-20 km south of Smolensk in Russia. It occupies a strategically important location on at the land connection between the rivers Dnieper and Lovat. The Primary Chronicle reports its foundation by Oleg from Novgorod in 882. There is a large cemetery with more than 4000 barrows and a settlement with a fortified centre which revealed rich Scandinavian finds among local material. The trading centre that grew due to its portage function lasted till the end of the 10th century.

Consequently, the archaeological finds revealing Scandinavian expansion both west and east mainly refer to the period of time after the turn of 8th and 9th century, which is slightly later than the time Grobiņa archaeological ensemble was being developed by Scandinavians starting from the 7th century. Another archaeological site in the East Baltic with Scandinavian burials from the 7th century identified in the course of a research is Salme in Saaremaa, Estonia. In 2008-2010, during archaeological excavations the site revealed unique finds: two Scandinavian ship burials with 7 and 33 bodies, respectively. At the moment, the next task in the course of a detailed research is to identify the origins of these Scandinavian raiders who, most likely, died in a battle, although, given the navigation peculiarity to sail along the coast, it cannot also be excluded that the buried Scandinavians were related to those who had settled in Grobiņa.

Central settlement sites in Northern Europe in second half of the I millennium

In Northern Europe there are several central locations of regional nature that can be archaeologically identified as dating from the second half of the first millennium, namely, the pre-Viking Age and the Early Viking Age. Some of these gradually developed into early towns, although different from the classic medieval European towns. However, these centres, contrary to agrarian settlements, featured various functions, including religious, economic (trade) and administrative.

One of the most dynamic regions was the south coast of the North Sea (area also called as Wadden Sea) that was divided into small islands surrounded by tidal flats and bogs connected by channels which provided traffic routes for the Frisians. This natural situation fostered the development of a type of flat-bottomed ship ideally suited for extensive maritime trade along the sea coast and the adjacent areas with barely any harbour facilities. It also prompted the Frisians to build their houses on artificial mounds, protecting them against floods. Remains of Early Medieval dwelling mound alignments, as seen at Wijnaldum and Dongjum, could be seen as examples of this excellent adaption to a quickly changing landscape. Wijnaldum or a settlement site at Sievern at the Weser River could be regarded as regional central places, but regional chiefs were more probably connected with Utrecht and Dorestad. Circular ring forts, like the ones at Oost-Souburg and Domburg from the 9th century, probably served as protection against Viking raids. The construction of earthen embankments against seasonal flooding started in the late 10th and early 11th century in Nord-Holland and Friesland and spread throughout the Wadden Sea area in ensuing centuries. Burial sites are known as large burial grounds consisting of low mounds. The expansion of the trading networks was possible due to the strategic location of Frisian homelands around the North Sea, at the time known as Mare Frisicum. Indeed, the Frisian urban settlement of Dorestad, on the border of the Frisian and Frankish areas, was one of the main transit ports in Europe. Growing in importance, Dorestad was conquered by the Franks shortly after the Frisians had established it. Trade with neighbouring regions in pre-Viking Age was primarily conducted in the contact zones at the edge of the traditional Frisian settlement areas, as archaeological sites like Bremen-Mahndorf in Lower Saxony or Dankirke near Ribe in Denmark show. After an initial phase of non-permanent trading places, a few permanent urban emporia, like Dorestad or possibly Domburg in the Netherlands, developed in the 7th century.

Unlike many of the urban settlements in the larger area of interaction, the urban settlements of the core region of Scandinavia did not develop from for example earlier Roman towns. Instead, they are particularly closely linked to seafaring, long-distance trade and the mass production of diverse wares. As such, they represent a new development in the core region, and as centres of interaction the urban settlements became vital areas for the exchange of goods and ideas which pushed forward both a transformation of religious practice and rules of governance. Consequently, the urban settlements were essential driving forces in the gradual transition towards early states. The most well-known Viking Age early urban settlements in the core region are Birka (described above), Ribe, Kaupang and Hedeby (described above) with Uppåkra, Gamla Uppsala and Lejre as earlier examples.

Ribe (present-day Denmark): Through archaeological excavations, it has been established that the settlement was divided into plots, each of which was marked out by clearly-defined ditches. The buildings are laid out close to each other and surrounded by a town wall. The archaeological remains also indicate that the structure of the settlement was altered several times, whereas the trading and production activities continued to be confined to the harbour area throughout the period. There are extensive traces of craft production and trade from the mid-8th century well into the medieval period. Ribe has been particularly important for the study of crafts and trade in the Viking Age and, together with Birka, is a central point of reference for the study of early urbanisation in Scandinavia. Ribe is also mentioned in Vita Anskarii. Today, however, the urban settlement of Viking Age Ribe is situated underneath the modern town.

Kaupang (present-day Norway): Kaupang was a trading centre which, from the early 8th century also displayed urban features such as plot divisions within the settlement. Archaeological excavations of the settlement, as well as the burial grounds around it, have been conducted. At the settlement site, there are traces of craft production similar to the other urban settlements in Scandinavia at the time. The scientific value of the site is defined by its contribution to settlement studies and the study of Viking Age trading networks of Northern Europe. Recently, geo-physical surveys have contributed to a better understanding of the layout of the settlement. Kaupang is most likely mentioned as Skiringssal in Ohthere’s late 9th century voyage account and, based on the Frankish Annals from 808 and 813, the establishment of Kaupang has been seen in relation to the Danish King Godfred. Today, the traces of the Viking Age settlement are located under pasture land and the modern settlement.

Uppåkra (present-day Sweden): Uppåkra in Skane became one of the largest centres in Iron Age Sweden that used to be occasionally inhabited already since the Stone Age with permanent settlement continuing from the 1st century BC until the end of 10th century AD. Starting from the 5th century, it became the largest settlement in the Southern Sweden with a population of at least one thousand and 30-40 farmsteads qualifying to be called an urban settlement. The Iron Age settlement at Uppåkra that covered an area of 1,100 x 600 m was discovered in 1930s, but regular archaeological excavations started only in 1996 conducted by the Lund University. The population cultural layer at the settlement is irregular, in places reaching even the depth of 1 m. The archaeological dig revealed remains of several dwellings, storage buildings and workshops, as well as remains of a construction that might have been a cult house. The finds also confirm that the site played a role in international trade, meanwhile, two burial mounds have been found in the territory of the settlement. Although Uppåkra has not been mentioned in Medieval written records despite its significance as a regional centre, a number of texts contain some indirect references.

Gamla Uppsala (present-day Sweden): Gamla Uppsala belongs to an exclusive group of multipurpose central places from the Late Iron Age. These multipurpose central places covered official functions (law, cultic activities, trade and markets), but are also known for more specialist crafts, as they were the residence of members of the elite and religious leaders. From written sources, it is clear that Gamla Uppsala was particularly renowned for the latter. At the beginning of the Late Iron Age, the large mounds, the housing plateaus and a stone cobbled road with poles were built. Already during the 6th and early 7th century, the monumental royal mounds were constructed, but it was only in the following centuries that Gamla Uppsala rose to full strength. Until around 1100, Gamla Uppsala functioned as a central place and an area for the elite to display their wealth to people from all levels of society.

It is in particular the large royal mounds that shape the landscape of Gamla Uppsala today. Gamla Uppsala has been seen as the place of origin for the Ynglinga royal lineage and many of the mythical kings are said to have lived there. The largest of the mounds, the eastern mound (Östhögen), was excavated in 1847. The dating of the burials falls within the period of the late 5th to early 6th century. The western mound also included a burial and is dated to the late 6th – mid-7th century. In addition to these large mounds, Gamla Uppsala also has several hundred smaller burial mounds, as well as a large number of graves that are not visible above ground.

In Gamla Uppsala there are also a number of constructed plateaus where hall buildings were located. It is in particular Adam of Bremen’s account of Gamla Uppsala from 1070 that is used when this royal complex is interpreted in a religious and ritual perspective. Today, only half of the large three-aisled cathedral, built in the mid-12th century, still stands in Gamla Uppsala. During the Medieval period the Christian kings owned the land, and therefore it is no coincidence that archbishop’s seat was located there in the mid-12th century.

Lejre (present-day Denmark): Lejre is the name of a small village some 10 km southwest of Roskilde on the island of Zealand in Denmark. This small settlement played an important role in a series of legends about the earliest times in Danish history. The Danish Medieval chroniclers Saxo Grammaticus and Sven Aggesen placed the residence of the oldest Danish royal house, known as the Scyldings, at Lejre. The greater part of the settlement, consisting of post-built longhouses of various sizes, is situated on the hill to the west of the village. It is only to the north that a proper limit to the settlement, in the form of a robust fence, has been found. There are graves close to the settlement. A building, 48.5 m long and 11.5 m wide (houses III and IV) seems to have been the central element of the settlement. This hall, with a floor area of more than 500 m2, was, in principle, constructed in the same way as the houses in the Danish Viking Age fortresses (e.g. Trelleborg). It is in particular its dimensions which make the building a unique monument in early Danish history. The building was in use from the 7th to the 10th century.

Comparative analysis: final conclusions

Scandinavian expansion overseas that manifested in many forms: raiding, migration, colonisation, resulted in the establishment of a Scandinavian diaspora covering a vast territory in Europe and North Atlantic ranging from Newfoundland in the west to Staraja Ladoga in the east. The east shore of the Baltic Sea was the first region subjected to Scandinavian expansion, because for the Scandinavians living in East Scandinavia and the islands of the Baltic Sea it was the geographically closest area, although different in terms of language and culture. Consequently, when comparing the Scandinavian presence in East Baltic with regions along the Western Way and Eastern Way, a chronological difference exists — it is the east coast of the Baltic Sea, particularly the surroundings of Grobiņa, that turns out to be the first territory where Scandinavians arrived, settled and embarked on various interactions with the local people. Quite often, the items of material culture providing proof of Scandinavian expansion are hidden below later development layers beneath modern cities that frequently lead to underestimation of these items. It must be noted that, overall, also on the World Heritage List the archaeological heritage of Medieval Europe is little represented. As such, the current nomination represents a valuable contribution to the World Heritage List, as it provides a more diversified picture of Medieval Europe.

Grobiņa in Latvia is the earliest overseas settlement in the Baltic Sea area. Its strategic position along the river Ālande, which reached the Baltic Sea in the Viking Age, made the site attractive for newcomers from Scandinavia as a place to settle. Already by the mid-7th century, people from what is today Sweden (and, may be, from Gotland) settled along the Baltic Sea eastern coast. For Scandinavian seafarers, Grobiņa became the first site of acquiring overseas spatial colonisation experience, and the presence of these people in Grobiņa is demonstrated by the many cemeteries displaying Scandinavian burial traditions.

[1] Chapters and are largely based on the analysis of Viking Age sites performed as part of the UNESCO serial nomination process: Stefansdottir, Maluck 2014, p. 228-229, 239-243.