On ’til Ragnarok: Underwater Excavations at the Viking Settlement of Birka 2013

September 18, 2013. Mike Moloney, University of Calgary.

The Viking Age settlement at the site of Birka, Sweden, is touted as the first major city of Sweden. This UNESCO world heritage site was uniquely placed at a crossroads of international trade and enjoyed prominence from approximately 650-900 AD. Excavations at Birka 2013 focused on excavating and recording piling timbers deposited in the bay, which formed the Viking age harbour, in an attempt to better understand the harbour structure and shipping industry. The project comprised the systematic excavation of a 3m by 2m trench, removal and recording of piling timbers with constructional features, sampling of the timbers for dendrochronology, and underwater core sampling of the bay. The project was conducted by Sjöhistoriska (Swedish Maritime Museum) with an international crew of maritime archaeologists from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, USA, and Canada. The 21 day excavation revealed a clearer picture of the harbour structures and unearthed a number of domestic artifacts as well as high status jewellery. The nature of submerged sites allows for the preservation of organic material that would not survive on land and so the artifacts found during this excavation have contributed to an understanding of Birka that would have been lost on land. This presentation will explore the history of Viking age Birka and present the findings of the 2013 excavation, as well as discuss the methodologies associated with conducting archaeological investigations underwater.