Archaeologists May Have Found Traces of a Viking Marketplace in Norway

Ground-penetrating radar found evidence of a trading hub buried near the island of Klosterøy’s historic monastery

Radar Car at Utstein Gard
Researchers drove a car equipped with ground-penetrating radar over the land near Utstein Monastery on the island of Klosterøy. Grethe M. Pedersen / University of Stavanger

Researchers have found that a tiny Norwegian island may have been home to a thriving marketplace during the Viking Age.

Klosterøy—located off Norway’s southern tip, around 200 miles from Oslo—was already historically significant: The isle is home to the country’s best-preserved medieval monastery and several Iron Age burials. But now, using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Stavanger’s Museum of Archaeology have located a cluster of pit houses and piers where Viking Age locals might have shopped and traded 1,000 years ago.

Håkon Reiersen, an archaeologist at the museum, and his team conducted the survey in late 2023. As he tells Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou, the team had “long predicted” that employment of ground-penetrating radar around Utstein Monastery would yield historic results.

“We have received numerous metal detector finds from [the monastery] in recent years, including items associated with trade such as weights and coins,” says Reiersen in a statement from the museum. “One of the things we wanted to investigate … was whether there could be additional traces of trade activity. I am therefore not surprised that the results now indicate that Utstein was indeed a marketplace in the Viking Age and early Middle Ages.”

Car Drives Over Pit House
Archaeologists drive the radar-eqipped vehicle over the remains of a possible pit house. Grethe M. Pedersen / University of Stavanger

Without excavating the legally protected historic site, archaeologists were able to identify “several structures that are clearly man-made,” per the statement. The structures appear to be large pits, akin in size and shape to Viking Age pit houses found elsewhere in Norway. As Live Science’s Tom Metcalfe writes, such dwellings were common in Scandinavia before the Middle Ages: These structures typically featured floors that were built below ground level and covered with an angled roof.

“The construction makes them cool in the summer and warm during winter,” says Kristoffer Hillesland, an archaeologist at the museum, in the statement. “A common interpretation of pit houses is that they served as workshops associated with craftsmanship.”

The scans also revealed various cooking pits and cultivated layers of soil, as well as the foundations of three piers or boathouses near the island’s shoreline. Hillesland tells Live Science that vessels may have docked at these piers to access the Viking market during warmer months.

The recent discoveries shed new light on Klosterøy’s layered history. The island was likely a “power center” during the region’s Iron Age, which lasted from 500 B.C.E. until 800 C.E., Hillesland tells Live Science. This conclusion is also supported by several nearby “cairns”—mounds of stones that could mark Iron Age burials.

Pit House Example
An example of a Viking Era pit house Västgöten via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

With the ninth century came the era of the Vikings, the Nordic warriors, craftspeople, farmers, seafarers and merchants. The marketplace may have been established around then, during the late-800s reign of Norway’s first king, Harald Fairhair, who built a royal farm on Klosterøy. It wasn’t until the late 13th century that a group of Augustinian monks established their monastery on the same agrarian site.

Other surveys using ground-penetrating radar have proven fruitful for archaeologists in the region: According to Live Science, researchers have identified three Viking ship burials on the nearby island of Karmøy.

Still, the researchers caution that they can’t verify the marketplace’s presence without additional analysis.

“Ground-penetrating radar has proven to be a useful tool for us,” says Grethe Moéll Pedersen, an archaeologist at the museum, in the statement. “But it cannot completely replace traditional archaeological excavation methods.”

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