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A (West) Baltic Sea treasure trove

I was fortunate to hear Unn Pedersen’s lecture on the Viking port of Kaupang at the Norwegian Institute (just up the road from The American University of Rome). Unn spoke about the recent Kaupang excavations in which she took a leading part ( Simply told, well illustrated, it was an exceptionally clear and wide-ranging lecture for an audience with or without much knowledge of this celebrated Dark Age emporium in south-east Norway – “Norway’s first town”.

In that characteristic Scandinavian way, she failed to say how marvellously excavated, recorded and published these excavations are (she was too modest). In every way, every student of archaeology - anywhere – needs to flick through these opulent pages of first class research, elegantly published. Make no bones about it the monographs are a glorious treasure trove for any archaeologist or historian interested in the rebirth of Europe. The little Vestfold town – now fields – has exceptional numbers of imported goods and equally wonderful evidence of urban craftsmanship.

Anyone present will have grasped how rich this little urban port was by the standards of any Mediterranean place around AD 800. They will also have grasped the critical thinking behind the project, with every category of object being well archived, scientifically analysed and then studied in terms of south Scandinavian distribution by means of trade.

Dr. Unn Pedersen lecturing at the Norwegian Institute

Digging, as I am in western Tuscany, where metals from the Colline Metallifere matter, Unn Pedrrsen’s work on the crucibles, lead models and the jewellery made in this Viking port constituted the real treat of the evening. No less interesting was her conviction that Kaupang was founded and active by AD 820, if not before, and therefore played a part in the later years of the Carolingian era. Specialized hone stones and soapstone vessels were its talismanic exports, but its part in exporting silver south to Latin Christendom and making jewellery for the new fashions of the Baltic age were the two issues that set me thinking.

Norwegian Institute Director Christopher Prentice introduces Unn Pedersen

This was an elegant lesson in high calibre archaeological research presented for an audience most of whom probably had never heard of the place before. I felt privileged to be present.

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