A Centuries-Outdated Thriller: Did This Elusive Viking Metropolis Exist?

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By Stacy Connor

After the native authorities determined to construct an statement tower atop a sandy hill on Wolin, an island within the Baltic Sea, a Polish archaeologist was known as in to test the positioning earlier than building and search for buried artifacts from the spot’s macabre previous.

Hangmen’s Hill, a public park, had in earlier instances been an execution floor, a cemetery and, some consider, a spot for human sacrifices — so who knew what grisly discoveries had been in retailer?

However what the archaeologist, Wojciech Filipowiak, discovered when he began digging brought on extra pleasure than distaste: charcoaled wooden indicating the stays of a Tenth-century stronghold that might assist clear up one of many nice riddles of the Viking Age.

Was a fearsome fortress talked about in historic texts a literary fantasy or a historic actuality?

It has lengthy been identified that Nordic warriors established outposts greater than a millennium in the past on Poland’s Baltic coast, enslaving indigenous Slavic peoples to provide a booming slave commerce, as effectively buying and selling in salt, amber and different commodities.

Not identified, nevertheless, was the placement of the Vikings’ greatest settlement within the space, a city and navy stronghold that early Twelfth-century texts known as Jomsborg and linked to a presumably legendary mercenary order generally known as Jomsvikings.

Some trendy students consider that Jomsborg was by no means an actual place, however as an alternative a legend handed down and embroidered by the ages. The findings at Hangmen’s Hill on Wolin Island would possibly alter that view.

“It is extremely thrilling,” stated Dr. Filipowiak, a scholar in Wolin with the archaeology and ethnology part of Poland’s Academy of Sciences. “It may clear up a thriller going again greater than 500 years: The place is Jomsborg?”

Curiosity in Vikings, as soon as largely confined to a distinct segment discipline of educational examine, has surged in recent times as tv collection like “Sport of Thrones,” films, graphic novels and video video games have embraced — and distorted — Norse themes, clothes and symbols. The Viking Age, or not less than a tough approximation of it, has develop into a fixture of standard tradition.

This has been excellent news for the tourism enterprise in Wolin. “Vikings are attractive and appeal to quite a lot of curiosity,” stated Ewa Grzybowska, the mayor of Wolin, which features a city and a wider island district with identical identify.

However the mayor bemoaned that far fewer guests come to her area than to a close-by seaside resort. She stated more cash was wanted to hold out excavation work and develop Wolin as a world-class vacation spot for Viking researchers and beginner lovers.

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Stating of her window in Metropolis Corridor to a sq. that’s believed to comprise a treasure of unexcavated early medieval artifacts, she stated: “Wherever you go right here, there’s a piece of historical past.”

That historical past, nevertheless, has typically been a supply of discord.

Nazi archaeologists scoured Wolin, which was a part of Germany till 1945, for proof of the presence of Vikings — and for proof of what the Nazis believed was the prevalence of the Nordic race and its dominance within the early medieval interval over native Slavic peoples, who later got here to determine themselves as Poles and claimed the land for Poland.

When Poland took management of Wolin after World Battle II, Polish archaeologists hunted for artifacts that may improve their nation’s maintain on former German lands and assist reinforce a way of nationwide id.

Colleges in Wolin organized re-enactments of Viking invasions of Poland’s Baltic coast and, for many years after World Battle II, “way more children wished to be Slavs defending the island,” stated Karolina Kokora, director of Wolin’s historical past museum.

That modified after Poland ditched communism and started turning West, away from Russia and its emphasis on Slavic delight. “After 1989, everybody wished to be a Viking,” Ms. Kokora recalled.

Public fascination with Vikings has additionally led to a surge in historic sleuthing by amateurs.

Amongst them is Marek Kryda, a Polish American beginner historian and creator of a polemical 2019 ebook that denounced Polish archaeology as a morass of ethnic chauvinism principally blind to the position Vikings performed within the early formation of Poland.

Mr. Kryda set off a storm of controversy final summer time in Poland after he introduced in The Each day Mail, a British tabloid, that he had positioned the doubtless grave of Harald Bluetooth, the historic Danish Viking king who as soon as dominated on this space.

The consensus view amongst historians is that Harald in all probability died within the area on the finish of the Tenth century however had been buried in Denmark.

Mr. Kryda stated he had positioned Harald’s doubtless burial mound in Wiejkowo, a tiny village inland from Wolin, through the use of satellite tv for pc imaging. Dr. Filipowiak dismissed that as “pseudoscience.”

The furor over the place Harald Bluetooth is buried has turned the Viking king — celebrated as a unifier of feuding Nordic fiefs and the inspiration for the identify of a wi-fi know-how designed to unite gadgets — into an agent of noisy division.

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Ms. Grzybowska, the mayor, stated she was not certified to guage whether or not Harald was buried in her district however added that she could be delighted if true. “It might add particular splendor and grandeur to our island,” she stated.

Ms. Grzybowska’s district has a Slavs and Viking Village, dotted with thatched wood huts and a stone inscribed with runes celebrating Harald Bluetooth. However these are trendy fakes — representations of a distant Viking previous that excites the creativeness however has been laborious to pin down with certainty regardless of the a long time of digging by archaeologists on the lookout for traces of Jomsborg.

Ms. Kokora, the museum director, described the elusive Tenth-century settlement as a “medieval New York on the Baltic” — a buying and selling entrepôt with a blended inhabitants of Vikings, Germanic individuals and Slavs — that had mysteriously vanished from the map, leaving solely whiffs of its existence in archaic texts.

It’s stated to have had 1000’s of inhabitants, a fortress and a protracted pier to accommodate the Viking ships that sailed to and from Scandinavia and so far as North America. Traces of enslaved Slavs traded alongside the Baltic coast within the first millennium have been discovered 1000’s of miles away in Morocco.

Sifting by shards of excavated pottery on a cluttered desk in her museum, Ms. Kokora stated the Vikings hadn’t bothered a lot with making pots and weren’t superb at it. “They simply took from the Slavs,” she stated.

Within the Thirties, German archaeologists, desperate to problem Polish claims that the world had initially been settled primarily by Slavs, excavated a mound on the alternative aspect of city from Hangmen’s Hill within the hope of discovering traces of Jomsborg — and proof that Scandinavians, an essential pillar of the Nazi ideology of Aryan supremacy, had been there first. They discovered some artifacts however no proof of a Viking stronghold.

Elements of Hangmen’s Hill had been excavated earlier than Dr. Filipowiak began digging, however not the world chosen for building. The archaeologist stated his serendipitous discover of what he thinks could possibly be the ramparts of Tenth-century Jomsborg’s stronghold nonetheless wanted extra evaluation, however he believes there may be already “80 p.c certainty” that that is the positioning.

The talk over Jomsborg’s location — or if it actually existed — has been “a really lengthy dialogue,” Dr. Filipowiak stated. “Hopefully, I may also help finish it.”

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