Was It Just a Boss Spying on His Workers? First Viking Age Tower Found in Denmark
Archaeologists have recently excavated a very tall structure that can only be elucidated as a tower, in Jutland, Denmark. The “tower” was placed next to larger hall-type buildings, and a possible ritual building. Experts consider it an extremely unique discovery from the Viking Age, as the high building is unknown to Danish archaeology and architecture.
A Viking Age Tower That Could Be Seen from a Distance
The newly excavated site of Toftum Næs, Jutland and the special features – such as the unique and unfamiliar architecture – that have been registered there, have managed to impress local and international archaeologists. Kamilla Fiedler Terkildsen – an archaeologist and curator at Viborg Museum – and her colleagues from Viborg Museum were the first to unearth the tower in 2014, during excavations of a settlement from the Viking Age.
A drone image of the Viking Age tower (with pit-houses on top of the north wall) and north-south facing house. North is on the left-hand side. (Photo: Andree Gothe)
Impressed and excited with the rare discovery, Terkildsen told Science Nordic,
“It could be seen from some distance away. It must’ve been an impressive landmark for the place and for the nobleman who lived there. It’s unique in its construction and would have required a great deal to build. I really wonder where they got the idea from.”
She also added that the tower is about ten meters (32.8 ft.) high and is based on large, heavy posts.
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The tower area with a fenced ceremonial house and a north-south facing house dating to the Iron Age and Viking Age. The tower is indicated by the red arrows. (Illustration: Tom Lock)
The Tower is Architecturally Unique for the Viking Age and Danish Archaeology
Terkildsen and her team realized quickly that they had unearthed a Viking Age tower, an extremely rare, possibly the first of its kind in Denmark; and they weren’t wrong. The tower was first noticed as cropmarks on aerial images of the landscape, before the excavation began. What made them curious about the high structure, however, was its distinctive construction and design, which they had never spotted or seen before in Danish archaeology. So, in order to find out more about the peculiar structure, they asked for advice from the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, “They called and asked if I have ever seen something similar. I hadn’t,” co-author Mads Dengsø Jessen, an archaeologist at the Danish National Museum, who helped Terkildsen excavate the tower told Science Nordic.
A ‘Viking Village.’ (Lukasz Wiktorzak/ArtStation) Experts believe it would be extremely rare to find a tower in a Viking Age village.
Examining the Viking Age Tower
The tower is estimated to be around 1300 years old, dating back somewhere to the 700s, in the Iron Age. However, the entire site was active up until the end of the Viking Age, around 1000 AD. The archaeologists suggest that the tower was part of the entrance to a larger settlement with several spectacular halls, like others of the kind that have been found in just a few places in Jutland.
The discovery of foreign coins and jewelry imply that the site had contacts with Western Europe, while archaeologists also discovered a fenced house of worship, a type of ceremonial structure used for performing rituals. However, according to Terkildsen, the tower stands out the most, “The site itself is very interesting and one of the few examples of the presence of a chieftain in Jutland, but we emphasise the tower, because there’s nothing like it anywhere else,” she tells Science Nordic.
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Usage and Importance of the Tower in the Viking Age
The materials discovered at the site indicate that the settlement belonged to a very wealthy nobleman, who possibly had many workers. As Jessen says:
“You couldn’t see very far (from the tower), but you could monitor the river valley, which you can’t do from the ground. So the question is whether the pit houses were workshops or residential, or both. One could imagine that the owner wanted to keep an eye on the workers on site.”
Furthermore, the structural fluctuation of the site at Toftum Næs, in particular the changes that seem to have taken place during the main use-phase both at the site in question and with regard to the overall development of aristocratic sites with production areas and at the Viking Age towns, are now open for debate amongst Viking Age archaeologists and historians.
Top Image: Stampe 515 (Public Domain) and 516 (Public Domain) from a series called ‘Everyday Life in the Viking Age’ and the high-ground, southern part of the settlement at Toftum Naes, Denmark. The arrow indicates where the tower once stood. (Illustration: Kamilla Fiedler Terkildsen)