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Denmark's largest Viking castle found on Falster: - It's wild that no one has discovered it before

On Tuesday, the excavation of a huge facility on Falster, which is supposed to be the country's largest Viking castle, starts. 

Viking castle

When the archaeologists on Tuesday put the shovel in the ground on Falster, it may be that finds appear from the ground that may change the known Danish history in the Viking Age and in the Middle Ages.

Here begins the archaeological investigations of a huge Viking castle, which in recent years has been investigated discreetly on Falster. Archaeologists believe that the Viking castle is the largest of the castles known so far in Denmark.

This is not a ring castle - but a much larger facility in size, which apparently for centuries has played an important role in Falster's defense and organization.

So far, it is listed as Denmark's largest castle from the Viking Age, and a conservative estimate from the researchers behind the find is that it has been in use from 850 until 1250. However, the castle has apparently been used before then.

With more than 10 meters high ramparts, it has risen impressively on top of a large hill in the middle of Falster, and has been a demonstration of power in its time. That's what Leif Plith Lauritsen from Museum Lolland-Falster says.

It is a place where the legendary kings met. The embankment can play a crucial role in relation to how we are to understand the history of Falster and Lolland - and the whole story of how Denmark came to be. The construction of the castle has been a huge project in terms of size, says Leif Plith Lauritsen to TV2 EAST

The castle is located near Virket Lake by the small town Virket on Falster, and Leif Plith Lauritsen is together with archaeologists and students from Aarhus University behind the excavation, which starts next week. The excavation is carried out with support from Queen Margrethe II's Archaeological Foundation.

  • In size, the construction work has been enormous, and in terms of defense, it has been comparable to the oldest Dannevirke. It is a huge facility, and at the same time the castle here is old, and it has been used for many years, says Leif Plith Lauritsen.

Lars Sass Jensen from Aarhus University calls the castle impressive.

  • It's wild that no one has discovered it before, because it is so clear in the landscape. But this facility has the potential to give us not only new knowledge about how Denmark came to be - but also how the country took shape in the Middle Ages - well up through the Valdemar period, he says to TV2 EAST

Expert: It is completely unique 

According to the medieval expert and the now retired museum director Niels-Knud Liebgott, the castle is a completely unique find in Denmark - and also in the world. He has worked with medieval archeology in Denmark for many years.

He does not participate in the excavations, but has been to the castle and heard about the finds that precede the excavation that starts on Tuesday.

  • We have not seen a similar find in either Denmark or abroad. It is a fascinating place, also because it is a whole, unified facility that looks really well preserved today. A very, very large facility, he says to TV2 EAST.

He believes that the size suggests that the plant may be much older than the previous dates suggest.

  • Back in the 500s and 600s, the so-called refuge castles were established, where the population could apply if war broke out. The question then is whether behind the ramparts an actual settlement developed or perhaps a small town. We can only determine this with excavations. But it is a very large facility that has required thousands of soldiers to defend properly, he says. 

Have been in battle several times

The well-known historian Saxo has described the mighty battle, in which an army from the Land of the Venders in present-day Germany and Poland was repulsed by a fortification called the Joint Forces' Joint Forces.

For almost 100 years, it has been assumed that there was a system of violence in a system of violence in Hannenov Forest, where a memorial stone for the battle has also been erected.

Now, however, the researchers have abandoned that theory, and believe instead that the newly found castle by Virket Sø was Falster's Virke.

The assumption is based, among other things, on carbon-14 dating of fire layers found in the castle's ramparts.

However, the dates also surprised the researchers. It was the first time that they found out how old a plant was. At the same time, the division into layers of the violence showed that the castle has been in battle many times over time.

The many and thick fire layers on the castle also move the castle's history away from the Middle Ages and far back in time. The oldest dated layer is dated to the time around the year 900, probably 880. However, six layers have been excavated under this fire layer - and according to archaeologists, they expect to find even more layers below this.

At the same time, they have been able to document how the defenses after each battle have been rebuilt, and generation after generation have been built bigger and stronger.

One of the goals of the excavation in the coming week is to find out how old the facility actually is.

  • It is a real possibility that the castle dates back to the time when the large halls were built in Lejre, Gudme and Fuglebjerg, among other places. The castle's only known comparison in Denmark is the castle Gammelborg on Bornholm, and a similar similar castle at the later built Hedeby. Even though they were large, they were smaller than this castle, and were not in use for almost the same period, says Leif Plith Lauritsen. 

Paved road changes the history of the castle 

Leif Plith Lauritsen was convinced that it was a refuge castle, until on the last day of the first test excavation they found a paved road along the ramparts. It was a very important find because the road was laid in one of the early stages of the castle's long career.

This suggests that the castle has been far better fortified and organized than first assumed.

  • It's more than a refuge. It's a kind of administration castle. If there are traces of permanent Viking-age settlements in the castle area, it could indicate that a mighty nobleman or prince lived there. Whether he then considered himself Danish, false or perhaps even Wendish, we do not know, he says.

However, the castle may also have been a local place of worship, a trading place that has been fortified - or may have been the site of the discovery of one of Denmark's oldest cities - perhaps 'Gammelkøbing', whose role was later taken over by Nykøbing, which is almost 10 kilometers gone.

  • The theories are not mutually exclusive. All three may well be right. We do not know, nor is it certain that the excavations can give us an answer to that, says Leif Plith Lauritsen.

A city within the ramparts may, however, be the explanation for the fact that it is such a large castle. Such castle-like facilities abroad are often seen around cities - although they do not quite resemble this facility, says the independent expert Niels-Knud Liebgott.

However, he does not expect the answer to come within a manageable time horizon.

  • We must not imagine that a single excavation will give us the answers we would like. Possibly the opposite. When we conduct an excavation, we tend to be left with 10 new questions. They will also experience this here, says the former museum director. 

Viking Hotspot

According to experts, the location of the castle is anything but random.

Furthermore, the castle is located only an hour's walk from the large Viking shipyard Fribrødre Å near Stubbekøbing, where both Danish and Wendish ships have been maintained over time. The shipyard is the largest known shipyard in Denmark in the Viking Age, and was more than a kilometer long

- The discovery of the castle is part of a story in which there were some important institutions and facilities during the Viking Age. We know that the two plants were simultaneous, and of course they have known each other. However, we can not say whether they have been on the same team throughout history. But if they have known each other, then they have been able to seek refuge here, says Leif Plith Lauritsen.

He believes that the coincidence, in addition to a number of references in Saxo, among others, helps to emphasize the story of great Viking activity on northern Falster.

The yard is well protected from sudden raids inland. And it is clear that either Trygge Castle or a rampart not yet found inland could have been their rampart. But where the shipyard at Fribrødre Å has probably been wholly or partly controlled by the turners for periods, it is not certain that the same applies to the castle, he says.  

Fribrødre Å

He calls the shipyard a strange shipyard because Slavic ships with clear Danish features were built and maintained, and he wonders whether changes in culture may reflect that the local prince or king in periods such as in a special Baltic Sea edition of the Games of Thrones might have changed sides if that made sense to him.

There is no doubt that the area here has played an important role in the struggle to win power in Denmark. But whether we have been on the winning or losing side at the end of the Viking Age, we can not say yet.

The excavation starts according to plan immediately after Pentecost, and is scheduled to last for two to three weeks.

Here, several different places in the facility must be dug. Partly in some of the areas that have already been studied - but also completely new places. The aim is to determine the age and significance of the plant.

We dig both in the southern ramparts, which we have already investigated - but also in the central ramparts and the northern ramparts. And besides, we do some search fields along the way. Our hope is that in this way we can gain new knowledge about the plant's long history, says Leif Plith Lauritsen.

The article is brought inTV2 East

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