A Viking Network Info-sheet:
The excavations of Sebbersund
Henriette Suna Niemann Jensen, Tina Thomsen, Niklas Reymann, Anita Vivi Holt
The excavation of the vikingsettlement in Sebbersund began a few years ago. The result of that project has been exhibited at Aalborg Historical Museum in 1995. The excavators discovered finds that alters the whole Christian history of Denmark. This informationsheet is about this astonishing excavation.
On the foreland, whose southern point today is occupied by the village Sebbersund , a big market for trade was situated in the viking period. The built-up area has probably come into existence around a market place at the foot of a hill. It was at that time, as now, visible from every part of Nibe Fjord (The Firth of Nibe, a part of Limfjorden). The eastern part of Limfjorden (the big firth between The North Sea and Kattegat, running in the direction from west to the east in the northern part of Jutland) has been a good place to meet each other. Tradesmen have come to the market, which gradually has become colonized. Gradually a city has grown up. On and around the foreland there was not enough space for farming.
Trade, craftmanship and fishing formed the basic industry of the built-up area.
The city grew up as a rather big one. It covered around 13.600 to 16.400 acres of land. That equals about 65.000 square meters.
The built-up area, which lay by Sebbersund, were a big and important trading place, where import articles, especially from Norway and England, were traded and trans-shipped for further transport to the parts around the eastern Limfjord. On the trading place many artisans worked, and their articles were sold to the farming villages around the fjord.
Limfjorden and the landscape around.
How did the ships came to Sebbersund?
Here are som placenames from the viking-age, all places mentioned forming the inlet from The Limfjord to Sebbersund:
In the viking period The Limfjord was more accesible for ships than it is now.
The inlet was a sound from The Northsea, in the direction of north-west to Sebbersund (this sound was closed in the middle ages by the force of the nature).
This sound is also mentioned as "Slojen". The eastern part of The Limfjord has changed since the wiking period. The water level has fallen about 25 centimeters and the many reclaims of land from the se, which have been made in newer time, has changed the banks of the inlet.
The eastern part of The Limfjord had a very special landscape while there were both rising grounds and lowlying flat areas. The way the Limfjord looks now is a result of long and changeable landalterating history, which determines the location of the cities and the trading routes.
Sea-level rising 7500 years ago formed inlets and sounds, and made The Stone-Age Sea about 4000 BC. Later, landrise drained the Stone-Age Sea and 2000 years ago The Limfjord got it´s modern shape. The consequence of the rising of land will be described later in this informationsheet.
The former water covered areas had in the early Iron-Age and in the viking-period changed into swamped meadows and bogs, so that a lot of land was uninhabitant and difficult to pass.
Transportation of goods and people was going on at sea; in fact, the ocean and for instance The Limfjord formed a very good infrastructure.
In Sebbersund there was no agriculture but on the other hand, there a big international trademarket.
The chiefs had control over the society. Christianity was introduced through the powerholders and there was a church from abot 1000AD. All trading went through the chiefs who had a lot of power in the viking period. At the end of the viking period, the royal power wished to take over all trading.
Aalborg is a royal city that was grounded in cirka year 900. You may say, that this new town concurred out Sebbersund as a tradingplace, more about this fact later in this informationsheet.
There are a lot of achaeological documentation of commercial relations with foreign countries. In Sebbersund you have found several raw materials from the southern part of Norway, among other things iron knives, soapstone, and slate with grenades and Rhine basalt (both were used as grinding slabs). There has also been found belt-buckles from the northeastern part of England, Arabian handicraft, and animal fibles. The jewellery found are fx. the belt buckles from the British isles and plate buckles with enamel from the southeastern England.
You have Egil Skallagrimsonıs Saga as a proof of export. It tells, that Thore Thrumd, who were bailiff for Harald Hairfairıs farmstead, travelled to Oere at sebbersund!) with goods such as as sole, malt, wheat and honey ( written in the 13th century).
Craftmanship at Sebbersund
There are found many spindle-whorls of burnt clay and soapstone. A spindle whorl is a weight with a hole in the middle, which were used to hold the thread fixed. You have also excavated warp weights of burnt or unburnt clay. The function of the warp-weight was to hold the thread tight. You have also found whole looms. The production of this kind of goods in Sebbersun was so big, that it nearly was early-industrial.
There has been a massproduction of jewellery including some few showpieces. The activity accelerated from the 8th to the 10th century and had a peak in the eleventh century. I the late viking age some conspicuous ornaments have been found: The Urnes-buckles from the 11th century. They are called Urnes buckles, because the same style is found in the church of the Norwegian city Urnes. They do all have a covering with either silver or babbitt metal. There are 22 dress needles. Other showpieces are the animal fibles from the Aalborg group, which also were in Urnes style. There are found 11 in Sebbersund, which is 1/3 of all animal fibles in Denmark! They are also called "early lambs of God". Maybe this documentate a link to the Christian church.
The pit houses
There have been found signs of a special type of houses. They have been made in this way: First, the workers dug a hole, 3 metres in diameter, and then they built a roof on it. These houses are called pit houses. They were mostly built with a circular ground, but you hav see examples of pit houses with a square ground. These houses are rather practical, as you donıt need so much material to build them, and they keep the warmth. Many pit houses has been given up and filled with garbage. The garbage has turned into mould, whith that consequense, that the cereal has got better conditions of growth, if there is a pit house beneath. Therefore, the pit houses can be seen from the air. The excavators have found more than 150 pit houses on the fields of Sebbersund. Great quantities of potsherds have been found inside the pit houses. Sometimes the archaeologists even have been able to collect a complete vat.
In the pithouses the excavators found about 1500 fishbones too - a proof of fishing industry. Those bones show us the type of fishes, preferred of the vikings: About 98% of the bones belonged to flatfish, 2% to eel, garfish, herring, fasher-lasher and salmon. The fishers used leisters for catching fish in their small boats.
Bones from horses, cows, pigs, sheep and goats have been found too inside the pit houses, showing us, that the people, living at Sebbersund, had got animals too in their households.
The other houses
You can from Bjerget in Nibe, south of Sebbersund, see spots in the cereals of the foreland.
These spots were "printed" in the viking period by the so called hollowhouses. The hollowhouses were small, and gave room for working and daily living. The floor reached a bit into the ground. Over the hollow the saddleroof was built. Most of the houses were cicular and about 3 meters in diameter, but some were also square-shaped. When a hollowhouse was abanded, it was used as littertrenches. Today, the cereals rises higher on those former littertrenches. That is caused by the litter, which in the meantime has moulded.
In the dry summer of 1992 you could count at least 150 hollowhouses.
Excavations in 1994 and1995 points out, that there were so many hollowhouses at the fields of Sebbersund, that it was impossible for a watcher to reckon the whole bunch.
South of the central place the original church, 13 meter x 6 meter, made of wood, was located. This church formed a centre of the churchyard. It was constructed with pillars inside the walls. The holes of these pillars today are showing us the shape of the church.
The churchyard, 40 meter x 40 meter, consist of about 1000 graves, all the bodies orientated towards west. There was a kind of a pillow, made of grass, beneath the heads of the bodies, so that the buried people could look towards east.
About 1000 AD the danes was christianised, starting with the christening of King Harald Blaatand (around 960 AD), but it is uncertain, at what time the first church (the former mentioned church made of wood) at Sebbersund was built. Later, this originally church at the foot of the hill was replaced with a church made of stone on the top of the hill.
We do not know, at what tim this new church - that was dedicated to Saint Nicolaus (the saint of the sailors, the merchants and the fishermen) - was built, but one thing is clear: Sebbersund was the most important trading place in the area around the eastern Limfjord around 1000 AD, although it later was concurred out of Aalborg.
Because of the christianity the buried people did not get goods with them in the graves. Therefore, it is not easy to give a time date for the graves. The only kind of goods which has been found in a grave is half of a coin!
It is lesser than half of the dead people who are buried in a coffin. Perhaps the rest of the bodies have been swept in some kind of organic material.
465 graves have until now been examined. Among the graves are 63 graves, where the body has been put in a vessel in the grave. These ones are the eldest ones of the graves, and they represent the first Christian graves in Denmark.
One grave is exeptionally: The one with a stone coffin, made of granite, and a limestonerock as a "pillow" for the head.
In this grave the archaeologists found a well conserved body of an old man, about 150 centimeter high. It is obvious, that such a person must have had a high social rank. The scientists are of that opinion, that this person was related to the church of Sebbersund - he was a kind of bishop or so.
This newer church of stone has not been fully excavated at this moment (january 1996).
The decline of Sebbersund
At the biginning of the 12th century The Limfjord sanded up west and north of Sebbersund and was changed into a firth. The water became more salty, and the fishing industry got worser conditions. A bigger problem was the fact, that this development, caused by the landrising after the stoneage, was closing the trading routes of Sebbersund to and from Norway and England. Traders who wanted to visit Sebbersund now had to hat to og into The Limfjord from it´s eastern startingpoint (that place we now call Hals). From that time, the city of Aalborg concurred out Sebbersund as a trading center.
Geodaetisk institut, Danmark1:100.000 (map).
Aalborg Historical Museum, Sebbersund - En Vikingeby.
Aalborg Historical Museum, Sebbersund - A Viking Town.
Alborg Historical Museum, The exhibition of the Sebbersund excavations, shown in autumn 1995 and winter1995-1996.