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ARCHAEOLOGY

Are Danish cities older than previously thought?

Odense could have been settled as early as the late eighth century, and many other towns could be older than you think, according to a new study.

Are Danish cities older than previously thought?
Is Odense older than previously thought? Photo: jovannig/Depositphotos

Odense, birth place of Hans Christian Andersen, is at least 100 years older than previously thought, say two Danish archaeologists.

As part of a new research project, they have reviewed material from a number of excavations and discovered that there was already a settlement in Odense at the end of the 700s CE, and that it was an established city by the year 900 CE ScienceNordic reports.

Odense is conventionally thought to have been established in the year 988 CE, according to written sources.

“The written sources show that Odense had a Bishop and a Cathedral, which suggests that it was already a large town at this point. So there must have been something earlier,” says Mads Runge, head of research at Odense City Museums, Denmark, and lead-author on the new study published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology, speaking to ScienceNordic.

The finding could also apply to other Danish towns, including Aarhus, Aalborg, Viborg, Næstved, and Horsens, Runge said.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: 800-year-old rune stick unearthed during excavation of Danish city

Danish towns and cities are thought to have developed in two phases: 700 to 800 CE, when trading towns such as Ribe and Hedeby in west Denmark were established; and 1000 CE, when royal cities such as Roskilde and Lund, in modern day Sweden, were established.

But the new research in Odense suggests the existence of an intermediate phase, between 800 to 900 CE, in which a number of other settlements appeared.

These form a bridge between these the two phases of urbanisation, says Runge.

“We think that Odense was established earlier than we previously thought. And if you look at other towns with fresh eyes, we think that we can argue they too were established earlier,” he says.

“It’s interesting enough that Odense is older, but the crucial thing is what this means, culturally speaking, for our understanding of cities today.”


Danish towns and cities are thought to have developed in two phases. Graphic: ScienceNordic

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Leprosy DNA extracted from medieval skeletons in Denmark

Odense has been undergoing extensive urban renewal in recent years, allowing archaeologists to study new areas of the city.

They have been also revisited previous excavations to re-date previously studied materials.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Lost medieval village discovered in Denmark

A Viking street, now a sustainable quarter

Runge and his colleague Mogens Bo from Odense City Museums were able to study new excavations in an area of Odense known as Thomas B. Thriges gade (Thomas B. Thriges Street).

The street crosses modern day Odense and will be renovated in a new sustainable quarter of the city, but its roots are Viking.

It traces a thread all the way back to the end of the 700s CE, says Runge.

“We find for example pit houses, where people carried out specialised crafts, which extends beyond local use. This indicates trade with a larger region,” the archaeologist said.

They also found traces of permanent dwellings that fit with the earlier dates.

Unlike seasonal dwellings, which you can see numerous examples of along the Scandinavian coast in the 700s, the permanent buildings suggest something more established, like a town.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Archaeologists excavate 400 Iron Age houses in Denmark

Most archaeologists agree that Odense has some sort of Viking origins. It is located near to one of Denmark’s famous Viking Ring Fortresses, and even its name suggests a Viking origin: ‘Odins vi’ meaning Odin’s shrine.

The new study suggests that the town started as a development of the agricultural hinterland, which became a central transit place for traders—an ideal stop off point.

This goes against the previous definition, in which a settlement was only considered a town if it had two churches.

“We don’t think that is crucial. It is on the contrary, large, dense settlements, where commercial activities differentiate themselves from farming,” says Runge.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Archaeologists uncover remains of a horrifying Iron Age battle in Denmark

Early urbanisation is a difficult field

Archaeologist Jens Ulriksen from the Museum of South East Demark, who was not involved in the new study, has previously suggested that Odense belongs in another group: the same group as the cathedral town of Roskilde in East Denmark, which was established as a royal city around 1000 CE.

While he’s impressed by the new research, he’s not quite convinced that Odense was really an established town as early as the 700s.

“Urban development is one of those areas that’s very difficult to pin down because it’s at the border between archaeology and history—where you look to written sources for definitions. Here, they try to argue that Odense underwent a development stage that hasn’t really been defined before in Denmark—a type of proto-city,” says Ulriksen.

He emphasises that he can see the argument for Odense being a special place in the Viking Age, but the archaeological evidence of an earlier date for an established settlement is limited, he says.

“They say this themselves, that there is very little material from Odense, and therefore I think that it’s difficult to conclude anything for certain,” he says.

“Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and look again. And I think that’s the case here,” he says.

This article was originally published on ScienceNordic

READ ALSO: Here's how to decorate like a Viking

VIKING

How a Viking king inspired one of our best-known modern technologies

A Swede and American tell the story of how they hatched the idea for the moniker 'Bluetooth' over beers.

A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth
A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

At the end of the 1990s, Sven Mattisson, a Swedish engineer working at telecom group Ericsson, and Jim Kardach, an American employed by Intel, were among those developing the revolutionary technology.

In 1998, at the dawn of the “wireless” era, the two men were part of an international consortium that created a universal standard for the technology first developed by Ericsson in 1994.

But prior to that, they had struggled to pitch their wireless products. Intel had its Biz-RF wireless programme, Ericsson had MC-Link, while Nokia had its Low Power RF. Kardach, Mattisson and others presented their ideas at a seminar in Toronto in late 1997.

“Jim and I said that people did not appreciate what we presented,” Mattisson, now 65 and winding down his career at Ericsson, recalled in a recent interview with AFP.

The engineer, who had travelled all the way to Canada from Sweden for the one-hour pitch, decided to hang out with Kardach for the evening before flying home.

“We received a lukewarm reception of our confusing proposal, and it was at this time I realised we needed a codename for the project which everyone could use,” Kardach explained in a long account on his webpage.

‘Chauvinistic story’

To drown their sorrows, the two men headed for a local Toronto bar and ended up talking about history, one of Kardach’s passions. “We had some beers… and Jim is interested in history so he asked me about Vikings, so we talked at length about that,” said Mattisson, admitting that his recollection of that historic night is now somewhat foggy.

Kardach said all he knew about Vikings was that they ran “around with horned helmets raiding and looting places, and that they were crazy chiefs.”

Mattisson recommended Kardach read a well-known Swedish historical novel about the Vikings, entitled “The Long Ships”.

Set in the 10th century – “a chauvinistic story” about a boy taken hostage by Vikings, says Mattisson – one name in the book caught Kardach’s attention: that of the king of Denmark, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

A Bluetooth adapter from 2004. Photo: Stefan Gustavsson/SvD/TT

Unification

An important historic figure in Scandinavia in the 10th century, the king of Denmark’s nickname is said to refer to a dead tooth, or, as other tales have it, to his liking for blueberries or even a simple translation error.

During his reign, Denmark turned its back on its pagan beliefs and Norse gods, gradually converting to Christianity.

But he is best known for having united Norway and Denmark in a union that lasted until 1814.

A king who unified Scandinavian rivals – the parallel delighted those seeking to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

And the reference to the king goes beyond the name: the Bluetooth logo, which at first glance resembles a geometric squiggle, is in fact a superimposition of the runes for the letters “H” and “B”, the king’s initials.

Low-cost and with low power consumption, Bluetooth was finally launched in May 1998, using technology allowing computer devices to communicate with each other in short range without fixed cables.

The first consumer device equipped with the technology hit the market in 1999, and its name, which was initially meant to be temporary until something better was devised, became permanent.

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