King Eystein built a large ship at Nidaros, which, in size and
shape, was like the Long Serpent which King Olaf Trygvason had
built. At the stem there was a dragon's head, and at the stern a
crooked tail, and both were gilded over. The ship was high-
sided; but the fore and aft parts appeared less than they should
be. He also made in Nidaros many and large nausts of the best
material, and well timbered.
The quoted passage from Snorre, referring to buildings erected by king Øystein in the city of Trondheim in the year 1123, draws attention to a very special aspect of maritime Norwegian culture, i.e. huge urban boathouses (nausts) built under the auspices of kings and used to shelter ships (Saga of Sigurd the Crusader and His Brothers Eystein and Olaf, ch. 27). Besides the boathouses in Trondheim, another similar case is reported from Bergen: the well-known, very impressive 45 x 30 m boat house used as a banquetting hall during the coronation ceremony of Hakon Hakonsson in 1247 (Saga of Hakon Hakonsson, ch. 248-252).
These royal buildings in Bergen and Trondheim were used for protecting precious ships against negative effects on the vessel’s manouvreability by exposing it unused to water or to sun for a longer period (pers. communication J. Bill, Roskilde). In addition, such houses served as obvious status symbols, as indicated in the mentioned saga texts. Nausts like these, i.e. oblong buildings for one ship facing the sea with one short side, are a phenomenon known from most of Scandinavia and the North Atlantic area, but Norway has an unrivalled position when it comes to the number of known structures as well as the continuing importance of these buildings well into modern times.
In an European perspective, Greek/Roman sheds for keeping war vessels are the other major source material of this kind. The earliest known Greek specimens belong to the 5th century BC, and based on written testimonies and archaeological surveys sheds were once found from Southern France (Marseille) to Tunisia (Carthage) and Israel (Dor). At some places, as many as 220 and 160 sheds (Carthage and Syracuse respectively) were constructed as state-sponsored enterprises reflecting a highly sophisticated and centralised naval organisation (BLACKMANN 1982; 1995). Roman boathouses, as they are known from written sources and on coins, were found in comparable contexts, but the interpretation of the buildings in the Roman fortifications at Velsen (Netherlands) and Haltern (Germany), dated to the first century BC/AD will have to be critically re-examined (MOREL 1986; 1987; RANKOV in print).
Sheds were used in other European countries, too. In 13th century England, King John’s fleet was subdivided into four units kept in massive stone shelters at Portsmouth, Southampton, Shoreham, Rye and Winchelsea (HUTCHINSON 1994, 150). At a much later date, royal Danish cannon-boats of the early 19th century stood in light wooden shelters in Copenhagen. The remains of these buildings are today protected monuments (pers. communication J. Bill, Roskilde). There are some evidence for the existence of sheds in Northern Germany
(i.e. written testimonies from the 8th and 12th centuries AD) and the Slavonic area
(i.e. archaeological observations at the trading site of Ralswiek from the late 8th to 10th centuries), but so far there is no real basis for reconstructing the way in which vessels were sheltered (SCHNALL 1978; HERRMANN 1997). Except in the above-mentioned cases, boathouses are more of an exception than a general phenomenon in Europe; outside Europe, sheds are known in parts of the Pacific, and the canoos kept in there were used for commerce and war (CHRISTENSEN 1977, 119).
This paper is partly based on the earlier studies by the authors, but enriched by several case studies. It intends to describe the status and further perspectives of boathouse research in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic (most recently GRIMM 2002; unpublished; STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003a). In the following, large nausts – structures with a minimum internal length of 18 m, giving a minimum length of 15 m for the sheltered vessel – is he focus, whereas the much more widespread ordinary shelters for fishing boats are disregarded. The width of a boathouses relates to its entrance area, i.e. the side of the structure facing the beach. The paper uses the Norwegian Iron Age terminology, i.e. Pre-Roman Iron Age (c. BC 500- BC 1), early Iron Age (Roman and Migration period: c. 1-575 AD) and late Iron Age (Merovingian and Viking period: c. 575-1050 AD).
GENERAL REMARKS ON NAUST RESEARCH IN NORTHERN
EUROPE AND THE NORTH ATLANTIC
Archaeological surveys, several mentionings in the saga literature and other Medieval written sources, toponymical indicators and not least the continuing sheltering practice underline Norway´s outstanding source situation (ROLFSEN 1974; MOLAUG 1985, 217-230; MYHRE 1985; STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003a). Altogether, at least 800 premodern sites have been recorded, mainly at the southwestern and northern coast of the country. Among these are as many as c. 300 large structures dating from the first centuries AD until c. 1500 (GRIMM 2002, 105f.). In contrast, the number of large structures known from the rest of North Europe is much more limited: Research in Sweden – both archaeological and toponymical – points to something like 20 large buildings (WESTERDAHL 1989, 252-256; 2002, 177-179), and there are only very few observations in Denmark (BILL/GRIMM 2002a;b) and Finland (ANDERSSON 1967; VILKUNA 1975).
The numerous Norwegian sites in Norway may have a minor counterpart in Iceland. Many remains of former sheds at the coast, the numerous saga references and the existence of a number of large structures mainly belonging to the 18th century, but probably with older predecessors, indicate a widespread use of shelters in the Viking Age and/or Medieval times, and the practice still exists in Iceland. Unfortunately, this promising source material has not been systematically explored so far (ELDJARN 1967; KRISTJÁNSSON 1983, 83-89). When it comes to large structures, the Orkneys hold a special position in the North Atlantic: by exploiting place name evidence, seven such shelters can be identified, and, furthermore, the slipway known from the earl’s seat at Brough of Birsay may point to a as yet undiscovered naust further ashore (CRAWFORD 1987, 155-158; SANDNES 1996, 67, 163f.; RIDÉL in print). Only two more large structures are known from the North Atlantic: one in the Faroe Islands and one in Greenland (BRUUN 1906, 61; RIECK 2001). The nausts in the Norse settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, are rather modest structures (CHRISTENSEN 1977).
Generally speaking, the nausts belong to the Viking Age or Medieval times (ROLFSEN 1974, 12f.; GRIMM 2002; 105f.). Norway is the only country where the sheltering practice dates back to the first centuries AD, and remarkably, houses with an internal length upwards to 35 m are amongst the earliest known structures. The numerous depictions of ships on rock carvings from the Bronze Age may allude to a higher age of this practice – at least it indicates that vessels of considerable size were known at this early date, and the rough conditions along the Norwegian coast from the southwest to the north must have made the need of some kind of sheltering rather accute (CHRISTENSEN 1989, 47-50; KAUL 2003, 221-223).
By reference to saga literature, two constructional solutions can be distinguished: the massive house (old Norse: naust) and the light shelter (old Norse: hróf), each with subtypes (FALK 1912; SCHNALL 1978). The nausts are mainly known from Norway, whereas the lighter structures are recorded in the other Scandinavian countries as well as in the North Atlantic. As for the latter area, it is important to keep in mind that if sheds only consisted of insignificant outer earthen walls, it would be difficult to identify them in the landscape today. The small number of known structures outside of Norway may actually be caused by different building traditions. In addition, the erosion in the North Atlantic, known to have destroyed several Norse settlement sites, causes serious problems for this kind of research (BOWMAN 1990).
Keeping the somewhat difficult source situation in mind, it is evident that the Norwegian case has an unique position. The large sites in other countries have been studied only to some extent but it is noteworthy that several of them belong to royal or magnate’s farms, for example Herjolfsnæs in Greenland, Harrevig in Denmark and Adelsö in Sweden (BRUNSTEDT 1996, 31-35; RIECK 2001; BILL/GRIMM 2002a; 2002b). New surveys in Adelsö and Birka nearby have recently proved that large, substantial structures are to be expected in the latter area, as well (WÅHLANDER 2000). As to the supposed boathouses in Lolland (Denmark) and Helgö (Sweden) erned, one should assume a somewhat sceptical approach (ARRHENIUS 1987, GRØNNEGAARD 2003).
STATUS OF NORWEGIAN NAUST RESEARCH
Prehistoric and Medieval nausts were noticed by Norwegian scholars as early as in the late 18th century, but uncertainty as to their interpretation prevailed until the 1950s (ROLFSEN 1974, 14-17). The first thorough excavations using modern field techniques were carried out from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, and the striking features discovered, for example in Stend, Fana (Hordaland), made clear some central aspects of this kind of monuments (HINSCH 1960; ROLFSEN 1974; MYHRE 1977; GRIMM 1999). Up to the present day, c. 50 boathouses have been archaeologically investigated in Norway, and almost half of them are of the large type with a minimum internal length of 18 m (GRIMM 2001, 56). For a long time, research was dominated by SW Norwegian scholars, but in the last two decades promising studies have been carried out in other parts of the country, too (ROLFSEN 1992; NILSEN 1996a; 1996b; NILSEN 1998; JOHANSEN 2002).
Nausts were oblong buildings facing the beach with a gable side, and most often used for sheltering one vessel only. They have to be considered three-component buildings, consisting of the landing place (norw. stø), the slipway (norw. opptrekk) – usually with timber flooring to facilitate the vessel’s transport – and the house itself (norw. naust), maybe with timber flooring, too (ROLFSEN 1974, 11, 20-24).
Archaeological investigations have revealed different types of house-like features that to a large degree must be attributed to local building traditions or to building materials at hand in the area in question (MYHRE 1985, 38). Usually, the excavated boathouses show only a thin or sometimes no real cultural layer, and artefact finds are few, often consisting of pottery, tools and nails. In a very limited number of shelters, abundant pottery material was found, and in others cultural layers up to 30 cm thick indicate an intensive use for sheltering and other purposes (ROLFSEN 1974; GRIMM unpublished). The Iron Age boathouses in the Southwest belong almost exclusively to the 2nd - 6th centuries AD, whereas the ones in Northern Norway often can be dated to the Viking Age. This is probably due either to a lack of research or from different building traditions, i.e. types of constructions leaving no traces on the surface later on.
According to the present state of research, the buildings were long (20-40 m) but comparatively narrow (3-7 m) up to an including the Viking Age, but in Medieval times sites in SW Norway grew considerably broader – up to 15 m (MYHRE 1985; NILSEN 1996a, 95-97). However, recent research in Inderøy, Trøndelag (middle Norway) indicates a number of very big investigated boathouses – i.e. with an inner length up to 40 m and a width at the entrance of 8-12 m – date back to the Migration period (JOHANSEN 2002). If we keep the contemporary long but narrow vessels in mind (see below), these sites must have been used for keeping two ships or for sheltering one vessel as well as serving some additional purpose(s).
Since no direct dating is available for the vast majority of the known structures, the sites’ location relative to the former sea level has been exploited with good results for a rough dating in SW and N Norway (ROLFSEN 1974, 105-122; MYHRE 1985, 39-49; NILSEN 1996b). In parts of Western Norway, for example, boathouses of the early Iron Age are situated at least 2,5 m above today’s sea level, those of the Viking Age 2-2,5 m, and the Medieval ones much less than 2 m. The question of how exposed to weather conditions a house might have been is very important to consider when using this dating method: a shed in a sheltered bay would have been much closer to the water than at the outer coast (ROLFSEN 1974, 105-122; NILSEN 1996b).
In 1985, a programmatic article by the archaeologist B. Myhre for SW Norway stressed the social component of the large boathouses (MYHRE 1985; 1997). His approach was based on two elements: first, the considerable resources deemed necessary to man a ship and, then, the distribution pattern of such sites. It has been argued that the groups of large buildings of 3rd – 6th century date reflect a centralised maritime organisation connected with regional chiefdoms, whereas the isolated Medieval specimens are regarded as indicating a decentralised maritime organisation, i.e. the royal levy (leidang) system. This royal naval defence was characterised by the nationwide division into units (so-called skipreider) supposed to contribute a fully-equipped ship to the fleet (BULL 1920; ERSLAND, 41-62; 122-141). As demonstrated by recent research, Myhre´s arguments seem to be relevant for other parts of Norway, as well, but his interpretations are in need of some modification (GRIMM 2002; unpublished).
Shelters of the Iron Age seem to belong to two different levels of society. The single shed from Stend in Fana is found in a context – some contemporary burials with weapons and foreign goods; another large boathouses site a few km away – reflecting a minor central farm. In contrast, whole groups of these structures are, as a rule, found at the most prominent farms of the time, as can be demonstrated by four large Viking Age boathouses with a minimum length of 20 m at Steigen on Engeløya, Nordland, Northern Norway (MOLTU 1988, 135f.; BJARTMANN BJERCK 1993, 18). Saga literature and prominent archaological monuments (a court site, i.e. a gathering place used by retinues and other groups) indicate a Viking Age chieftain’s seat on this fertile island in a strategic position on the ’northern way’ close to the Vestfjord feared by seafarers (MOLTU 1983; MOLTU 1988; BJARTMANN BJERCK 1993). Furthermore, there are outstanding archaeological finds and sites from the Roman and Migration periods on the northwestern part of the island (another court site, two richly furnished burials, and a large burial mound), as well as several others, but as yet undated, large mounds. The continuing importance of Steigen in the Medieval period is indicated by an early Romanesque stone church on this part of the island and the function as skipreide centre within the leidang organisation (BRATREIN 1984).
The Medieval nausts are associated with two differnet social levels, as well. The aforementioned buildings in Trondheim and Bergen belong to the royal, urban type. Taking into consideration the written sources reporting major royal and maybe episcopal buildings in Trondheim, a description of a site long destroyed and the fact that Norwegian cities had to contribute 5-6 ships to the leidang fleet, there is every reason to suggest that Trondheim – and other Norwegian cities – had a number of large boathouses (Saga of Sigurd the Crusader and His Brothers Eystein and Olaf; ’Town law’of Magnus Lagabøte, VI, 3; SCHØNING 1910, 217; HELLE 1974, 191). In contrast, singular Medieval sites, like the large stone shed in Kinsarvik (c. 30 x 16 m) at a strategic position in the inner Hardangerfjord in Western Norway, are always found at central, non-urban farms. In the Middle Ages, Kinsarvik is well-known for its comparatively large early Romanesque stone church, probably replacing an older wooden church in the area, the market site in front of the church and its function as skipreide centre (BAKKA 1963, 214-220). It has been suggested that an opening in the church roof indicates that the church was once used for the storage of ships’ sails, as reported in Medieval laws on the leidang (CHRISTIE 1986).
For discussing functional aspects of boathouses, the type of vessels sheltered must be considered first. After several decades of maritime archaeological studies promoted by Danish scholars and institutions, but enriched by Norwegian and Swedish contributions, this scientific branch is vibrant and well established in Northern Europe today (for example CHRISTENSEN 1989; CRUMLIN PEDERSEN 1997; 1999; WESTERDAHL 1985; 2002). So far, c. 45 Northern European ships belonging to the period from AD 200 – 1200 have been salvaged, in most cases they are sunken vessels or wrecks used in sea barrages from the late Viking Age or early Medieval time. The preserved Nydam ship of the 4th century from a North German bog offering site (c. 23 x 3 m), the Gokstad and Oseberg vessels from East Norwegian royal graves of the late Viking Age (c. 22/20 x 5 m) and fragments of a really huge vessel excavated during the Bryggen-excavation in Bergen and dendrodated to AD 1188 (c. 30 x 9 m) are among the most prominent finds (CHRISTENSEN 1989, 57-61; ENGLERT 2001; RIECK 2003).
Long but narrow ships resembling the rowed Nydam vessel were the only type until sailing ships up to 5 m wide came into being in the early Viking Age or probably earlier (in the following CRUMLIN PEDERSEN 1997; 1999; BILL 2002). All these vessels could be used for the transport of crews for civilian or military purposes, and perhaps for carrying some cargo, too. The earliest specialised cargo ships – sailing vessels for small crews up to 5 m wide – are dated to the second half of the 10th century, as evidenced by a series of new radiocarbon datings. In the Middle Ages the aforementioned types of sailing ships used for transporting crews and cargo continued to exist, the first ones as leidang ships, but the trend from the 12th century was towards extended vessels climaxed in the enormous Bryggen-type serving as cargo and probably royal ship.
With reference to these vessel types, sheds were used only for crew transport ships ships until the emergence of specialised cargo vessels in the 10th century. The long, broad and massive buildings of the Middle Ages, like the one in Kinsarvik (c. 30 x 16 m), usually considered as leidang boathouses cannot be directly associated with the long and narrow vessels, which according to the written sources were used in the royal naval defense (CHRISTENSEN 1989, 80). These buildings were most likely used for two vessels, or for other purposes, as well.
The boathouses should be considered ’multifunctional’ (GRIMM 2002, 109). They served for sheltering ships with a military or mercantile potential, as a working place, as storage room for maritime equipment and, perhaps, trading goods and, finally, temporary banquetting hall. These observations may be relevant to all kinds of large sheds in the North Europe and the North Atlantic. In a wider chronological frame, the ships sheltered in Norwegian nausts were used for the transport of crews to meetings, for military confrontations and raids from the Roman period onwards, as leidang vessels in the Middle Ages, in connection with the Norse expansion into the North Atlantic and for trading purposes (MYHRE 1997; GRIMM 2002).
FURTHER PERSPECTIVES FOR NAUST RESEARCH
There is still a need for carrying out more investigations in order to clarify some constructional questions. Secondly, as noticed above for Trøndelag (Norway) and Adelsö (Sweden), surveying might still result in the discovery of major sites. Thirdly, factual or supposed boathouse sites can be evaluated in full-scale by an interdisciplinary approach using topographical, written, toponymical, oral and, if existing, archaeological source materials. This way of working was pioneered as early as 1917 by the Norwegian historian E. Bull (BULL 1917). While discussing the massive stone boathouse of Medieval type in Hamn, Kvam (Hordaland) in Western Norway, he drew attention to place-names (a skipreide-denotation close by) and written sources (the mentioning of Hamn skipreide in the leidang system). His argument that the building served as a leidang boathouse can be substantiated by local oral tradition stating that the wood from this very area was used to build and repair leidang ships (CHRISTENSEN 1989, 86).
Some perspectives for further research can be demonstrated by means of some case-studies from Southeastern Norway and the Orkneys, i.e. areas where our knowledge about the sheltering practice is rather limited. Place-names indicating large shelters and farms of social importance will play a key role. It is owing to Swedish and Danish scholars that toponymical sources were exploited systematically and successfully in recent years in order to approach these aspects (for example WESTERDAHL 1989; HOLMBERG 1991; HOLMBERG/SKAMBY MADSEN 1997/1998; BRINK 1999; WESTERDAHL 2002). However, questions like these have been dealt with by Norwegian scholars too (for example OLSEN 1926; GRIEG 1969).
Several kinds of maritime place-names are of interest for the present study. Vessels’ names ending in –naust, -hus, -toft (i.e. -boathouse, -house, -house ruin) known from the Orkneys refer directly to boathouse sites whereas the Norwegian or Orkney ones ending in
–stø/stad (i.e. landing place) may be indirect indicators for such buildings. A much larger body of Norwegian vessels’ names have topographical endings like –dal, -vik, –hammer or
–bakken (i.e. valley, bay, rock or hill) but since they are often found at suitable harbour sites, sometimes with boathouses on location, they may be indicative, too. Finally, place-names containing the element ’lad-’ (i.e. load, v.) are worth considering since they allude to harbours which perhaps had some sort of trading functions (GRIEG 1969). Considering the large number of such place-names, they probably cover a large time span and not only the Viking Age, as once presumed (STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003a, 106f.).
Case-study 1: Spangereid, Lindesnes,Vest-Agder (Southern Norway)
The boathouses in Spangereid played a vital role in early research on Norwegian land rising of the 18th/19th century because scholars pointed to the fact that the ruins’ position in relation to the recent water level could give an idea about the rising in rather recent times (in the following: STYLEGAR 1999, 138-146; STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003a; 2003b). A survey of surviving sheds in the 1970s as well as the collecting of local informations about sites destroyed in the 20th century indicate that there were c. 25 sheds, mainly belonging to the late Roman and Migration periods and mostly found rather close to the beach at Kjerkevågen, among them seven large sites, i.e. the second biggest concentration of that kind in Norway. Surveying in Spangereid in 2001 revealed another, highly impressive house ground. This site of at least 30 x 14 m partly destroyed by a modern road ought to be dated to the Middle Ages because of its proximity to the sea.
A systematic search for maritime place-names unveiled two snekke-denotations, i.e. a name type of late Viking or Medieval date for war ships (compare MALMROS 1985, 94-107; HOLMBERG/SKAMBY MADSEN 1997/1998). One of the names, Snekkestø, is found at the site of the Medieval boathouse just mentioned.
An archaeological evaluation of the area using old reports and new discoveries revealed a central farm of the late Roman and Migration period including c. 15 socially outstanding grave monuments (judging from their furnishings or size/monumentality), a possible court site (i.e. a type of monument probably having served as gathering place for retinues and other groups), a landing place, three hill forts, one of them close to five of the large boathouses, a c. 250 m long canal tentatively dated to the Late Roman/Migration period, and a hall building that may have been in use from the 4th century AD onwards. As can be shown by some remarkable finds of the Viking Age, among them two richly furnished boat graves and a treasure find, an Early Romanesque stone church from the 12th century and the mentioned Medieval boathouse, the area had some importance in the following periods, as well.
An interpretation of Spangereid in a maritime perspective could take its point of departure in the concentration of seven large boathouses of the late Roman and Migration periods. Their military component is reflected by the position of some of them close to a hill fort and by the court site. If only some of the sheds were in use at the same time, a considerable number of men were needed to man the ships. The area’s central role must be connected to its central position close to the southernmost cape of Lindesnes, always feared by sailors as a dangerous point of passage. A person controlling Spangereid was in a position to control seafaring in Southern Norway at a very strategic position, and the canal, one of the very few premodern ones in Scandinavia and in fact the oldest so far, might have facilitated the (naval) transport to an inner route using the inner fjord system instead of the dangerous passage (STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003b). The Medieval boathouse that according to the place-name was used for sheltering a war ship is situated close to an early Romanesque stone church, but in contrast to Kinsarvik and many other sites of this kind no direct link to the leidang system can be reconstructed by using the written sources. However, the skipreider in Vest-Agder as they are known from late Medieval written sources, are probably of a rather late date, and have been placed on top of older, judicial districts of a type similar to the South Scandinavian herreder in the Oslofjord region (INDREBØ 1935). For that reason, Spangereid may once have had a function in the royal levy organisation.
Case-study 2: Kristiansand, Vest-Agder (Southern Norway)
Here, in an area that to a large extent is occupied by the modern city of Kristiansand, no substantial boathouse sites are known from premodern times, but maritime place-names indicate harbours close to central farms. In all these instances, any visible remains of shelters would have been removed either by ploughing, later harbour installations, or modern construction works.
The district immediately to the west of the city of Kristiansand (i.e. the former municipalities of Tveit and Randesund) was in late medieval times the judicial district known as Ve skipreide or Ve tingstod. The central Ve farm, probably with a Medieval chapel, is located near the estuary of the river Topdal, and thus close to the Topdalfjord. At Ve the place-name Skibereid (or Skibereis) may allude to a gathering place within the skipreide or perhaps to a leidang boathouse (BULL 1920:133, note 1). Indeed, according to local tradition, Skibereis was the place where people in the old days used to pull vessels ashore and shed them for the winter. Another sheltering site may be indicated by the farm-name Knarestad (called Knarestø in one source from the mid-17th century), a term denoting a landing place for a cargo or war ship (compare MALMROS 1985, 94-107).
In Kristiansand, more names of maritime importance are found, foremost two Snekkedalen-terms situated at separate small valleys in Randesund, both of them leading towards good natural harbours (STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003a, 91-93). Although the two valleys named Snekkedalen are found at separate places in Randesund, both are in the vicinity of the same central farm complex, i.e. Strømme-Timenes, the old Strømsnes. Incidentally, a third Snekkedalen leads down to another central farm complex (Mosby-Augland-Stray) further west in Kristiansand.
At Oddernes, a central farm of Iron Age and Medieval date can be reconstructed by using different kinds of source materials (STYLEGAR in print). In the Roman Iron Age, a court site is the most striking archaeological feature, and for the following periods, the area is particularly well-known for its late Viking Age runestone with one inscription dating to the 10th and one to the early 11th century. The stone stood in the graveyard next to the church until recently, when it was moved inside the building. The younger inscription commemorates a certain Eyvindr, a godson of Olav the saint, who probably initiated the first church building at Oddernes. A natural harbour site at Topdalsfjord going by the name of Narviga, i.e. Knarrevika, may point towards central maritime functions in the Viking Age or in Medieval times but considering Oddernes’ importance in the predating era, harbours in this area probably have a higher age.
Case-study 3: Mandal, Vest-Agder (southern Norway)
Close to the modern town of Mandal, archaeological surveys and maritime place-names seem to indicate farms and harbours of social importance. Once again, no substantial boathouse sites have been recorded, but maybe some of the place-names are indicative, for example the term Skipstø (Skip(a)stoð) in the fjord system, i.e. Skogsfjord and Bankefjord, immediately to the west of the modern town of Mandal (see above; compare HOVDA 1961, 108).
Another term of that kind, Skibstadvold, at Skogsfjord, Mandal, is found in an area heavily developed today (STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003a, 102). There are several good harbour facilities in the area, and a number of big, important farms. Skibstadvold lies between two of them – Skogsfjord on the northern side of the fjord, and Sånum, located between Skogsfjord (the fjord, not the farm) and Bankefjord. Sånum was royal land, as was Skogsfjord. The latter was actually two different farms as far back as the sources can tell, and there is considerable distance (c. 2 km) between Austre and Vestre Skogsfjord. However, there is every reason to believe that these two farms at one point were regarded as a unit, and most likely a local estate. A rich male burial from the Viking Age is known from Vestre Skogsfjord, and at Sånum are the remains of what was once a big mound cemetery, and there was a church on the farm in Medieval times. Both Sånum and Skogsfjord might have been chieftain’s estates confiscated by the royal power at one point in the late Viking period or early Middle Ages.
Apart from Skibstadvold, there are a number of other place-names indicating major maritime activity in the area (STYLEGAR/GRIMM 2003a). Knardal and Knarbakken might point towards another harbour or landing place, while a complex of names with hlað- as one element (Lafjellet, Lavollan, Lavollen, and Lakjerret) seem to indicate an early landing place of some sort (GRIEG 1969).
Case-study 4: Brunlanes, Vestfold (southeastern Norway)
The boathouse at Hvåle store at the inner end of Hummerbakkfjord, Larvik (c. 24 x 7 m) is the only structure of its kind in Vestfold on the western side of the Oslofjord (ROLFSEN 1974, 29). Hummerbakkfjord is an excellent natural harbour in the district of Brunlanes, known from saga sources as a dangerous point of passage for seafarers.
It is tempting to link the medieval manor Manvik with the boathouse at Hummerbakkfjord, and in fact Manvik might have been the old name of the Fjord. The farm was the home of a certain Lodin of Manvik, described in Sverris saga as a powerful chieftain belonging to the civil war baglar party in the late 12th century. Later, some of Norway’s most powerful families owned Manvik before it was transferred to King Christian 4., in 1599 (BERG 1911).
Both archeological and toponymical sources underline the great importance of the area in the Iron Age and later. There are a number of richly furnished grave finds, especially from the Roman and Migration periods, as well as the big cairn cemetery at Mølen, that probably dates to the Late Iron Age. Between Manvik and Hummerbakkfjord we find the Berg farm with its Romanesque stone church of the 12th century. Several farm-names in the vicinity are of types known from central settlement complexes in other parts of Eastern Norway: Gusland, Lyhus, Holgjum, Haugene, and Lund, to name but a few.
Case-study 5: Papa Westray on the Orkney islands
Only a very limited number of Norse sheds is known from the Orkney islands in general and Papa Westray in particular, a fact to be attributed to erosion (for example BOWMAN 1990; HUNTER 1992; KALAND 1995). However, place-names indicate that there once were substantial structures on the latter island. At the beach, there is a spot called Skennist. Probably this name is Old Norse skeiða-naust, i.e. a place where war ships were laid up for the winter (MALMROS 1985, 94-107; MARWICK 1995, 94). At Skennist there is a row of seven (rather modern) boathouses. Another place name, Nouster, might indicate pre-modern boathouses, and for Norwegian respects, the few uncompounded names of this kind (naustr) are often found at major farms (HALLAN 1978). The place-name Laws Point – denoting a site that was formerly a landing rock – is possibly ON hlað-hamarr or hlað-berg (MARWICK 1995, 92).
The name Papey itself suggests a pre-Norse religious presence. The sanctity of Papa probably continued well into Norse times. Rognvald, the Orkney earl, was buried somewhere on this island in 1046 (Orkneyinga Saga, cap. 30). At that date, Papey was the most sacred spot in the North Isles (MARWICK 1995, 88). According to the early rentals, from c. 1500, more than half of the land at that time belonged to king or earl.
There are two farms on the island called respectively Backaskaill i.e. bakka-skáli, ‘the hall at the banks’, and Breckaskaill, brekku-skáli, ‘the hall on the slope’ (MARWICK 1995, 94). The place-name element ‘skaill’ is a rather common one in Orkney. A regular feature of these denotations seems to be their close association with church sites. The name ‘skaill’ is Old Norse skáli, and in this context it probably refers to an Early Medieval hall building (compare STYLEGAR 2004).
It is possible to come to rather solid conclusions about the archaeology, context and function of large premodern boathouses in Norway, although there are open questions, for example with regards to the complex of elements belonging to such sites, the apparent absence of sheds for certain periods and the dating and construction of Medieval boathouses like the one in Kinsarvik. To some extent, the observations seem transferrable to Northern Europe and the North Atlantic, i.e. areas where the number of discoveries is rather small and additonal source materials is comparatively limited. The interdisciplinary full-scale evaluation of factual or presumed boathouse sites will help to elucidate their contexts. There can be no doubt that large sheds were situated at central, sometimes royal farms.
In a wider geographic sense, Iceland and the Mediterranean seem to be areas having the same kind of research potential as Norway. At the moment, a three-years-project on ship sheds in the Mediterranean is carried out at the University in London (pers. communication B. Rankov, London). After being finished, it will be possible to make cross-cultural analyses including the Norwegian source material. Unfortunately, Iceland still seems to be rather unexplored when it comes to boathouses.
By Oliver Grimm and Frans-Arne Stylegar
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