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Birka

From Academic Kids

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Townsite of Birka
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Archaeological excavation at Birka

Birka Template:Audio , also Birca and Bierkø (today named Björkö, literally "Birch Island"), was an important trading center in the Baltic Sea region from the 8th century, which handled goods from Eastern Europe and the Orient, possibly as far as China, thus covering most of the Viking Age. Björkö is located in the Lake Mälaren, just west of Stockholm, in the municipality of Ekerö in Sweden. Birka and Hovgården is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

Ownership of Björkö, is today mainly in private hands, and used for farming. The settlement site, however is an archaeological site, and a museum has been built nearby for exhibition of finds, models and reconstructions. It is a popular site to visit during the summer times.

Contents

Brief description

The Birca archaeological site, located on Birch Island in Lake Mälaren and occupied in the 9th and 10th centuries, and Hovgården, on the neighbouring island of Adelsö, make up an archaeological complex which illustrates the elaborate trading networks of Viking Age Europe and their influence on the subsequent history of Scandinavia. Birca was also important as the site of the first Christian congregation in Sweden, founded in 831 by Saint Ansgar.

History

Sources are mainly archeological remains. No texts survive from this area, though the written text ?Vita Ansgarii, "The life of Ansgar"? by Rimbert (c. 865) describes the missionary work of Ansgar around 830 at Birca, and another written source by Adam of Bremen describes the archbishop Unni, who died at Birca in 936. Note that the text by Rimbert tells about a palisade area in the water near the entrance of Birch Island, although no archeology findings has confirmed this yet. S:t Ansgars work was the first attempt to convert the inhabitants from heathen living into Christian, and it was unsuccessful.

The archeological remains are located in the north part of Birch Island and span an area of about 7 hectares (17 acres). The remains are both graveyards and buildings, and in the south part of this area, there is also a castle-like building called "Borgen" ("The Castle"). The construction technique of the buildings is still unknown, but the main material was wood. An adjacent island holds the remains of Hovgården, an estate which housed the King's retinue during visits.

Approximately 700 people lived at Birca when it was as largest, and about 3,000 graves have been found. Its administrative center was supposedly located outside of the settlement itself, on the nearby island of Adelsö. According to written sources, the settlement itself was fortified by a wooden palisade and its harbour guarded by pilings driven into the bottom of the lake, limiting the number of ships able to pass into it. However, there is as yet no archaeological evidence of this.

The function or significance as a trading center of the Baltic sea was moved to Sigtuna in the 10th century. Due to the land raising , Birch Island is no longer directly connected to the Baltic Sea as it was before.

The island has been a focus of investigation since the 17th century, with the greatest intensity between 1871-95. A large excavation was performed between 1990-95 in a certain region, the "Black Land", believed to be the site of the main settlement. Birch Island is today mainly agricultural, and shipping lines carry tourists to the island, where a museum showcases a view of life during the Viking era.

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