Friday, March 30, 2012

Unmatched Heathen Shrine Found

Original article by Cato Guhnfeldt appeared in Aftenposten on December 23, 2011
Translation by Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried for The Norse Mythology Blog
Read the original article (in Norwegian) here
Art and photos © Preben Rønne
Original text © Aftenposten

Unmatched Heathen Shrine Found

Now one of them, in its time deliberately and carefully hidden, is rediscovered – the first of its kind in Norway.

How the temple may have originally looked – with sacrificial altar
on right, pole-building at center and processional road on left

The temple – which last year was identified as a near-complete construction in the city of Ranheim in South Trøndelag, approximately 10 km north of Trondheim – was discovered by accident in connection with plans for construction of homes.

Sacrificed Animal Blood

The pagan sanctuary survived because the last people who used it, over 1,000 years ago, did their utmost to hide the entire system with an unusually thick layer of soil – so thick that plows never reached deep enough to destroy it. There were a few drainage ditches originally dug through the area, but it was not known what lay to the right and left of the trenches.

Temple site visible on left as gray area in field 

“The discovery is unique in a Norwegian context, the first ever made in our latitudes,” says Preben Rønne of the Science Museum at the University of Trondheim, who led the excavations.

The temple may have been built sometime around or after the year 400 CE and thus been used for hundreds of years, until the people emigrated to avoid Christianity’s straitjacket. It consisted of a stone-set sacrificial altar” and also traces of a pole-building that probably housed idols in the form of logs with carved faces of Thor, Odin, Frey and Freya. Deceased relatives of high rank were also portrayed in this way and worshiped. Nearby, by the archaeologists also uncovered a procession route.

Thanks to the soil, the temple was very well-preserved. The altar where the gods were worshiped – including through animal sacrifice – consisted of a circular stone setting around 15 meters in diameter and nearly a meter high. The pole-building a few meters away was rectangular, had a 5.3-by-4.5 meter floor plan, and was erected with 12 pillars – each having a strong stone foundation. It may have been a tall building, and the findings made very clear that it was not used as a dwelling. Among other things, it had no fireplace. Inside the building were found traces of four pillars that may be evidence of a high seat where the idols stood between ceremonies. A processional road west of the temple – and headed straight towards the pole-building – was marked with two parallel rows of large stones, the longest series at least 25 feet long.

Strange Burial Mound

When archaeologists began excavation work last year, the site was thought at first to be a flat burial mound with a main grave and one or more secondary graves.

“But as we dug, the stone cairn appeared more and more peculiar,” says Rønne.

“Approximately in the middle of the excavation, we had to admit that it was not a burial mound, but a sacrificial altar – in the Norse sources called a horg. It was made up of both round domed rocks and stone slabs. During the work, we found two glass beads – and also some burned bones and traces of a wooden box that had been filled with red-brown sand/gravel and a broken cooking stone. Among the bones, we found part of a skull and several human teeth. However, we found no gold old men – small human figures of thin gold – which were often used in connection with sacrifices.”

Glass beads found on top of sacrificial altar during excavation 

The most recent dating of the temple is from between 895 CE and 990 CE. Precisely in this period, Christianity was introduced by heavy-handed methods in Norway. This meant that many left the country to retain their original faith.

“Probably the people who used the temple were among those who chose to emigrate, either to Iceland or other North Atlantic islands,” said Rønne. “Posts from the pole-building were, in fact, pulled up and removed. The whole ‘altar’ was carefully covered with earth and clay precisely during the transition to Christian times. Therefore, the cult site was completely forgotten.”

Unique in Norway

Large pre-Christian cult sites in Scandinavia – often large settlements with a large central hall and a smaller attached building – have not been found in Norway. However, they have been found in Central and Southern Sweden (Skåne), and also in eastern Denmark.

“Under the sacrificial altar, we found a fire pit that actually lay directly on the prehistoric plow-layer. The charcoal from this tomb is now dated to 500-400 BCE. Thus, the site may have been regarded as sacred – or at least had a special status – long before the stone altar was built. In the prehistoric plow-layer under the fire pit, we could clearly see the traces of plowing with a plow or plow-precursor,” said Rønne.

The temple site before excavation, in the shape of a circular stone setting
with an opening in the middle of the cleared area. Embankments behind
show the thick layers of soil that were once laid over the temple to hide it.

According to Rønne, the find was easy to interpret as a temple from Norse sources. It was also from precisely the Trøndelag area that the largest exodus of people who wanted to retain their freedom – and not become Christians – took place. A large part of them went to Iceland between between 870 CE and 930 CE – i.e., during Harald Fairhair’s time. In all, 40 people from Trøndelag are specifically mentioned in the Norse sources. In Iceland, their descendants later wrote a large part of these sources.

“Indications are that the people who deliberately covered up the temple in Ranheim took the posts from the pole-building – in addition to soil from the altar – to the place where they settled down and raised a new temple. Because our findings and the Norse sources work well together, the sources may be more reliable than many scientists believed,” said Rønne.

Now the unique Ranheim shrine will be removed forever to make way for housing. Not all agree.

“The facility will be a great tourist attraction, if it is simultaneously disclosed what happened on the site. It is unique in Norway, says civil engineer Arvid Ystad, who has – on private initiative – applied to both the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and the Society for the Preservation Norwegian Ancient Monuments for site conservation.

“The location of the homes could easily be adapted to this unique cultural heritage, without anyone losing their residential lots. It could have been an attraction for new residents and tell them much about the history of the site from over 1,000 years ago. Unfortunately, housing construction is now underway,” said Rønne.


Jax Garren said...

Wow! Thanks for translating and posting this. Fascinating. And so sad that they're proceeding with the housing development as planned.

~Jax G (of The Pagan Princesses)

Raven Radio said...

It was a great find, as I said on our show a couple of weeks ago perhaps the greatest find of our time. To bad the pursuit of gold and wealth over rides the investigation of our history. At least the retrieved the artifacts and hopefully will recreate it in all its former glory.

Chuck Hudson
Raven Radio

raevan said...

I'm at a loss for good these people destroy something so wondrous If it had a cross, they would save it anthey would save it and pimp it out.

Anonymous said...

Any news on the efforts to halt construction and preserve the site? They should have used social media to really get the word out, especially in English speaking countries where many tourist and their vacation money originate from.

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried said...

If anyone has found any new reports or updates about the situation in Norway, please let me know through The Norse Mythology Blog's contact page.

Unknown said...

1000yrs ago they put so much effort in it to hide it for the aggresive christians of that era. That the christians learn anything over the last 1000years. Now is the time to prove it. Please save oure sacred sites. We are connected with our ancestors. I would love to get a tiny piece of charcoal and start up a sacred fire again and share it with all. May peace prevail on earth. Philip 'Aswind' van der Zee.

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