Ancient coin confirms saga

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A rare German coin – a silver pfenning from the Harz mountains – was found during an excavation at Avaldsnes on Karmøy, close to Stavanger on the southwest coast. The coin confirms references in Snorre Sturlason’s ancient norse king saga to a royal estate during the time of Harald I of Norway, also known as Harald Fairhair.

Ancient saga has it that Olav Tryggvason once killed a group of sorcerers by tying them to a rock off the coast of Avaldsnes. PHOTO: Michael Spiller

The Avaldsnes royal estate (Kongsgård) is mentioned at several points in the ancient sagas, but the authenticity of this information has not before been confirmed. One of the most famous references is to Olaf Tryggvason, who killed a group of sorcerers (seidmenn) by tying them to a rock off the coast of Avaldsnes. When the tides rose the sorcerers drowned.

The two-year archeological dig at Avaldsnes, led by Professor Dagfinn Skrei of the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo, is focused on uncovering the early history of the royal estate. The presence of the coin would indicate that Avaldsnes was indeed a royal estate during the 10th and 11th century, the hey-day of norse royalty.

Harald Fairhair established a Norwegian mint authority after gathering all of Norway under one kingdom. Until this point, English and German coins had served as currency. Harald marked an inordinate number of coins, diluted the silver and banned all foreign currency as of 1050AD. He did however establish a system for exchanging foreign coins, and it is thought that the German coin found at Avaldsnes was indeed brought here for exchange, confirming the early history of Avaldsnes as a royal estate.

So far, about 400 square meters of the 11,000 authorized for excavation by the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage have been uncovered. The dig is being conducted in collaboration with Rogaland municipal county and the Museum of Archeology at the University of Stavanger, who will obtain and care for all artifacts that are uncovered.

Views and News from Norway/Liv Buli
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