“It must be considered exceptional…”

The Irish Times today predicts [subs req] that the Republic of Ireland’s Environment Minister, John Gormley, is expected to make an order putting the Woodstown archaeological site in Co Waterford, unearthed in 2003, on the Record of Monuments and Places under the National Monuments Acts as recommended by the Woodstown working group’s final report on “one of the most important early Viking Age trading centres yet discovered in Ireland.”

It had been speculated that the site was a longphort, or ship stockade, but based on the evidence of some 5,000 Viking artefacts found there, the group concluded that Woodstown was also a major trading site in the late 9th century, occupied largely by Scandinavians.

The range of artefacts, including silver coins, suggested that they were wealthy participants in commercial activities and at least some of them were of high status, “as evidenced by the presence of one of the best-furnished Viking graves ever discovered in Ireland”.

There was “considerable on-site manufacturing activity, including iron, copper alloy, silver, glass and perhaps lead-working, woodworking, ship repair and textile production”. This made it “one of the most productive unwaterlogged sites of early medieval date” found here.

The Irish Times report continues

“Woodstown is the only site of this type in Ireland that has undergone archaeological excavation and the only one anywhere in Ireland or Britain to have produced evidence from occupation levels.

“It must be considered exceptional . . . ,” the group’s final report says. “The extraordinary assemblage of finds promises new insights into economic activity in this period and potentially into the origins of urban settlement in Ireland,” it suggests.

It recommends that all the finds should be displayed at the Waterford Museum of Treasures.

As for protecting the site itself, which is owned in its entirety by Mr Halley, the report says that, with his agreement, it could be acquired by the State or, failing that, taken into the guardianship of either the relevant local authority or the Minister for the Environment.

But they don’t recommend a full-scale archaeological excavation at this time.

However, the group’s final report to the Minister does not recommend a full-scale archaeological excavation of the site in the short to medium term, suggesting this would cost at least €10 million and that there were not enough archaeologists available to do it.

The Irish Examiner reports that

A plan for research at the 1,000-year-old Woodstown site outside Waterford city is to be drawn up, but Minister John Gormley accepted the recommendation of a working group that the area not be fully excavated.

and that

The site, which is privately owned, has been declared a national monument, which requires two months’ notice of proposed works to be given to the minister, but no stronger protections were considered necessary.

The final report doesn’t appear on the Environment Department’s website yet. But we do have the working groups May 2006 interim report [doc file]

As to the Woodstown site’s particular archaeological and historical significance it should be noted that there is a dearth of excavated evidence for Viking landfall sites and early Viking riverbank/shoreline settlements in Ireland. While historical sources abound with references to “Viking”, “longphort” and “dún”, to date no evidence for these settlements has come to light in archaeological excavation. Although the Dublin City excavations have yielded spectacular evidence for tenth and eleventh century occupation, the earliest evidence from extensive excavations in Waterford City dates from the mid-eleventh century. Historical sources refer to Viking bases in Waterford in the ninth and tenth centuries but there is no archaeological evidence to support this. In short, early Viking Age Ireland still represents a major lacuna in our archaeological knowledge. The site at Woodstown represents evidence for this earlier period and seems to contain many diagnostic elements for an early Viking Age riverbank site. As such, it’s significance would seem to reside in its representing the best opportunity which has arisen to date to shed light on this obscure but formative period of Ireland’s past during which many of our towns and cities emerged.

Other research, reported in the Guardian today, indicates that, as well as being responsible for great hoards of silver, the Vikings were extensive traders.

Archaeologists and scientists have revealed that 1,000 years ago cod was traded extraordinary distances across Europe, from the Norwegian Arctic to England and the Baltic.

The research may force yet another revision of the image of the Vikings, from longship ram-raiders, to mainly traders and colonising farmers, to the fishmongers of Europe. Vikings in York were eating cod caught off the Norwegian coast.

Their modern day descendants are still not apologising though.

Of course, “Another great Viking victory was at the Green Midget café in Bromley..”