Just below Fröjel church in the western part of Gotland and close to the ancient coastline, one of the largest and most important trading places on Gotland during the Viking era is to be found. It was well-sheltered from hard winds by the island just beyond and the site was seething with activity over a period of 400 years. Merchants from different countries around the Baltic Sea came here and met local craftsmen and tradesmen.
A cluster of buildings surrounded the harbour with its jetties, and in the small houses the craftsmen produced their wares. Gotlandic men and women could pick and choose among a large number of products. There were imported goods such as wine and salt from southern Europe, precious metals from Arabia and amber from Poland and the Baltic states. In the craftsmen's shops one could buy typical Gotlandic jewellery and those who were wealthy enough could order a gold-plated brooch.The traces and remains from this trading place are both rich and varied. The archaeological excavations at the site are amongst the most extensive that have been carried out on a Viking harbour and trading place on Gotland. But there are still unanswered questions...
Fröjel was first investigated within the project "Harbours and trading places on Gotland AD 600-1000". This project was aimed at identifying and investigating harbours and trading places on Gotland, which before had been poorly researched. Between 1987-1990 excavations were carried out that revealed Fröjel as a large harbour and trading place dating from the 8th to the 12th century AD.
The Fröjel Discovery Programme began in 1998, and was a new type of culture-project, i.e. a project with a comprehensive view on the concept Culture Heritage. The project was intended to scientifically examine the Viking Age harbour at Fröjel, but also to mediate and bring to life the history of the Vikings on Gotland. The project was to a great extent a collaboration between local organisations of varying interests, businessmen and the world of science, with the main interest to develop the district as a place to visit.
The project intended to combine the archaeological research with regional development, so far that a scientific research project would be the base for an investment in the development and the knowledge about the Viking Age in the area, and to be an attraction in the district. The project aims were briefly to:
In other words, the archaeological programme was an integrated part of an extension of the area's visiting-industry. The project was led by Viking Heritage, The Centre for Baltic Studies, in consultation with a project-group with representatives of Gotland University College, the County museum Gotlands Fornsal, Gotland's County Administrative Board and the Gotlandic Municipality, representatives of the home district association and the district development group at Fröjel. Leading and responsible for the project was associate professor Dan Carlsson.
Because the harbour at Fröjel was abandoned already during the 12th century, and the fact that the area is proportionately little exploited, the opportunity of studies about how a harbour of this character develoed is very good. In Visby, there was probably similar course of development, but because of the settlement's continuity, older remains have since been wiped out. Therefore, Fröjel is a perfect place to make detailed studies of the Viking Age harbour and trading and thereby obtaining more insight into the Gotlandic situation during the Viking Age through the Middle Ages.
New excavations can above all provide answers to the extent, direction and organisation of trading on Gotland, and in the Baltic Area generally speaking. For instance, we know very little about the people who were responsible for the trading, the general assumption is that they were active Gotlandic farmers (the regular distribution of silver treasures all over the island give proof of that assumption).
The material from the excavation gives a distinct hint of the extent of the easterly contacts to Gotland and a detailed study of the material from the harbour at Fröjel would in a way improve our knowledge about the relations between different areas around the Baltic Sea during the time in question.
Excavations have been carried out between 1987-1990, and between 1998-2005. In all, some 1500 m2 has been investigated of a total area of about 100.000 m2. In other words, 1.5 % of the total area has been investigated. The excavations were finished with the 2005 field season. For the time being, there is work in process to investigate and publish the large amount of material from our excavations, consisting of some 40,000 objects from houses, workshops, water wells and graves. Some 150 graves in all have been investigated through osteology, DNA analysis and isotoph analysis.
Viking Age female inhumations from Fröjel.
A Viking Age well from the 2001 excavation at Fröjel. Wells often represent an interesting research oppurtunity due to the accumulation of finds and sediment.