Archaeologists discovered Viking-era hearths in Tõnismägi

Archaeologists found four Viking-era hearths in the center of Tallinn.
Archaeologists found four Viking-era hearths in the center of Tallinn. Photo: Mihkel Maripuu
  • The recent archaeological find fills a major temporal gap.
  • Such Viking-era antiquities have been never before discovered in Tallinn.
  • The investigated area is becoming more exciting as it expands.

Archaeological excavations carried out on the Pärnu road in Tallinn’s Tõnismägi before the construction of new houses have revealed interesting findings in the last several years, and the ongoing research is no exception.

According to the archaeologists of the private company Arheox, several hearths and other objects have just been found that will help fill a gap in the history of Tallinn. “The current works are the last phase of excavations which began in 2016. We first dug through the area of the Das Haus building complex next door. We continued in 2018–2019 and this year we hope to finish our work in the area of 37 Pärnu Road, the site of the former restaurant Argentina,” said the archaeologist Rivo Bernotas.

He explained that they are currently excavating a very diverse site which contains traces of settlement from the Stone Age to the middle ages. “This year we have been digging up deposits next to the former Kalev sports building which dated back to the 3rd millennium BC and now found remains from the Viking Age belonging to the second half of the 1st millennium. We have found the site of a house dating back from the early metal age, about 500 BC, until the birth of Christ, with an intense cultural layer rich in humus, surrounded by stone-lined post holes. It was obvious that there had been some upright posts. We have found fireplaces, pits and pottery of the period. To get it all we screen through the whole cultural layer,” Bernotas said.

The find tightens up the timeline

According to him, the recent Viking Age find is exciting because the earliest finds in this quarter made so far dated back to the comb ceramic period, approximately the 4th millennium BC, and the traces of settlement traces stretch from that period until the beginning of our era. That is followed by a wide gap and the next findings in this quarter date to the middle ages.

“But now we have discovered the Viking Age hearths, quite unique in the context of Tallinn, which help to tighten up this sparse timeline. The initial dating is roughly the second half of the first millennium. Different experts have viewed and dated the ceramics found here into the period between 700 和 1050 AD. We have also found some charcoal from the fireplaces we dug up, and once we send this coal to the laboratory for more accurate analysis, we could date them with the precision of a hundred or a few hundred years, Bernotas said.

According to archaeologist Keiti Randoja, the absence of findings in the meantime could be explained by the fact that the inhabitants of the area moved elsewhere due to inconvenient natural conditions, climate or the relocation of settlement. “The initial dating based on ceramics is, 当然, relatively vague. It could also be the pre-Viking age but coal dating will certainly specify it,” said Randoja. The four hearths found so far are surprisingly close to each other and archaeologists have found both coarse and fine ceramics. The stones in the soil have probably been in the fire and heated because they are fragile and crumbling. Individual animal bones were also found in the fireplaces.

Building ties between finds

The findings are becoming more interesting in combination with the results of earlier excavations.

“We could clearly see the bottom of a building between the Kalev sports building and the Das Haus complex. This raises the question of what the people did here at that time. We have fireplaces, but no signs of any buildings. Perhaps this was a temporary camp site. Or if there was a part of a broader settlement complex here, it might have been a short-time rest stop,” Bernotas said.

During previous excavations, the archaeologists found a funeral site dating back to 500 到 600 BC, where the discovered jewelry was characteristic of early Volga-Oka Finno-Ugrians. “The ritual nature of this funeral and the absence of traces of intensive activities have led the archaeologists to the idea that it might have been a cult place. Next to the funeral there was a fire with a broken pot. So maybe a sort of funeral wake was held here 2500 几年前,” the archaeologist said.

Individual finds dating back to the Viking Age have been discovered earlier, but such sites like the newly found fireplaces have not been found before in Tallinn.