JORVIK – THE LOST VIKING CAPITAL
A thousand years- ago, York was one of the largest, richest and most famous cities in the whole of Britain. In the 10th century, it was described as being packed with a huge population, and traders from all parts, especially Danes. People called it Jorvik, and knew it as the capital of the North of England, and one of Europe’s greatest trading ports.
It owed its prosperity to the hard work of Viking settlers from Scandinavia, who had captured it in 866. Most of the city’s buildings were made of wood, and have long since been demolished, or have burnt down or rotted away. In some parts of modern York, however, near the rivers of Ouse and Foss, which run through the centre of the city, archaeologists have found that remains of Jorvik do still survive.
They are buried deep below the streets and buildings of the 20th century city. Here the damp soils have preserved the wooden buildings. Whole streets of houses, shops and workshops are found although not in very good condition. All the rubbish left by the people of Jorvik in and around their homes is still there as well. Between 1976 and 1981, archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust dug up a part of this lost and forgotten city and found four rows of buildings.
Some of the remains were so well preserved – even down to boots and shoes, pins and needles, plants and insects – that every aspect of life at the time could be reconstructed. The York Archaeological Trust decided to convert the place into a museum and try to tell the story of Jorvik as it was a thousand years ago. To do so, it built the Jorvik Viking Centre in the huge hole created by the archaeologists.
Two of the rows of buildings were reconstructed as we think they were. A further two were preserved just as the archaeological team discovered them, the ancient beams set out as they were found in the late 1970’s, deep below the new shopping centre, where they have lain for centuries. In the Jorvik Viking Centre, people from the 20th century journey back in time to the 10th century in cars, which silently move through the place. Meanwhile, modem time travellers watch the townspeople buying and selling, working and playing, in an atmosphere full of the sights, sounds and smells of 10th century Jorvik.