By Richard Geidroyc, World Coin News
May 27, 2008
Coins often assist archaeologists in a similar manner as index fossils help paleontologists date the age of an excavation site. Coins found at excavation sites can help date the site, but such coin finds can also indicate trade routes, political boundaries, the name of kings and other rulers, the standard of living of those who had lived there and local religious practices.
It appears the 472 Arabic coins found on April 1 in Sweden may date the burial of the find to about 850 A.D. What is even more interesting is that the early Iron Age coin find was located at the site of a much older and likely unrelated grave near what had been a Viking village near what is now the Arlanda Airport outside Stockholm.
Viking-age coin hoards are usually found on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, making this find even more interesting. Hoards found dating from the 7th through the 11th centuries can usually be attributed to Viking travels that ranged throughout the Baltic region to Kievan Russia. The Vikings are also known to have traveled as far as North Africa and what at the time was Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire (Today this is Istanbul, Turkey.). Evidence supported in part by the find of a single coin also points to the Vikings having attempted a settlement in Labrador in North America.
Details of the Arlanda Airport area coin hoard was still sketchy when the find was first reported, but archaeologist Karin Beckman-Thoor of the Swedish National Heritage Board said most of the coins were struck at either Baghdad or Damascus, with some coins originating in Persia and North Africa. This profile fits the path of some of the trade routes the Vikings would have traveled in their longboats. Information was not immediately available regarding if the coins were gold, silver or base metal, however the coins were said to date between 500 A.D.and 840 A.D. Unlike coins of today, coins of this period typically circulated for long periods of time.
Beckman-Thoor indicated the stone cairn at the grave is likely 1,000 years older than is the estimated date of the coin burial at the same location, however it is possible the coins were buried thinking the coins would be protected by ancestors. The coins were found when the cairn was being removed by the archaeologists.
This is the first time since the 1880s that a similar Viking Age coin find has been found in this, the Uppland region of Sweden.
Coins were not in wide use in Western Europe at the time of the burial of this hoard. A feudal system in which crops and land ownership were more important than were coins dominated, while in Eastern Europe where coins were more important to commerce the Byzantine Empire typically struck gold and copper or bronze coins, but little silver. The few coins that were struck in Western Europe at this time were almost exclusively silver deniers.
The Arab world was on a similar monetary economy as was the Byzantine Empire, striking gold, some silver, and bronze or copper denomination coins. There were areas of Eastern Europe with which the Vikings had contact that often favored furs, amber, silver ingots called kapa bars, and other primitive money as barter rather than significant amounts of coinage.