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News: Full Excavation for Irish Viking Village?

By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Oct. 19, 2004 — Preliminary work to build a bypass road in an Irish village has yielded what could be the most significant piece of Viking history in Europe: a virtually intact town that some have already called Ireland's equivalent of Pompeii.

Evidence for the ancient settlement was discovered last year by archaeologists testing areas ahead of road builders.

Located near the banks of the river Suir at Woodstown, five miles from the city of Waterford, the potential Viking town lies below pasture fields commonly used for horse grazing.

But it might end up forgotten below a bypass, according to a local action group who is calling for a full excavation.

"Fears are increasing that the minister for the environment will only order a 'rescue' excavation, a partial digging which will fail to unearth the full wonders of Woodstown," the Save Viking Waterford Action Group said in a statement.

According to a 2003 report by Ireland's National Roads Authority (NRA), the site "appears to represent a defended, riverside settlement, with outlying area of associated industrial activity."

"The historical references, the artifacts, and the radiocarbon dates confirm the site most likely dates within the Hiberno Norse — Early Medieval period, 800-1100 A.D.," archaeologist Ian Russell wrote in the report.

An abundance of artifacts were uncovered during the test excavation. Findings included a broken sword, one spearhead, a battle axe, objects of iron, copper alloy, lead, gold, silver, stone, wood, lignite, glass and amber.

"Metal production and trade had a particular importance in the Viking settlement," Russell said.

Indeed, the archaeologist unearthed 170 lead weights, which represent the largest rural assemblage of such objects in Ireland.

Aerial pictures suggest that the settlement might be far bigger than previously thought: the entire Viking Woodstown, complete with streets and houses, could lie under the soil surface.

It is believed that up to 4,000 people lived there, while a fleet of 120 Viking ships might have occupied the Woodstown site in about 812.

"As Irish taxpayers we have been paying since April 2003 to investigate this site and as Irish citizens, we are eager to find out what knowledge has been gained," Catherine Swift, of the National University of Ireland and chair of the Waterford action group, said.

"After all this is part of all our pasts and it belongs to the local people, not to the government and certainly not to the private company which will eventually build the road," she said

Swift added that the National Museum, the Heritage Council, the NRA and academics and scholars from across Ireland and Europe have called for the full excavation.

"The discoveries at Woodstown are of major importance for the earliest Viking History in Ireland and the British Isles. A virtually undisturbed large Viking settlement of the mid and late 9th century has never been excavated in these parts of the world," Oslo University Viking expert Dagfinn Skre told Discovery News.

"The finds from the preliminary investigations have shown that a full excavation will contribute considerably to our knowledge of the early history of the Vikings," Skre said.