30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Mads Dengsø Jessen, "Jelling – New Excavations and New Insights into the Structure of a Viking Age Royal Domain"

The royal monuments at Jelling in Jutland epitomize the social change in the late Viking age in South Scandinavia and the ensuing transition to Christianity around 1000AD. During the last few years, 2006-09, extensive trial excavations as well as research excavations has been carried out by Vejle Museum, The National Museum and University of Aarhus, which have revealed several new insights into the royal domain at Jelling.

Firstly, the area included as part of the ritual site at Jelling is now around 12 hectare (1.3 mill. square feet), estimated through the finding of an enormous wooden enclosure in the shape of a parallelogram, surrounding the big ship-setting, the two mounds, the rune stones as well as the church. The sheer magnitude of the complex is therefore greater then previously expected and thus calls for a revaluation concerning the royal emphasis on monumental building strategies, and the ritual function of this place. Secondly, the vicinity of the enclosed area exhibit distinctive topographical characteristics previously overlooked when debating Jelling, and in particular the closeness to wetland areas, bogs, streams and lakes, suggests a ritual geography which can be viewed as an integral part of the Jelling complex. Thirdly, the composition of the monument combines a revival of archaic features, such as burial mounds and the erection of rune-stones, with the introduction of novel Christian expressions, thus revealing Jelling as a thoroughly syncretistic, yet clearly intentional, ideological manifestation.

The paper wishes to underline and further explore the abovementioned themes, by presenting the new data stemming from the recent excavations, as well as to debate the implications these data have for the current understanding of Jelling as royal domain and focal point for ideological conversion. Particular emphasis will be made on the ritual manifestations at Jelling, their constellation and the influence they would have had on the incipient building of churches in South Scandinavia.


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