Viking treasure is discovered after 11 centuries under the floorboards

David Keys
Monday 04 September 2000 00:00

The biggest Viking treasure hoard to be discovered by archaeologists has been found in Sweden, hidden under the floorboards by a millionaire 11 centuries ago.

The biggest Viking treasure hoard to be discovered by archaeologists has been found in Sweden, hidden under the floorboards by a millionaire 11 centuries ago.

Weighing 70kg, it consists of 500 Viking silver bracelets and arm rings, 13,000 Arab silver coins, dozens of silver bars, numerous silver rings and hundreds of pieces of broken Viking silver necklaces and bracelets.

The hoard, which was unearthed on the Swedish Baltic island of Gotland, appears to have been buried around AD870 by a wealthy Viking merchant in a building near an important harbour.

The excavation of all the silver items has only just been completed, and a full study of the material is expected to take several years. The archaeologists estimate that the hoard would have been worth the equivalent of £400,000.

Gotland was the wealthiest place in the Scandinavian world at the time. It was the major entrepot for trade between Sweden in the West and Russia, and what is now the Latvia-Estonia-Lithuania region in the East. The Arab silver coins, a resource for making jewellery and currency bars, were obtained from Russian and east Baltic traders.

With no banks in which to store the wealth, the Gotlanders preferred to hide their treasure under the floorboards. But the owner often died without disclosing his hiding place, which explains why more than 800 treasure hoards have been unearthed on the island, almost half a ton of silver.

Viking Gotland was a quasi-democratic independent republic with its own parliament dominated by merchants and farmers. A large section of the population, estimated at up to 30,000 in the 9th century, was involved in iron, bronze and silver metal-working and shipbuilding - as well as trading.

Speaking to The Independent, one of Sweden's experts on Viking treasure, Professor Kenneth Jonsson of Stockholm University, described the hoard as "an extraordinary find. It demonstrates the fabulous wealth of at least some people on Gotland at this early period. We knew they were prosperous, but we are amazed by the scale of this hoard."

The treasure will go on display at Gotland's Historical Museum next year.

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