About the Save Viking Waterford Action Group
Woodstown - what we know so far - (October 2004) ...
Woodstown - what the newspapers tell us ...
Woodstown - the historical implications ...
Woodstown - what next ...
The group was formed to campaign for the preservation of the Woodstown Viking Site, just outside Waterford City, the discovery of which was made public in early 2004.
The SVWAG quickly formulated five key objectives to ensure the protection of what has been described as “one of the most important Viking sites remaining in Europe”.
The SVWAG action group is comprised of local people, who recognise that Waterford badly needs the proposed bypass, but believe that the road should not be constructed at the expense of our shared heritage and that the road can and should go ahead but in tandem with the excavation of the site.
Since it’s inception the SVWAG has maintained a website, taken thousands of signatures on our petition, held public lectures with leading academics, produced a fact-sheet outlining our knowledge of the Woodstown Viking Site, organised a field-trip to Woodstown, addressed several local schools and done our best to keep the pressure on the government by repeatedly calling for the full excavation of Woodstown.
We have received messages of support from across Ireland and beyond, from those who do not want to see the destruction of what is potentially one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe
Woodstown - What We Know So Far ...
Many people want to know what has been found at
Woodstown and what its significance is. It is difficult to make
categorical statements as relatively little has been published other
than newspaper articles. What is available refers to knowledge gained
in 2003 rather than the exciting material which has been the focus
of newspaper articles since May 2004. A paper published by the NRA
- written before work had started - explains what their archaeologists
intended to do - and a report exists on the excavations of 2003.
The excavations of April 2003 were test trenches,
dug to see if there was any archaeology on the site. These were
2 metres wide, dug with JCB machinery along the line of the road
with trenches every 30 metres to either side. Evidence of much archaeology
was found. In July of that year, the archaeologists did a geophysical
survey (or x-ray of features under the soil) which showed up an
enclosure bounded by two ditches as well as many hearths, postholes,
pits and other features. To identify the date and nature of the
site, it was decided to excavate SOME of the features which they
had found and this was done in August and September 2003.
In those 2003 excavations, charcoal was found at
the base of the inner enclosure ditch which dated with 95% probability
to between 885 and 1055 A.D. A pit inside the enclosure, which may
have been associated with a house, produced charcoal dating with
95% probability to 690-990 A.D. Finally, in these rapid test excavations,
169 finds were found which represents a very dense concentration
of material. The report concludes that the site may have been a
defended settlement by the river Suir, dating to the period of Viking
occupancy of Waterford City.
Woodstown - what the newspapers
tell us ...
Rumours of exciting discoveries made since 2003 began
reaching newspapers in May 2004. One report (Irish Times 17th May)
mentions 2,500 finds 'including Viking spears, swords, gaming pieces,
ships nails and lots of locks and keys'. There is also reference
to large quantities of hack silver and to lead weights. Other articles
refer to a sword, battle-axe, shield boss and spearhead being found
in what is taken to be a pagan burial of a Viking warrior although
the acid soil meant that the body itself had not survived. At a
public meeting in September, the excavators also mentioned the existence
of a Byzantine coin and reference was made to a broken shrine.
In early June, a student who had worked on Viking
history in Ireland, hired a private plane and overflew the site
with a professional photographer. He subsequently published his
photographs in the Irish Times, suggesting that the site might be
much larger than was hitherto thought, stretching far beyond the
enclosure boundaries. Others wondered whether the features showing
up might be completely independent and have nothing to do with the
Woodstown - the
historical implications ...
On the basis of what we know so far, Woodstown seems
to have been a defended settlement by the river Suir founded some
time in the ninth century. Vikings began raiding northern Irish
shores at the end of the eighth century and within twenty years
were present in the Waterford area. There are references in the
annals to the foundation of defended Viking settlements at Dublin
and Annagassan (in Co. Louth) in 841 and we know that these acted
as bases for ships whose crews would take part in raids right across
the Irish midlands.
The ships' nails at Woodstown as well as its location
on the river Suir and the enclosing bank suggests that it may have
fulfilled a similar function while the broken shrine may represent
the fruits of raiding in the south-east. What seems to have been
a single burial of a pagan Viking warrior at Woodstown may parallel
a similar find made recently in Ship Street in Dublin although Woodstown
is potentially much more interesting as we will be able to see how
the burial relates to a contemporary settlement.
The vast quantity of hack silver and the large number
of weights suggests that Woodstown was not only a warrior raiding
base but also an area where many merchants congregated. These men
used the broken up silver as a form of currency, which they would
weigh in portable weighing scales, balancing it up against the lead
weights. They may have been buying Irishmen and women to sell as
slaves in their Viking homelands as well as trading in the loot
gathered by raiders. We do not know as yet whether they lived at
Woodstown all year around or whether they just came for the summer
months. If they did settle permanently, it would mean that Woodstown
is potentially the earliest such settlement in Ireland and one of
the first to be created in the Viking west.
Woodstown - what next ...
The Save Viking Waterford Action Group are
seeking full excavation of the site.
An interpretative centre/education facility should
then be built, utilising the knowledge gained from the excavation
and acting as a tourist attraction for the region.