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Findings support evidence that Stavanger Cathedral was built on a Viking settlement

Archaeologists have discovered animal traces, that correspond with previous findings of a proposed settlement from the Viking Age beneath the Stavanger Cathedral in Norway.

Stavanger Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Norway and is the seat of the Bishop of Stavanger, located in the Stavanger Municipality in central Rogaland County, Norway.

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According to early accounts, the cathedral was founded around AD 1100 by Bishop Reinald, who is believed to have come from Winchester in England. Reinald was later executed on the orders of the Norwegian king Harald IV, and hung in Bergen for not disclosing the location of treasures hidden by the previous king, Magnus the Blind, during the Civil war era in Norway.

The city of Stavanger was ravaged by fire in AD 1272, and the cathedral suffered heavy damage. It was rebuilt under Bishop Arne (AD 1276–1303) at which time the Romanesque cathedral was enlarged in the Gothic style.

Excavations recently conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) in collaboration with the Archaeological Museum (UiS) discovered the animal bones in the northern part of the Cathedral whilst exploring a crawl space. The study was part of restoration works in connection with the overall restoration of the cathedral for the city anniversary celebrations in 2025.

The team found a layer of dark soil with animal bones, in particular the skeletal remains of a pig dating from around the early 11th century AD or older. Osteologist and archaeologist Sean Denham from the Archaeological Museum UiS said: “What we have found is the bones of a pig, which has clearly been thrown on the spot with meat and skin intact.”

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The animal bones support findings from a previous excavation in 1968, which found charred wood under the choir that was interpreted as a wooden structure constructed prior to the cathedral’s founding from the Viking Era.

The findings confirm that the cathedral was not built in an uninhabited and desolate place, but rather a place where there was already a human settlement.

Further studies over the coming weeks hope to shed light on what kind of activity was there prior to the cathedral’s construction, and possibly identify where the first church on the site was erected.

Header Image Credit : Sergey Ashmarin – CC BY-SA 3.0

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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