An ancient temple to the Old Norse gods like Thor and Odin has been unearthed in Norway. The remains are a rare artifact of the Viking religion widely spread in the region a few centuries before Christianity became dominant.
Archaeologists report that the large wooden structure, which is around 45 feet (14 meters) long, 25 feet (8 meters) wide, and up to 40 feet (12 meters) high, is believed to date back to the end of the 8th century and served as a place of worship and sacrifices to gods throughout the mid-summer and mid-winter solstices.
Old Norse culture was prominent and even feared a century later, after groups of Norse sailors and warriors – aka the Vikings – started trading, raiding, and occupying regions in Europe and Iceland, Greenland, and Canada.
According to archaeologist Søren Diinhoff of the University Museum of Bergen, this was the first Old Norse temple discovered in the country.
“This is the first time we’ve found one of these very special, very beautiful buildings,” Diinhoff said. “We know them from Sweden, and we know them from Denmark. … This shows that they also existed in Norway.”
The Norse began building these massive ‘god houses,’ as they were referred to, in the 6th century. The structures were much more intricate than the simple sites, usually outdoors, that people had usually built to worship the Old Norse gods.
“It is a stronger expression of belief than all the small cult places,” Diinhoff explained. “This is probably something to do with a certain class of the society, who built these as a real ideological show.”
The God House
Archaeologists excavated the foundations of the old building last month at Ose, a seaside village close to the town of Ørsta in western Norway, before starting to prepare for a new housing development.
The unearthing unveiled signs of early agricultural settlements dating to around 2,000 to 2,500 years ago, including the remains of two longhouses that would have served as the center of a small farm.
The structure build for the gods at Ose, however, is from a later time when the region began to be ruled by a group of wealthy families. This is a difference that appeared as Scandinavian societies began to engage with the societies of the Roman empire and the Germanic tribes of northern Europe.
“When the new socially differentiated society set in, in the Roman Iron Age, the leading families took control of the cult,” Diinhoff said.
Christianity Enforced, Buildings Destroyed
As a result of the interactions, Norse religious worship became more theoretical and organized, and god houses at Ose were depicted on Christian basilicas that travelers have seen in southern areas. Even though the building is long-gone, the remains show its shape, as well as the round core posts of its tower, which is a construction that was only used in god houses.
The Old Norse religion was suppressed starting with the 11th century when Norway’s kings forced the Christian religion on people and destroyed or burned buildings such as the god house at Ose to enforce worship in the new Christian churches.
So far, archaeologists did not find evidence that the god house at Ose was also part of the purge, Diinhoff said. However, more work and study could definitely reveal that the house was one of the buildings tore down or burned at the time.