Up in northern Norway, not far from Lofoten, lies the tiny village of Sandtorg. It is an unassuming place along the Tjelsund strait. People have traded here from the early thirteenth century until the 1950s. Now, with thanks to Tor-Ketil Krokmyrdal, it can boast a trading history from the early Viking Age onwards. Krokmyrdal writes about this important discovery in his master’s thesis.
The story begins when Krokmyrdal is still a metal-detector enthusiast with a day job. The names of Sandtorg and Tjelsund intrigue him. Sandtorg means “market place on the sand” and “Tjeld is a reference to the verb ‘tjelde’, which means to spend the night in or under the boat once it’s been pulled up on land.” He explores the lower area near the village, but strikes lucky when moving up to the higher land.
As he analyses the landscape, he realises that Sandtorg is located in the place where the Tjelsund strait narrows and where strong tidal currents force boats to await a favourable tide. Among the items he finds is a sizeable amount of metal waste, “more than one would expect on an ordinary farm”. This suggests a smithy in the area and where boats frequently stop, it seems likely that there could have been a boat-repair site.
Apart from the metal waste, he finds about 125 objects, dating from the fifth until the sixteenth century. The oldest items date to the ninth century. The rich objects suggest wealthy people lived in the area. Others, such as jewellery, silver, coins and weights are common trade items. If Sandtorg was indeed a trading place, there likely was a chieftain who controlled the market. Who and how, however, remain unconfirmed for now. The medieval sources and archaeological evidence are too scarce to support any conclusion.
To read the press release by the Arctic University of Norway, see Science Norway. If you read Norwegian or are a happy Google Translator, the original thesis is available online UIT’s open research archive wonderfully entitled Munin.
All quotes in this article are from the thesis, except for ‘Tjeld’ which is from the press release.