1.4 A special site?

There is no question that the circular fortress at Aggersborg was an exceptional site in 10th-century Scandinavia. It has emerged from the reassessment of the early excavations, however, that the settlement that preceded the fortress also stands out as a potentially special site, if one of an entirely different character. The number of excavated SFBs, in particular, is among the highest encountered in a single settlement in Scandinavia. While many buildings cluster in one area, more were encountered in test-trenches in other areas, suggesting the existence of many more outside the excavated areas. It could therefore be suggested that both fortress and pre-fortress were specialised settlements, the significance of which related to some aspect of their most obvious common factor: the location of the site. A characterisation and explanation of the nature and situation of the settlement might hence contribute to a fuller understanding of the fortress for which it eventually made way.

The problem in this reasoning is that the case rests on a highly incomplete understanding of the extent and character of the pre-fortress settlement. The apparent high intensity of settlement could be plausibly interpreted in several frames of reference: as an elite estate centre focused on the large house D; as a settlement driven by activities relating to a convenient landing place; as a node for regional traffic and assembly at the crossing of the Limfjord; or even as a locus of political and military power, prefiguring the fortress. Conversely, the distribution of SFBs within the excavated areas is such that it could also be suggested that the excavations had revealed the central part of a small but concentrated settlement area, and that few further structures might be found beyond this area. In which case, the settlement would present itself as a much less remarkable site. The choice between these models rests to a considerable extent on assumptions concerning the wider organisation of the site. The excavated areas are too limited to afford a secure understanding of this issue, and because the location is part of a scheduled monument the question is unlikely to be resolved by further large-scale interventions. In the context of this problem, geophysical survey, along with additional landscape analysis, seemed the obvious choice for further investigative work.