Grobiņa archaeological ensemble
Grobiņa archaeological ensemble: a key to the Viking Age.
The entire complex is regarded as a key to a unique change in global communication experience. The attributes that give Grobiņa archaeological ensemble its unique character – the shape, the structure and the cultural layer of the hillfort and the settlement, the shape and the structure of the burial mounds and flat-graves, as well as the findings and undiscovered potential artefacts at the sites – represent a unique and a well-preserved evidence of the outset of Viking Age Scandinavian overseas activity. During the pre-Viking age, between the 7th and 9th centuries, Grobiņa developed into the earliest and most impressive Scandinavian overseas settlement.
Grobiņa archaeological ensemble, the complex of sites where Scandinavian pioneers once settled, is situated in the southwest part of Latvia close to the shore of the Baltic Sea on both banks of River Ālande. The outset and the first experience of the extensive Scandinavian Viking expansion overseas is associated with the 7th-9th century or the pre-Viking Age when Scandinavians settled in Grobiņa next to Curonians, an ancient West Baltic ethno-cultural group, with both communities over time borrowing certain lifestyle features and cultural characteristics from each other.
Grobiņa archaeological ensemble consists of a dwelling area — Grobiņa hillfort (Skābarža kalns) and settlement, covering an area of 6.24 ha, and burial sites — Priediens burial ground, Atkalni burial ground, Smukumi burial ground and Porāni (Pūrāni) burial ground. The rich and scientifically significant archaeological heritage indicates an interaction between two ethnically different communities and cultures in pre-Viking Age Northern Europe, and hints to a unique shift in world views launching an absolutely new pattern of overseas activities.
Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is a set of unique, authentic and well-preserved archaeological sites and structures left behind by the pre-Viking age Scandinavian settlers and local Curonians. Grobiņa was one of the most significant Scandinavian settlements in east Baltic, as confirmed by the 6th-7th century stone stele typical to Gotland with engraved depiction of water fowl and the rich nature of more than 2000 other artefacts acquired in archaeological excavations.
Establishment of a solid Scandinavian community on the east shore of the Baltic Sea was made possible also by the regular contacts and communication with their core region. The evidence found in Grobiņa reflects the processes and developments of the later Viking Age that took place in a vast area.
The well-preserved prehistoric material attributes, which make up Grobiņa archaeological ensemble – the shape, the structure and the cultural layer of the hillfort and the settlement, the shape and the structure of the burial mounds and flat-graves, as well as the findings and undiscovered potential artefacts at the site’s components – represent a unique and exceptional testimony to the coexistence and interaction between the local Curonians and Scandinavian settlers, as well as the diverse nature and dynamic of their relationship.
The intensive cultural layer, the remains of fortifications and development, as well as the adjacent Scandinavian and Curonian burials made in nearly the same era, their structure and grave goods demonstrate the ability of two different ethno-cultural groups to coexist at the same time borrowing certain lifestyle features and cultural characteristics from each other over time.
It is in Grobiņa where Scandinavian settlers acquired the first invaluable experience for further expansion overseas, which determined the later processes and developments in the Viking Age.
The integrity of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is determined by the wholeness of its perception and understanding, as well as the high level of preservation. The ensemble’s components — Grobiņa hillfort and settlement, Priediens burial ground, Atkalni burial ground, Smukumi burial ground and Porāni (Pūrāni) burial ground — are interlinked, they supplement each other and they have preserved a nearly intact visual appearance despite the impact caused by modern urban development and their more than thousand-year-long secondary use. The cultural layer of the hillfort and settlement, the burial mounds and flat-graves, as well as the 6th-7th century Gotland-type stone stele and other artefacts represent an exceptional testimony to the cultural interaction between the Curonians and Scandinavians during the pre-Viking Age.
Grobiņa archaeological ensemble holds an outstanding heritage value.
Its rich archaeological evidence (elements of fortifications and development, burials, more than 2000 artefacts etc.) combined with the visual appearance of the sites and their location in a single cultural landscape reveal the beginnings of the Viking Age. The ensemble’s archaeological values have remained nearly intact to this day and make up a rich and scientifically important part of physical sources of the past. The finds revealed during archaeological excavations are exhibited in Liepāja Museum (Latvia), National History Museum of Latvia (Latvia) and Institute of Archaeology in St. Petersburg (Russia). Meanwhile, the intensive cultural layer of the dwelling sites of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble and the diverse burial material indicate a high scientific research potential of the ensemble.
The authenticity of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is confirmed by the unchanged location of its components in the landscape, their visual appearance, structure, cultural layer and the archaeological evidence buried under ground unchanged since the pre-Viking Age.
The intensive cultural layer, the underground remains of former fortifications and development, burials and elements associated with constructing a grave, as well as the diverse grave goods demonstrate the development of the early Scandinavian diaspora, coexistence of ethnically different communities and cultures and the first steps of the Viking expansion overseas.
The exceptional evidence from the pre-Viking Age preserved in the burial grounds of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble — the cremation flat-graves and burial mounds with trench systems, burial platforms, cremation remains and remains of other constructions, as well as the multitude of artefacts (jewellery, weapons, household and cult items) — reveal details about the dating of the heritage, the culture it belongs to, household and traditions. These archaeological materials are displayed in museums.
Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is a truly authentic and well-preserved historical heritage that informs us about the modes of mutual communication between Curonians and Scandinavians and their mutual cultural transfer.
The ensemble’s components have not been changed, reconstructed, nor have acquired a new function.
Protection and management requirements
The protection and preservation of the components of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is ensured by the fact that it is a listed archaeological monument of national significance, as well as by the international and national heritage protection standards, spatial planning documents and binding regulations of the local government.
The Development and Management Plan of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble clearly sets out the boundaries and the protection zone of the territory of the ensemble, defines its protection status and the outstanding universal value, as well as lays down the plan of development and management measures.
The Law of 12 February 1992 on Protection of Cultural Monuments and Cabinet Regulation No 474 of 26 August 2003 “Regulations regarding the Registration, Protection, Utilisation and Restoration of Cultural Monuments, the Right of First Refusal of the State and the Granting of the Status of an Environment-Degrading Object” prohibit any activities without the permission by the National Heritage Board.
For the purpose of daily supervision and control, a dedicated volunteer working group has been established (with representatives of tourism sector and society, land owners and their representatives) chaired by the site manager. The site manager is responsible also for regular inspection of the ensemble’s components, as well as corrective and preventive actions, when necessary.
The Sustainable Development Strategy of Grobiņa Municipality for 2014-2030 and the associated documents stipulate that Grobiņa archaeological ensemble is a significant resource for the sustainable development of the region and Latvia as a whole. The ensemble is planned to become a recognised site in the network of World Heritage sites. Skilled and efficient use of the status of a World Heritage site for the development of the local community will increase the community’s sense of belonging, strengthen the local identity, highlight the heritage values and promote cooperation at international level.