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The Danevirke Receives World Heritage Site Status

The Danevirke Receives World Heritage Site Status

One of the most important sites for the study of the Viking Age has received recognition this month from the Unesco World Heritage committee. The Danevirke, designated a world heritage site in July of 2018, was discovered in 1897 and has contributed tremendously to our understanding of the Vikings. A world heritage site designation will help to protect and preserve the site for future study and may secure funds from Unesco to further future research. 

What is the Danevirke?

Lorenz Frølich's impression of Thyra Dannebod ordering the foundation of the Danevirke.

Lorenz Frølich’s impression of Thyra Dannebod ordering the foundation of the Danevirke.

The Danevirke is a 40 kilometer (25 miles) long series of ditches and fortifications along the southern border of the Danish peninsula, Jutland, which effectively separated what was once the kingdom of the Danes and the Carolingian Empire. Archeological research estimates the first sections of the Danevirke as having been built as early as the sixth century. Current scholarship theorizes that the building of the fortifications was encouraged by constant internecine warfare between the inhabitants of the peninsula and their southern Germanic neighbors, the Saxons, and the Franks. In fact, this same period of conflict is cited by scholars as a significant cause for the departure of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes to Britain.

Theories for what the Danevirke was are many-from a simple wall, akin to Hadrian’s wall, to a canal that served as a shipping channel. Interestingly, a recent find has helped to further the idea that the Danevirke may have been an important shipping route before and during the Viking Age. In 2010, archeologists discovered a (the) gateway through the wall, about five meters wide, that correlates with written descriptions of the gateway that connected Jutland with Charlemagne’s empire, and is described as having had an inn and a bordello (Read more about the discovery). The find helps to support the idea that the primary sources about the gateway through the Danevirke are, in fact, reliable.

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Archeological evidence shows further fortifications began in the early 9th century, also described in the Royal Frankish Annals. They explain the Danish king Gudfred rebuilt the Danevirke specifically to repel a Frankish invasion. Archeological finds place more extensive construction in the time of Harald Bluetooth, and scholars disagree over which monarch was most responsible for the expansion of the more extensive fortifications that earned the Danevirke its later reputation as a symbol of the separation between the Danes and their southern Germanic neighbors.

The Future of the Danevirke as a World Heritage Site

To date, archaeologists believe they have uncovered less than five percent of the Danevirke, and that many more finds, such as burials and settlements, have yet to be discovered. The Danevirke is believed to have been a crucially important structure during the early medieval period for both warfare and trade. Located in Northern Germany, many parts of the structure are believed to lie beneath modern construction and infrastructure. As a world heritage site, archeologists may have a better chance of preventing more construction projects from permanently covering or destroying more of the Danevirke. 

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You can read more about the new designation, as well as other sites that received the same honors this month, at smithsonianmag.com.

Christophe Adrien

A bestselling​ author of Viking historical fiction for young adults.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Hi, I’m Chlöe. My Last name is Huggins-Van Tol. The Huggins being obviously Irish and Van Tol being apparently Dutch as far as I know. Im Also part polish as well. Just going off of those three bits, my being Irish, polish and Dutch, what Chase is there that I could be harboring viking blood or be in any way descended from the Vikings? is there a way to determine that without taking any DNA tests? Thanks, Chlöe

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