Discovering Truso – Old Viking Trade Port in Present-Day Poland

History of the discovery and research of the scandinavian settlement noted by the Anglo-Saxon traveller Wulfstan.

By Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Jakub Jagodziński, Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Image of truso settlement by Andrzej Szwemiński, Marek F. JagodzińskiMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

From the Wulfstan’s boat to the “Hurricane” bike.

We would likely have never found out about the history of Truso if it hadn’t been mentioned by Wulfstan in his account.

Shield broochMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

The Anglo-Saxon traveller and a member of king Alfred the Great’s court described his journey from Hedeby to Truso. The document containing the record of his journey doesn’t give any details about the settlement itself.

Nevertheless, it can be assumed that Truso was an important place, since the traveller chose to stop there. The trail’s description indirectly indicates estimated localisation of the settlement. This knowledge was a starting point of the search for the legendary Truso, which started in the 19th century, ignited by a series of resounding archaeological discoveries.

BicycleMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Discoverer ‘with a Hurricane’ 

During a trip in spring of 1981, Marek F. Jagodziński spotted elements of ceramic dishes, animal bones and large nuggets of amber on a field near a lake.

He came upon the settlement’s relics in the village of Janów Pomorski (Janów at present). The circumstances of the discovery are interesting too: the future archaeology PhD found traces of that legendary settlement during a weekend ride on a “Hurricane”, a Polish race bike.

It wasn’t a completely random occurence – such bike explorations of the edges of the Drużno lake were recommended to Marek by his mentor, professor Jerzy Okulicz-Kozaryn. 

DocumentationMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

From the survey to the relics of Viking boats. First research

First survey was conducted in 1982. No one, including the discoverer, suspected that on the grounds occupied by Western-Baltic peoples in early medieval times, traces of the Scandinavian presence would appear instead of those of the Prussian material culture. 

Pieces for Hnefatafl board gameMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Initially, following the claims made by previous researchers, Truso was assumed to be a Prussian settlement. The survey brought, among others, an amber counter from a Scandinavian board game Hnefatafl.

For the Viking era experts, it could have been a clear indication of the origin of the inhabitants of Truso. However, the importance of this object was not well interpreted at the time.

In years 1983–1984 the research on the Prussian Truso, as it was believed at the time, was carried out. It had been two years since the discovery of the settlement, a year since the first survey.  A crew of archaeologists and young archaeology enthusiasts came to Janów Pomorski from Malbork. An interesting fact, one of the members of the crew was a Solidarity movement activist hiding from the Communist Security Service. Luckily, despite tense political situation in the country, the exploratory crew wasn’t bothered by anyone. 

ExcavationsMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Archaeological research from the 1980s

In fact, the researchers intended to save the situation – the damage done by ploughing was massive. 

Badorf vessels, From the collection of: Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg
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Iron rivet in situ, From the collection of: Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg
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Traces of four intriguing buildings resembling huts were found. There were no similar buildings on the Prussian territories. Apart from that, large amounts of amber, glass beads, ceramics and even relics of a craft workshop related to antler processing were found. Due to those discoveries, new questions concerning the origin of the Truso inhabitants were arising. Yet, there were no finds that would unambiguously indicate their foreign origin

Comb, From the collection of: Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg
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It all became clear only after the research conducted in years 1985–1986. In one of the excavations, traces of Viking boats wreckage were revealed, as well as Scandinavian decorations, Arab coins, weights and typically Scandinavian boat clinches. Then, it was evident that the research was conducted in the only Scandinavian settlement in Poland. Archaeologists from all over the country, as well as from abroad, became interested in the settlement’s relics.

Silver oriental coinsMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

During the following excavation seasons a large number of weights, coins, parts of scales were found, clearly indicating a trade-related function of Truso.

The relics of workbenches – glass-making, horn-making, amber, smithery and goldsmithery proved its function related to crafting.

ExcavationsMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Truso: a legend discovered through archaeology

From the year 2004 the research gained international significance. Cooperation with the Freiburg University was established. German archaeologists joined in, including professor Heiko Steuer and professor Sebastian Brather.

Drinking vessels, From the collection of: Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg
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Excavations, From the collection of: Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg
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Within the cross-regional cooperation, modern non-invasive methods were applied. It was possible thanks to such equipment as a ground-penetrating radar and a magnetometer. The latter allowed to define a place where stoves appeared and consequently point the localisation of huts and workbenches. Archaeological investigations carried out to date have made it possible to determine what the inhabitants of the settlement did for a living and what was its significance in Europe.

Pendants, From the collection of: Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg
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Disc (sun compass?), From the collection of: Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg
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Truso was one of a few most important emporia of the Viking period in the Baltic Sea Basin – the sea, river and land trade routes crossed there. The Truso inhabitants had vast trade contacts both in the coastal zone and in the interior, the main line of which was the Vistula river.

Penannular broochMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Truso today

Marek F. Jagodziński discovered Truso in 1981. Throughout several decades the settlement has ceased being a mysterious and unknown emporium from a thousand years ago. It has been searched over during twenty excavational seasons and has been the subject of almost 200 scientific publications. 

Amber beadsMuseum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg

Thanks to long-time research we can now say that the history of Truso is no longer unknown. Revealing next archaeological testimonies and completing necessary office work allowed us to learn about daily life, craft, trade, beliefs and culture of the settlement’s inhabitants.

We know that they were Scandinavians who set up an emporium on Slavic-Baltic border which belonged to a chain of craft and trade centres located around the Baltic Sea in the Viking Age.

The Museum of Archaeology and History in Elblag hosts a permanent exhibition ‘Truso. The legend of the Baltic Sea’ where one can learn about the history of the Truso inhabitants and see the most interesting objects discovered in the excavations.

Artefacts obtained during the research were presented on numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad, in cities such as Berlin, Bratislava, Budapest, Copenhagen, London, Prague and Roskilde.

Credits: All media
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