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Arland O. Fiske: The tale of Lindholm Hoje: Viking winter camp in Denmark

Sheep safely graze over ground where once mighty Viking warriors encamped. The place overlooks Aalborg in northern Denmark where the Limfjord cuts through the Jutland peninsula. Lindholm Hoje (pronounced “HOI-yah” and translated “heights”) gives a commanding view of the area, but mystery enshrouds the rocks that form the shape of a Viking fleet.

People used to say that the gods hurled these stones from Sweden to Denmark. Over the years, blowing sand covered the stones so that they were ignored. As early as 1889, some of the settings were recognized, but it was not until the German occupation forces, during World War II, dug trenches in the area that the real truth about this hilltop was realized.

Six years of investigations of this Viking period site were completed in 1958. It turned out to be the remains of a settlement that contained a large cemetery. More than 700 graves have been examined, most of them cremation remains. This would indicate a pre-Christian period. Ancient artifacts were found among these burials, including bronze ornaments, glass beads, bracelets, iron knives, coins, whetstones, wooden boxes and bones of domestic animals.

Most of the stone outlines of boats are about 25-30 feet long, except for one that is about 80 feet.

The earliest dating of the findings goes back to the seventh century, almost 200 years before the Viking “breakout” into the North Sea world.

There is evidence that a thriving city once was located to the north of the hill. Streets, paved with wood, have been uncovered.

Who were some of these Viking heroes that walked on this hill a thousand or more years ago? There was one event of special historical interest.

In the year 1028, Knut the Great, king of both Denmark and England, assembled his fleet in the Limfjord to invade Norway. There he prepared his fighting force to drive King Olaf from power. After some hit-and-run battles, Olaf fled to Russia where the Vikings ruling there gave him a royal welcome. When Olaf returned two years later, he met his death against Knut’s forces at Sticklestad and became a “saint.”

It appears from the sagas and archaeology that Lindholm Hoje was one of the best known winter quarters for the Viking warriors, and was the permanent settlement for their families in Denmark. It is well situated for protection from the hard winter winds blowing from the North Sea. Lindholm Hoje was an ideal place to observe an enemy approaching from any direction. The latest coin found on these heights was minted about 1036-1039.

The Viking warriors have all left these heights, but sheep still graze there. I asked our guide who owned them. It turns out that they have been there for generations and no one claims them. Perhaps they are Vikings in disguise, waiting for the golden age when they can again become warriors and plow the seas with their longboats.

As I walked across these heights and touched the stones marking the burial sites, even my feet could feel the past that the sands of the sea have not entirely covered.

Next week: The “Primstav”: Old Norse calendar.

— Arlamd Fiske, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.