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Iron Age port discovered on Gotska Sandön

New finds on the Baltic Sea island of Gotska Sandön have provided additional pieces for the puzzle of this 2000-year-old site. Researchers have now uncovered parts of what they believe could be a type of port in the same location as the Roman coins found earlier this year.

Schakt på Gotska Sandön

Trial excavation at one of the sites. Photo: Johan Rönnby

In the spring of 2023, a team of researchers, including researchers from Södertörn University, found two Roman coins during excavations on Gotska Sandön. Archaeologists have now returned to the island and made more thrilling discoveries. These offer more clues about what the site may have been used for 2000 years ago, and consist of twenty hearths on the beach where the coins were found. Johan Rönnby, a professor of marine archaeology at Södertörn University, is participating in the dig and describes the site as a type of Iron Age port. This is not a port with quays in the modern sense, but he theorises that people landed here, pulled up their boats and formed an encampment.

“It is very interesting, and raises questions about what people did here two millennia ago - that’s what we are going to try and work out,” he says.

Gotska sandön

Sandbanks on Gotska Sandön, where the dig is located.

The hearths had been found during previous digs, when poles stuck into the ground emerged blackened with carbon. One of the hearths has now been excavated and dated using the carbon-14 method, showing that the site was in use around 2000 years ago. It can therefore be linked to the coin finds from around the same date.

Researchers are unable to say with certainty what happened here, but Rönnby’s guess is that the site may be linked to the seal hunting, which is known to have taken place.

Veronica Palm

Veronica Palm, doctoral student, with a metal detector.

“Seal hunters may have come from the island of Gotland and landed on Sandön to boil seal blubber. This could have been what the hearths were used for, but we don’t yet know – there may be other reasons why the site looks like it does, such as it being a trading post,” he says.

Further excavations will take place over the coming weeks to uncover more clues to the site’s past. In addition to the Roman coins, ceramics were found here a century ago. Rönnby now hopes that they will find more ceramics that the project can analyse.

The excavation project is a collaboration between Södertörn University, Uppsala University’s Campus Gotland, Gotland Museum and the Swedish National Heritage Board. It is funded by the Voice of the Ocean Foundation.


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