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The cult house
Early during excavation of the Uppåkra settlement in the years 2000 to 2004, a very distinct building foundation was discovered. A large portion of subsequent work was concentrated on the remains of this building. The excavations revealed that the structure measured 13 by 6.5 metres, which is relatively small for an Iron Age building. It had three entrances – two facing south and one facing north. The roof had been supported by two pairs of large poles, placed in pits that were nearly two metres deep. The wall trenches, in which the wall staves had been positioned, were also unusually deep. Additionally, there had been large corner posts at the building’s four corners. The entire construction was oversized for such a small building unless, of course, it had been unusually high. The building may have towered above the other buildings and been clearly visible from a distance. In appearance, it would have been reminiscent of the later medieval Norwegian stave churches.

The structure was rebuilt at least six times but without any changes made to the ground plan or the locations of the doors. The building indicates long continuity; it was erected in about 200 AD and razed during the Viking Age, probably in the ninth century AD.

It is not only the building’s construction and longevity that are unique, but also the finds made in and around it. Exceptional artefacts were discovered as early as in the beginning of the excavation phase. A metal beaker and a glass bowl had been intentionally buried near the hearth at the centre of the building. The beaker has details in silver and embossed gold bands, richly decorated with a wide variety of figures. The metal beaker is from about 500 AD and it is very probable that it was made in Uppåkra. The two-coloured glass bowl was made using the flashed glass technique, with two layers of glass. Most likely, the bowl was made in the area north of the Black Sea in the sixth century AD. The two objects may have been used during ceremonial events, such as when welcoming guests or sealing oaths and agreements. They may also have been used in various sacrificial ceremonies.

The figure-foil bands from the beaker
 The figure-foil bands from the beaker

In the postholes and wall trenches, over one hundred gold foil figures have been discovered. They are the size of postage stamps and bear images of human figures.  It is not known how these figures were used or what function they had. They may have been affixed to the poles and walls in the building, which would account for the locations of the finds. Fragments of glass beakers, nails and an iron door ring are examples of other finds that can confirm the building’s special function.

Evidence that the building was not in regular use can be deducted by the ample traces of mouse excrement that have been discovered. Most likely, the building was only used on special occasions when large banquets and important religious feasts were held.Patrix to a female gold-foil figure
Patrix to a female gold-foil figure
It is entirely probable that activities of a ceremonial and ritual nature were conducted in the building. The building has likely served as a form of pagan shrine, which in Old Norse literature were referred to as a hov.

Ritual ceremonies may also have been conducted outdoors in the area adjoining the cult house. Both to the north and south of the building, hundreds of intentionally destroyed weapons have been found, primarily in the form of lance- and spear-heads. These are likely war trophies from defeated enemies. The weapons have been “vanquished” by bending and chopping them into pieces before burying them in the ground. They may have been sacrificed to Oden, who as the god of war, bore his spear Gungner. There were also accumulations of bones adjoining the weapons deposits, including bones from humans, suggesting that they are remains from very special sacrificial ceremonies.

 

Illustration, Inside the Cult house