Lejre was the capital of an Iron Age kingdom sometimes referred to as the Lejre Kingdom. According to early legends, this was ruled by kings of the Skjöldung dynasty, predecessors of the kings of medieval Denmark. Legends of the kings of Lejre are known from a number of medieval sources, including the twelfth-century Gesta Danorum written by Saxo Grammaticus and the anonymous twelfth-century Chronicon Lethrense, or Chronicle of Lejre. As the home of the Skjölding dynasty mentioned in Beowulf, Lejre has long been thought to have been the real-world counterpart to Heorot, the fabulous royal hall where the first part of the action of that Anglo-Saxon poem takes place. Among other works of the medieval imagination that tell of adventures at Lejre, the best known is the fourteenth-century Icelandic Saga of King Hrolf Kraki.

Archeological excavations undertaken since the 1980s have produced dramatic confirmation that medieval legends of Lejre, though largely fabulous, have a basis in history. Research teams have uncovered the remains of an extensive Iron Age and Viking Age settlement complex just outside the hamlet of Gammel Lejre. Discovered here were the post-holes for a series of large rectangular buildings measuring fifty to sixty meters in length or more. These must have been the halls of powerful magnates or kings. Outbuildings and other structures whose remains were unearthed in this same area indicate that Lejre was also a center for crafts, commerce, and religious observances. The relative absence of weapon finds suggests that the site was more important as a social and economic center than as a military base. A noteworthy loose find that has recently turned up is a tiny silver Viking Age figurine known as Odin from Lejre. This is thought to depict the god Odin enthroned in majesty between ravens.

Other sites of archaeological interest in the vicinity, long admired by visitors even when their nature was not well understood, are a Viking-Age cemetery that includes several ship settings, a great Iron Age cremation mound, a number of tumuli that are mostly of Bronze Age date, and several Neolithic chamber graves, including one that in modern times has been known as Harald Hildetandshøy. As for the Iron Age archaeological settlement complex unearthed since the 1980s, its two related parts span the period from about 550 to about 1000 AD, thus confirming the significance of this 'land of legends' over a period of almost half a millennium, up to the time when Denmark was converted to Christianity and a new royal capital was established at what is now the cathedral city of Roskilde.

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Orehøjvej 12, Lejre, Denmark
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Founded: 550 - 1000 AD
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Denmark
Historical period: Germanic Iron Age (Denmark)

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www.visitlejre.info

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Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.