Ever wondered what it would be like to live in the Stone Age? Without mobile phones, the Internet, cable TV or dare I say it… cars?
Not so long ago I did just that. Why? At the time, I was flirting with a new interest in the submerged prehistory of Britain and northwest Europe. As you do. I had read several papers on the excavation of Tybrind Vig, a submerged Stone Age site in Denmark. Having researched similar sites in the UK and the Netherlands, it got me thinking about what it would be like to experience everyday life in the Late Mesolithic.
I’m not one to do things by halves (as you will soon find out). So with that in mind, I took myself off to Denmark, to the Land of Legends. With a name like that, who wouldn’t ?! The Land of Legends (Sagnlandet Lejre in Danish) is the National Centre for Historical Archaeological Research and the home of experimental archaeology in Denmark.
Founded by Danish ethnologist Hans-Ole Hanson in 1964, Sagnlandet is a unique, beautiful and strangely magical 43-hectare open-air archaeological museum, near the village of Lejre, 23 miles west of Copenhagen. Set in a lush rural woodland landscape, Sagnlandet is the place to go if you want to see, smell, taste and touch 10,000 years of Nordic history.
Lejre is, however, much more than its open-air museum. The village was the heart of an Iron Age kingdom, which is the cradle of modern Danish civilization. Sources from the 12th century say it is home to Heorot, the seat of the Scyldings, the Beowulf myth and recent archaeological evidence confirm this.
What has been achieved at The Land of Legends is truly incredible. Hanson and the Sagnlandet team have painstakingly reconstructed an entire Iron Age village from 200 BC- 200 AD, complete with a sacrificial bog. An authentic Viking market place (circa 900 AD), Stone Age campsite (~ 5000 BC), 18th century farmstead and various grave monuments have also been reconstructed, along with the first stone ship built since Viking times.
My Sagnlandet experience didn’t end with the reconstructions. I met Stone Age hunters, Iron Age farmers and Merchant Vikings. I ground my own flour, baked biscuits on a bonfire, paddled a Stone Age canoe, made fibres, ropes and withies, tested my aim with a bow and arrow and ate goat, cooked to an ancient recipe, for the very first time.
It’s safe to say that I was thoroughly and unexpectedly impressed with Lejre. This is one of the best and most engaging examples of a museum I have ever visited. The experience was invaluable to me as an archaeologist and it grounded me as a person. I have a much better understanding of what life at Tybrind Vig and in the Late Mesolithic was like and to experience this was priceless. For many people, visiting Sagnlandet will be like stepping back in time and space to a place they never knew existed.
We take so much for granted these days – air conditioning, electricity, the ability to pop to a shop when we are hungry, or to order take-out online – that to my mind, it is beneficial to connect with life in a different time. It not only brings the past into the present, it helps us to be present. It gives us the opportunity to slow down, appreciate who we are, where we have come from and what we can be grateful for today.
The Land of Legends, Sagnlandet Lejre, is located at Slangealleen 2, 4320 Lejre, Denmark. Go there!! Alternatively you can telephone Sagnlandet on +45 46 48 08 78, or pay a virtual visit at www.sagnlandet.dk. You won’t regret it!
If you have any questions or comments please post them below. Until next time…
Photography by yours truly, Sarah Ward and Bennike og Alexandersen from Sagnlandet Lejre. The home page photo depicts one of Sagnlandet’s Stone Age Hunters, the top image looks across the reconstructed Iron Age Village and the middle image is of the Sacrificial Bog, during a reconstructed sacrifice. The bottom images are (right) of my friends John and Andy being taught how to make withies and (left) one of Sagnlandet’s Stone Age gentlemen cooking dinner in his hut. All (except my mates) are dressed in authentically reconstructed clothing, using reconstructed tools and weapons. Incredible!!