Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

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OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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The Village Where the Past is Present
by Bob Brooke

The sun shines full and wispy clouds float over a group of thatched houses standing by a pond surrounded by a cross-timber fence. The scene seems to be from another time. In a way it is. The houses are part of an Iron Age village near the town of Lejre, 25 miles west of Copenhagen, Denmark.

A group of Scandinavian scientists, passionate explorers of the past, have built this village to find out how people lived in northern Europe during prehistoric times. Basing their work on solid archeological evidence, they set about constructing duplicates of Iron Age dwellings that have been uncovered, tilling fields with copies of ancient plows, weaving cloth on reconstructions of prehistoric looms and turning it into clothing–all with the goal of experimentation to prove their theories.

In one experiment, they set fire to one of the reconstructed houses to see how closely its ruins matched the charred remains of actual Iron Age houses. They discovered exactly how prehistoric man built his houses, how he used his tools and how many acres of grain it took to feed a family of six or eight.

This re-created village of the early Iron Age–from about 500 B.C. to 400 A.D.–is the focus of a living experiment in prehistory at the research center at Lejre, founded in 1964, which today spreads over 50 acres of Danish fields and woodlands.

No mere tourist attraction, this village is a working laboratory. Here, aided by student volunteers who live and sometimes dress like prehistoric farmers, the Lejre scientists measure everything from the body heat given off by animals stabled indoors to the length of time it takes for a thatched wattle-and-daub house to disintegrate after it has been abandoned.

Nestled between marsh and hill, the houses at Lejre, like their Iron Age counterparts, lie along an east-west axis, with hearth and living quarters at the western end of each and pens for livestock at the eastern end. An encircling branch fence keeps grazing animals from nibbling at the thatch.

Ancient Food Production
And the experimentation doesn't stop with dwellings. Scrupulously scientific in duplicating the living conditions of Iron Age Danes, the researchers at Lejre have also explore in detail the ancient methods of food production. They test the efficiency of the prehistoric plow, called an ard, in various kinds of soil, using draft animals that closely approximate in size and appearance breeds believed to have been used at the time.

In their plowed fields, researchers plant the kinds of crops that, according to pollen analysis and seed remains, Iron Age farmers sowed, including flax, barley and emmer and einkorn wheat. In the autumn, they harvest their grains with copies of ancient sickles.

After harvesting the grain, volunteers thresh it in the passageway between the living quarters and stable, where persistent drafts help blow away the chaff. Then they crush it into flour, kneading it into bread and making it into porridge. They found that to grind a day's worth of coarse meal took as long as three hours to grind a day's worth of coarse meal. To do this, young women kneel on a sheepskin which lies beneath the runner and the rester, as the millstone are called. The sheepskin helps to keep the dirt on the hard-packed clay floor from becoming mixed with the grain. Overhead, cuts of meat, suspend from rafters to dry and cure, dangle in the warm smoke of the hearth fire.

Volunteers store the newly ground grain in a cloth-covered drying rack hung from the rafters in the loft of the house. This keeps the grain out of the reach of rodents. The smoke from the hearth, drifting through the loft, gives added protection.

Loaves o f "fireplace" bread baked in the ashes of the hearth fire have been discovered at Iron Age settlements. There was little or no furniture in Iron Age houses, so grinding, baking and most other work had to be done while kneeling on the hard dirt floor.

Re-creating Ancient Crafts
The Leyre researchers have painstakingly re-created ancient crafts. By studying the style and the chemical structure of ancient pieces of pottery and by experimenting with different techniques of firing, potters have been able to produce accurate copies of the Iron Age originals.

The potters then fire the raw clay pots in a kiln similar to those used in northern Europe 2,500 years ago. Before they can do this, however, they must reconstruct the kiln using clay that has been packed around a frame of twigs, which is hardened by fire. The intense heat carried up by drafts from the wood-filled firebox, at the bottom of the kiln, hardens the raw pottery stacked inside the bulbous oven.

Similarly, drawing upon information as diverse as loom weights dug up at archeological sites and paintings on Greek vases, weavers at Lejre have reconstructed an upright prehistoric loom and have used it to reproduce woolen Iron Age clothing.

Volunteers wear robes of homespun identical to ancient garments. Replicas of ancient fabrics have resulted from years of research, involving microscopic study o f Iron Age textiles and the breeding o f special sheep to produce the proper kind o f wool. Leyre researchers spend long hours spinning thread to the right coarseness and strength and adjusting the loom so that the length and number of threads correspond to those in the original cloth

Researchers have also experimented with animals. During part of one winter, they shared one of the houses with the livestock, a common practice in prehistoric times, based on horse and cattle bones found in charred house ruins. As the researchers learned, the animals' body heat helped to make the chilly house livable. Careful breeding experiments insured that the animals used were similar to those of now-extinct breeds. Researchers produced a hairy pig--hardy, quick and well adapted to living in the forest as its ancestors were--by breeding farm pigs with wild boars. And when turned loose in the Spring, they carefully observed the animals to see what impact they had on the vegetation of nearby pastures and forests.

Throughout the long, dark months of the Scandinavian Iron Age winter, the hearth fire was the center of activity. Huddled close to its meager warmth, women worked at their weaving, did the cooking and ground the grain, while the men prepared their farm tools for spring use, or their weapons for an occasional morning's hunt.

Skins of oxen and horses suspended over the fire helped keep flying sparks from reaching the dry roof thatch. There was no chimney hole, which would have permitted rain and snow to enter. Instead Iron Age home builders placed air holes under the apex of the roof at either end of the house. The cross draft carried the hearth smoke from one end of the dwelling, through the loft and out the other opening. This also helped to draw the warmth of the livestock into the living area.

Leyre stands as a monument to scientific exploration. It's only through such experiments that man can learn how his ancient ancestors lived.

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Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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