The York-Dublin Axis Reconsidered - An Interdisciplinary Approach to Viking Towns

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Humanities


This project will create an interdisciplinary network of scholars and heritage professionals who share interests in Britain and Ireland's two greatest Viking towns; York and Dublin. It will foster and enhance interdisciplinary, international collaborative research, heritage management practice, public outreach and creative enterprise.

Since the 1970s, a new appreciation of the role of towns, urbanisation and trade has transformed our understanding of the Viking Age from Scandinavia to Russia, as well as in Britain and Ireland. Although international trading and manufacturing sites played crucially important economic, political and social roles, they were also relatively rare - no more than a dozen are known from across the Viking world.

In this context, Dublin and York - by far the best documented and best excavated urban centres in the Viking West - are of exceptional international importance. Contemporary sources are relatively well-studied, and half a century of urban excavations has produced exceptional evidence. The towns constitute vital resources for archaeologists and heritage professionals alike, but with some exceptions, communication and collaboration between specialists and practitioners, and between the two modern cities, has been limited.

This lack of communication between contemporary professionals is particularly significant because the political relationship between Viking York and Dublin was once very close: they shared a ruling dynasty, the 'grandsons of Ivarr', for a significant period in the 9th and 10th centuries. However, the impact of this political link on the social and economic development of the two towns is under-researched and largely unrecognised by the public.

Our understanding of life in Viking-Age York and Dublin has been transformed by archaeological research, but this has developed in subtly different ways in each city, and has not always informed discussions of broader historical narratives. New scientific methods and interpretative models offer huge potential for future research, and new systems of data management and public outreach offer both challenges and opportunities.

Our network will bring together academics, field archaeologists, artefact specialists, heritage professionals, and public historians and archaeologists to explore the relationship between the two towns in this seminal period, comparing and contrasting the relationships between the living cities and their Viking heritage. How close - or different - is the evidence they have produced? How can new research techniques inform our understanding of systems of trade, manufacturing and economy? Does this transform long-standing models of the cities' development? Can the research and management experiences of each city inform best practice? Can the cities benefit from shared approaches to new digital technologies? And how can new discoveries best be communicated to the general public? Our workshops will provide a forum to plan future activity, and an authentic platform for meaningful public engagement.

Our key aims are to re-examine the evidence in detail, to situate this evidence in its broader context, and to consider the potential for future collaboration. To this end, we will organise three workshops. The first, 'New Evidence' (York Spring 2021) will provide a forum for new research; the second 'New Approaches (Dublin Autumn 2021) will challenge existing models of urban development; and the third, 'New Engagements' (Dublin Spring 2022) will examine the relationship between the modern cities and their Viking past. A strategy document will be produced, and the results will be disseminated in a range of media.
By stimulating discussion between key stakeholders and knowledge-makers, this project will reinvigorate the study of both Viking towns, draw fresh attention to the connections between them, reengage with debates on Viking-Age urbanism, and lay the groundwork for future research and outreach.

Planned Impact

This network will bring together key researchers and heritage professionals to share cutting-edge research on the two towns; challenge long-established interpretative frameworks; plan new research using new evidence, technologies and approaches; and inform future heritage management and outreach activities in the light of this information.
The following organisations have produced statements of support - City of York Council, Dublin City Council, the National University of Ireland, York Archaeological Trust and York Museums Trust. Together with the Glasgow and York Universities - the two leading institutions for Viking archaeology in Britain - these stakeholders are represented on the steering group, and ideally situated to maximise professional and public impact. The research and engagement strategy document will inform future activity, and address shared concerns about ongoing and future publication and dissemination of excavation results.
Heritage Management, Cultural Policy and Local Government
Dr Ruth Johnson is the Dublin City Archaeologist. She holds a PhD in the archaeology of Viking Dublin, and has been in post for almost twenty years. Her counterpart in City of York Council is Claire MacRae. Both councils, and these archaeologists, play key roles in planning and heritage management. Networking discussions, and the strategy document, will inform future heritage management in both cities, identifying research priorities in future development-driven excavations.
Public Sector Agencies
The National Museum of Ireland (NMI) is the legal repository for more than 200,000 artefacts from Viking Dublin and led a number of key excavations in the city in the past, notably at Wood Quay. There is no equivalent public sector agency in York, with excavation being undertaken by York Archaeological Trust (YAT) and storage and displaying undertaken by YAT and York Museums Trust (YMT), both Museum/Third Sector institutions. The network will link equivalent staff at these institutions, promoting collaboration across these administrative and international boundaries.
Museums & the Third Sector
YAT, represented on the steering group by Chris Tuckley, has played a fundamental role in the excavation, archiving and publication of York's Viking archaeology for more than forty years, and has developed JORVIK, a world-leading public outreach body. Dr Andy Woods is a senior curator at Yorkshire Museum (YMT), which is the repository for finds from York. Neither YMT nor YAT has a direct equivalent in Dublin, but the network will link staff to equivalent personnel in the NMI, in Dublin's independent commercial archaeology sector, and in Dublinia, the museum of medieval Dublin.
The group will pay particular attention to the potential for a specialised museum of Viking Dublin, in which the huge assemblages recovered since the 1970s - currently in the NMI (above) - can be stored and displayed for research, education and tourism. Field trips will bring network members to the NMI, YMT, and to JORVIK and Dublinia, while digital archaeologists will demonstrate the potential of new techniques in workshops.
Commercial Sector
Since the late 1980s, excavations in Dublin have been carried out by a number of commercial companies. A key figure has been Linzi Simpson, who will be part of the networking group, and who will have the opportunity to engage with excavation directors in YAT. Others will be encouraged to contribute to the network, as appropriate.
The role of new research in tourism will be explored through liaison with the existing 'Destination Viking' group, of which Drs Johnson and Purcell are already members
Local Communities & the Wider Public
Key project results will be presented in British and Irish popular archaeology magazines, through the website, and directly to groups in York, Dublin and further afield. Each workshop is planned to coincide with a public history outreach event, at which an outreach paper will be presented.


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