Wadden Sea Archaeology

There are many archaeological remains in the countryside along the Wadden Sea. The rich salt marshes provided good conditions for early inhabitants and the natural harbours created the foundation of one of the largest market towns in the North.

The North Sea was dry during the Mesolithic period, and inhabitants at the time hunted in the flood plains now located deep beneath the ocean. Sea levels rose throughout the millennia and settled at their current level at the end of the Neolithic period. The rising water levels drove away inhabitants, and this is why there are not many traces of the Stone Age by the Wadden Sea. However, there are copious prehistoric traces from the periods that followed. These bear witness to the sizeable population of the area at the time.

The salt marshes brought wealth

The reason for this is to be found in the rich salt marshes that were created once the coastline stabilised during the Bronze Age. The sea deposited layer upon layer of clay along the flat coastal area. The deposits later became a godsend to farmers by the Wadden Sea. The clay enriched the earth and made it possible to keep large livestock herds, which meant wealth and food for many people. The salt marshes have been densely populated since the Iron Age. There are many traces of bygone farmyards, particularly along the edge of the geests, where the salt marshes meet the higher-lying dry land.

A class society

Some of the many findings from the Iron Age bear witness to the already great class divide in society between the rich and powerful and ordinary people. An impressive Iron-Age hall has been excavated near Dankirke, south of Ribe, which burned to the ground in 500 AD. Before it burnt down, the hall would have been able to accommodate huge gatherings of people. 

This indicates that the owner of the hall was prodigiously wealthy, and probably owned extensive territory along the Wadden Sea.

Turning to the West

Wealth also stemmed from trade and shipping. The coastline along the Wadden Sea contained some of the few natural harbours of western Jutland and its location by the North Sea meant that it was the shortest route between Denmark and the trading stations in western and southern Europe, as well as the towns and cities along the major German rivers. The discovery in Kongeån of the more than 20-metre-long Gredstedbro ship from 600 AD is evidence of this blossoming trade and bears witness to the quality of workmanship at that time. The trading centre of Ribe was founded in 700. It was the first of its kind in the North and it became the basis of the town that grew up around it. Ribe became the centre of trade between the Danes and the Christian merchants that visited the country. It was therefore only natural that Denmark's first church was erected in this international part of the country. It was here that Archbishop Ansgar, with the blessing of the King, built the first church in the 9th century, 100 years before Denmark officially converted to Christianity. The church was located on the same site as Ribe Cathedral now stands.

Mounds and storm surges

The salt marshes continued to expand throughout the Iron and Viking Ages. Farmers near Ballum and Tønder chose to move into the salt marshes and settled on artificial embankments of dredged clay. The so-called 'værfter' (mounds).

In Denmark, væfter were only built in the southernmost parts of the Wadden Sea area.

 The most northern point was the village of Misthusum, southwest of Skærbæk. Beginning in the 14th century, the Wadden Sea area began to be plagued by storm surges. Some storms were so violent that they quite literally altered the face of the landscape. Storm surges have created and destroyed islands in the Wadden Sea, and have cost the lives of many people. A number of 'værfter' and villages were abandoned, and settlements along the coast became more cautious. For example, the relatively large fishing village of Sønderside was abandoned after the storm surge in 1634. Remains of the village have been excavated in the sand south of Ho dune plantation.

Archaeological sites:

The long barrow burial sites at Abterp by Bredebro: See how the Stone Age landscape has, literally, sunk into the earth. The remains of houses in the Marbæk Plantation: The houses were built in the early Iron Age. The floors were lain with fist-sized round cobblestones and these perfectly outline the 2,000-year-old buildings. The village near Hjemsted Banke by Skærbæk: An excavated village dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries. You can see a full reconstruction of the village at Hjemsted Oldtispark. The Museum of Southwest Jutland - Vikings of Ribe: Exhibitions of the archaeological finds from the city's golden age during the Viking and Middle Ages. You can also see reconstructions of Viking daily life. The Fisheries and Maritime Museum in Esbjerg: Exhibition detailing the history of fisheries by the Wadden Sea. Near Ballum and in Tøndermarsken: See impressive examples of the characteristic 'værfter', some of which are still inhabited.


Hvis du vil vide mere, så besøg et af nationalparkens spændende besøgscentre.

VisitIf you want to learn more, visit one of the National Park’s exciting exhibition venues.

BesuchWenn Sie mehr erfahren möchten, sollten Sie eines der interessanten Informationszentren des Nationalparks aufsuchen.


Danmarks Ravmuseum

Lundvej 4, 6800 Varde

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  Obfuscated Email  +45 75 22 08 77


Varde Museum

Lundvej 4, 6800 Varde

undefined  www.vardemuseerne.dk
  Obfuscated Email  +45 75 22 08 77


Esbjerg Museum

Torvegade 45, 6700 Esbjerg

undefined  www.esbjergmuseum.dk
  Obfuscated Email  +45 76 16 39 39


Fiskeri- og Søfartsmuseet

Tarphagevej 2 , 6710 Esbjerg V

undefined  www.fimus.dk
  Obfuscated Email  +45 76 12 20 00


Museet Ribes Vikinger

Odins Plads 1, 6760 Ribe

undefined  www.ribesvikinger.dk
  Obfuscated Email  +45 76 16 39 60


Ribe Vikinge Center

Lustrupvej 4, Lustrupholm, 6760 Ribe

undefined  www.ribevikingecenter.dk
  Obfuscated Email  +45 75 41 16 11