Medieval barrel well excavated in the palace square

26. September 2017 | Nyborg Castle

After two medieval barrels have been unearthed in the dig in the palace square at Nyborg Castle, the king’s food cupboard can be recreated with original artefacts as its starting point.

The two barrels found during the excavation in the palace square at Nyborg Castle are from the Middle Ages, and a Carbon 14 dating will give us a more precise picture of how old they are. The barrels stood over one another, making up the sides of a well, where water was fetched to ease the daily life at the castle. They were found on the original site of the northern wing, where the castle kitchen and other rooms once were. Workers there could get water at the well without having to go outdoors. Right next to the well, museum archaeologists additionally found traces of food preparation.

Empty wells in 1534

The barrels were placed at a considerable depth, so water from the castle moat could keep them filled. The amount of water in the moat around the castle was therefore of decisive importance for the water supply of the castle.

In 1534, during the Feud of the Counts (civil war), Count Christoffer of Oldenburg (in present-day Germany) managed by cunning to take Nyborg. But Nyborg Castle held out, giving shelter to about 400 citizens and nobles who had fled into the castle to avoid violence and plunder. After a long siege, the count’s troops broke the dams that kept the water level in the moat artificially high. This meant that the water level sank and suddenly, no one could get water from the castle’s wells. Thirst led to mutiny, and the castle had to surrender to the count.

Christian III had learned the lesson of the Feud of the Counts, when he changed the engineering of the water supply to the castle in 1551, so that the castle lake couldn’t be emptied simply by breaking the dam.

The barrel well give us new insight

The finding of the barrel well gives us new insight into the complicated system of canals and dams that are the foundation for the establishment of Nyborg Castle and Nyborg itself. The system was built around 1200 and was expanded several times, including during the reign of Christian III. It still defines the setting for Nyborg’s medieval and renaissance town centre.

The barrels will be recreated

When the king’s food cupboard is recreated as an exhibition at Nyborg Castle, the newly-found barrels will serve as models for reconstructions. Even though they will “only” be reconstructions, it’s important that their dimensions and appearance reflect the real thing.

The original barrels have been lifted out of the ground and sent to be conserved, so that they can be put on exhibit when the castle museum reopens.

See how archaeologists and conservators carefully preserve the two barrels for posterity here:

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