Archaeological digs

What the earth concealed...

For about the last 100 years, people have been interested in what the terrain around Nyborg Castle might be concealing beneath the ground. This has led to many archaeological excavations; unfortunately, the earliest of them are poorly documented.

In the area to the east of Knud's Tower, traces of buildings were found that probably had functioned in connection with the access road to the castle itself, which lay to the east, just south of Knud's Tower. There are, among other things, traces of a round tower fitted out for defence; it was possibly intended to protect the access road. In the moat just beyond the gable end of the (present day) library, there are traces of the bridge connecting the town with the castle grounds. Divers located the remains of pillars there that formed the structure of the bridge.

Remains of the outer walls have been found in several places, both to the north and the south of Knud's Tower, parts of the wall have been reconstructed low to the ground. Inside the outer wall, some soldiers, who were digging, found traces of a wooden or half-timbered house, that was unfortunately removed (and destroyed). Restoration architect Mogens Clemmensen found this building's foundation minus the traces of wood, but it was not possible to date the building. It could just as well be from the Middle Ages as from the garrison period.

In the northeast corner of the remaining castle building, the remains of the northern wing have been excavated, and it would appear that there might have been a cellar. Here there was also a rounded foundation, which is interpreted to mean that there was a half-round flanking tower. Such flanking towers apparently existed in the southern, western and northern walls, and can be seen on the back of the existing western wing (the castle) to this day.

At the end of the 1800's, an envoy from the Danish National Museum, P. Hauberg, noted that there were traces of a defence earthworks towards the moat on the north side of the castle grounds. If it did indeed exist then, all evidence of it has since been removed. However, perhaps it could be rediscovered by excavation.

 

New knowledge about the castle and the castle grounds

On Monday, May 11, 2009, the Museums of Eastern Funen broke ground for their first excavation of the castle grounds, whose aim was to cast new light on the oldest part of Nyborg's history. Nyborg Castle is mentioned for the first time in a written record in 1193, but when was it actually built? In May, 2012 and January, 2013, the museum carried out two archaeological digs, examining the area around Café Danehof. Their goal was to find out how much archaeological material remained under the building, partly because of plans to build near the site.

These excavations were encouraged by the Danish Agency for Culture, and they were an important first step towards announcing an architects' contest for the design of a new museum building, which will be part of recreating the former grandeur of the old castle. Café Danehof lies in the area where the north wing of the castle once was placed. This wing was demolished in 1723, then the site was bare until the mid-1800's, when the building that now houses Café Danehof was built, for use by the military garrison in Nyborg.

The dig had four different areas of excavation around the café and one inside the building. The results showed that the castle was originally built on a clay hillside sloping towards the town. The outer wall of the castle was built into the slope, after which the area inside the wall was leveled. The archaeologists even found the holes in the ground left by scaffolding when the wall was built. The castle had an imposing facade seen from the town; its courtyard was at a higher level.

 

Oak from the time of King Valdemar Victory

It turned out that the big find from the 2012 dig was at the base of the flattened courtyard. Here stood a row of oak posts that had been driven into the ground, to hold the form of the outer wall and possibly also to protect the courtyard from the moat water. They are part of the history of the outer wall's construction. Archaeologist dug up the posts and sent them to be dated (by dendrochronology or tree-ring dating). The answer was that they were chopped down in 1209 and probably driven into the ground in 1210. The posts were thus used in the reign of King Valdemar II Victory (1202-1241). This date places Nyborg front and center in the history of the Danish Baltic empire and the centralisation of the Danish monarchy starting in the early 1200's, a role which had not previously been fully acknowledged.

The museum archaeologists also found traces of the north wing, built just inside the outer wall. From written sources from the 1500's and 1600's, we know that the castle staff members were busy here, since this wing contained the kitchen, the servants' hall, etc. In three excavation sites on the south side of the café, remains of this wing's foundation were found. Unfortunately, these walls had been totally demolished in the 1720's, and there was no brickwork left on top of the foundation. On the other hand, it was very interesting that the north wing of the castle was apparently originally a masonry building of about the same size as the west wing or palace, which is still standing. It would appear that the two wings were built at about the same time, giving us a picture of the castle in the 1200's with two large brick buildings inside the outer walls. Later, the wings were connected, and the large, four-sided building complex was established.

On the northern side of the foundation remains, inside the old north wing, several layers of floors were unearthed, starting with a brick floor. It turned out to be the youngest of the layers, which also included a cobblestone floor and a packed earthen floor.

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