Skip to main content

1,200-year-old pagan temple to Thor and Odin unearthed in Norway

The god house was strongly built of beams and walls of wood; some lasted for hundreds of years. It included a central tower, patterned on Christian churches seen in lands further south.
The god house (shown here in a digital reconstruction) was strongly built of beams and walls of wood; some lasted for hundreds of years. It included a central tower, patterned on Christian churches seen in lands further south.
(Image: © University Museum of Bergen)

The remains of a 1,200-year-old pagan temple to the Old Norse gods such as Thor and Odin have been discovered in Norway — a rare relic of the Viking religion built a few centuries before Christianity became dominant there.

Archaeologists say the large wooden building — about 45 feet (14 meters) long, 26 feet (8 m) wide, and up to 40 feet (12 m) high — is thought to date from the end of the eighth century and was used for worship and sacrifices to gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices.

Old Norse culture was famous and feared by some a century later, after bands of Norse sailors and warriors known as the Vikings started trading, raiding and colonizing throughout Europe and into Iceland, Greenland and Canada.

Related: Did the Vikings think the gods were watching them?

This is the first Old Norse temple found in the country, said archaeologist Søren Diinhoff of the University Museum of Bergen.

"This is the first time we've found one of these very special, very beautiful buildings," Diinhoff told Live Science. "We know them from Sweden and we know them from Denmark. … This shows that they also existed in Norway."

The Norse began building these large "god houses," as they're called, in the sixth century. The god houses were much more complex than the simple sites, often outdoors, that the people previously used to worship the Old Norse gods.

"It is a stronger expression of belief than all the small cult places," he said. "This is probably something to do with a certain class of the society, who built these as a real ideological show."

Image 1 of 6

The god house was the religious link between local people and the Old Norse gods. The gods were said to live in the realm of Asgard, which was connected to the earthly realm Midgard by a "rainbow bridge" called Bifröst.

The god house was the religious link between local people and the Old Norse gods. The gods were said to live in the realm of Asgard, which was connected to the earthly realm Midgard by a "rainbow bridge" called Bifröst. (Image credit: University Museum of Bergen)
Image 2 of 6

The remains of the ancient god house were found at Ose, a seaside village near the town of Ørsta in western Norway, on land earmarked for a housing development.

The remains of the ancient god house were found at Ose, a seaside village near the town of Ørsta in western Norway, on land earmarked for a housing development. (Image credit: University Museum of Bergen)
Image 3 of 6

Excavations at the site revealed the remains of two longhouses – probably family farms – from more than 2000 years ago, before the god house was built at the end of the eighth century A.D.

Excavations at the site revealed the remains of two longhouses – probably family farms – from more than 2000 years ago, before the god house was built at the end of the eighth century A.D. (Image credit: University Museum of Bergen)
Image 4 of 6

The Old Norse "god house" was built from wood about 1200 years ago to worship gods like Odin, Thor, and Freyr. Post-holes that show its distinctive shape, including its central tower, have been unearthed at the site.

The Old Norse "god house" was built from wood about 1200 years ago to worship gods like Odin, Thor, and Freyr. Post-holes that show its distinctive shape, including its central tower, have been unearthed at the site. (Image credit: University Museum of Bergen)
Image 5 of 6

The interior of the god house at Ose may have been lit by hearths for sacrificial fires and had wooden statues of the Old Norse gods, such as the war god Odin, the storm god Thor, and the fertility god Freyr.

The interior of the god house (shown here in a digital reconstruction) at Ose may have been lit by hearths for sacrificial fires and had wooden statues of the Old Norse gods, such as the war god Odin, the storm god Thor, and the fertility god Freyr. (Image credit: University Museum of Bergen)
Image 6 of 6

The site is beside the coast among mountains and inlets, about 150 miles south-west of the modern city of Trondheim. Boathouses would have been built along the shore in ancient times.

The site is beside the coast among mountains and inlets, about 150 miles south-west of the modern city of Trondheim. Boathouses would have been built along the shore in ancient times. (Image credit: University Museum of Bergen)

God house

Archaeologists unearthed the foundations of the ancient building last month at Ose, a seaside village near the town of Ørsta in western Norway, ahead of preparations for a new housing development. 

Their excavations revealed traces of early agricultural settlements dating to between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, including the remains of two longhouses that would have each been the center of a small farm for a family and their animals, Diinhoff said.

The remains of the god house at Ose, however, are from a later time when the area began to be dominated by an elite group of wealthy families — a distinction that arose as Scandinavian societies began to interact with the more stratified societies of the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes of northern Europe.

"When the new socially differentiated society set in, in the Roman Iron Age, the leading families took control of the cult," he said.

Related: Photos: Viking outposts possibly found in Canada

Norse religious worship became more ideological and organized, and god houses at Ose were patterned on Christian basilicas that travelers had seen in southern lands, he said.

As a result, Old Norse temples featured a distinctive high tower above the pitched roof, which was a copy of the towers of early Christian churches, he said.

Although the wooden building is now long-gone, the post-holes that remain show its shape, including the round central posts of its tower — a very distinctive construction that was only ever used in god houses, Diinhoff said. "It would have been very impressive."

The Old Norse "god house" was built from wood about 1200 years ago to worship gods like Odin, Thor and Freyr. Post-holes that show its distinctive shape, including its central tower, have been unearthed at the site. (Image credit: University Museum of Bergen)

Ancient worship

The purpose of the site is also revealed by a concentration of cooking pits where food for religious feasts was prepared, and numerous bones — the remains of animal sacrifices.

A large white "phallus" stone, roughly representing the male genital organ, was also found nearby several years ago and was probably part of the Old Norse fertility rituals, Diinhoff said.

Related: 25 cultures that practiced human sacrifice

Ceremonies would have been held in the god house for important festivals on the religious calendar, such as the midsummer and midwinter solstices — the shortest and longest nights of the year, respectively.

Meat, drink and sometimes precious metals like gold would have been offered to wooden figurines within the building that represented the Old Norse gods — in particular the war god Odin, the storm god Thor, and the fertility god Freyr, who were commonly worshipped in the Old Norse religion and gave their names in English to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

As the gods could only partake of the festival food in spirit, the physical food and drink would be enjoyed by their worshippers. "You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking," Diinhoff said. "I think they would have had a good time."

The Old Norse religion was suppressed from the 11th century, when Norway's kings forcibly imposed the Christian religion and tore down or burned buildings like the god house at Ose to enforce worship in the new Christian churches.

So far, there's no evidence that the god house at Ose was part of that purge, Diinhoff said. 

Further work could reveal the house was among the pagan buildings destroyed at the time. "It would be ideal if we could explain that," he said. "But we're not there yet."

Originally published on Live Science.

  • Norse-Gael
    While the discovery is exciting, the assumptions regarding social practices are entirely unsubstantiated. It is quite clear from the historical record that the Norse did *not* celebrate on the winter and summer solstices, as is cavalierly mentioned in the article: As late as the 1100s, Norse pagans were still celebrating on the traditional days of Jol (January full moon), Sigrblot (3 moons later) and Winternghts (6 moons later.) The Norse calendar and ceremonies were based on a lunar, not a solar, calendar. It s also unsubstantiated conecture that the form of the temple was copied from churches; at the time, church steeples were at the end of the church above the altar area. Norse practice was always to feast in long halls, with a firepit in the middle. It is more likely that the central tower is not a copy of a steeple, but a venting system above the central fire/roasting pit, no different than a New England Sugar Shack. If you're roasting a boar on a spit indoors, you need a way for smoke to escape.
    Reply
  • wyrd_dottir
    While I can forgive lumping the Yuletide celebration with midwinter (as there is room for argument between the cultural concept of it, versus the scientific astronomical demarcation of it, which in turn was further muddled by decrees that moved Christian celebrations and Pagan to sync), I see no specific evidence that says that such festivities and observances were held at this specific site at those times. If the article had been written "where most likely rites for major celebrations such as Yule were probably held" would be one thing. I understand the desire to try to put it in context on why it might be significant.

    I see no basis for the clickbait headline: "1200 year old pagan temple to Thor and Odin unearthed in Norway" as the article mentions no information about specific references to Odin or Thor being found in the artifacts at the site. it is a presumption. Further, unless academia has reclassified the finds at Ranheim from 2012, then it's also not the first such gudhevot or god house found in Norway.

    So while the news is exciting, the reporting is sloppy and took too many liberties. Thus, littering the article with factual errors that mislead and misrepresent what we actually know from an academic point of view from the site.
    Reply
  • Wander 23
    The ignorance is that the northerners were not pagans. Thor is the Most High, from Thor and Thor means the upper. Asgard was located in the northern Kingdom of Israel, the northern horsemen of the Arameans. This is the only real Israel in history. And the Jews there Evrej -ierej means the people of the Chosen Priests of the Most High. They were called kagans or Cohen. Fact. One means One. Rus until 869 had the alphabet and scripture in the Crimea, which then took to Rome to create a church of the people of slaves and their language from Rus.
    Reply
  • Nyheim
    Wander23.

    Please stop, just stop.
    Tor means thunder and it's still used to this day to give name to the phenomenon.

    Your feverish delusions are better suited in a small room decorated floor to ceiling with crosses and marked bible pages.
    Reply
  • Wander 23
    Nyheim said:
    Wander23.

    Please stop, just stop.
    Tor means thunder and it's still used to this day to give name to the phenomenon.

    Your feverish delusions are better suited in a small room decorated floor to ceiling with crosses and marked bible pages.
    Ignorance is amazing. Your knowledge is deeply secondary and you do not know God and where Asgard comes from in the Yngling Saga. Thor means the Most High, in English the transliteration is Thor. there is in the history of Tork or Türk the people of the Most High Tor, hence the name. there is a sacred law of the Great Steppe as Tere or Tora. there is Ter the title of the name of the priest of the Great Steppe, the keeper of the Torah of the law of the Great Steppe. there is everything, and you have Roman myths of the 15-16th century. science is smarter than you. she talks about facts, and rejects facts that have not passed reasoning. you are imposing the dogma of a myth without scientific knowledge in principle. you are useless. I am the owner of the Scriptures of Rus until 860 from the Crimea of Khazaria, in science these are the Roush-Surski scriptures of the Arameevs, horsemen of the steppe kagans, who ruled from horseback on each drakkar. Hakan or king is they. all the kings of the north came from Asgard south of Tanais. saga of the Ynglings. Horses live only in the steppe and riders are always kings. Rus discovered Is-land the hot land of the Türk in 869 with their priests. Scripture had). you are not. it's funny to meet ignoramuses who appropriated paganism from the books of Rome)).
    Reply
  • Nyheim
    I am Scandinavian, Tor means thunder as in "Tordön", you're not the first nor the last to try tie down the "ancient israelites" to a certain group of people, in fact the same feverish attempts have been made by many; pointing to vastly different groups, like the Anglo-Centric Israelite belief or Afro-centric Israelites. All claiming to be the chosen ones, and all with the same feverish pitch.

    Your claim to own old scripture means nothing, there are thousands of religious scripts far older than the one you claim to have, this does not mean that any of them are true.

    You might be able to convert a small cult, nothing more.

    You are the prototype cultists; and I've met many. All equally convinced.






    Wander 23 said:
    Ignorance is amazing. Your knowledge is deeply secondary and you do not know God and where Asgard comes from in the Yngling Saga. Thor means the Most High, in English the transliteration is Thor. there is in the history of Tork or Türk the people of the Most High Tor, hence the name. there is a sacred law of the Great Steppe as Tere or Tora. there is Ter the title of the name of the priest of the Great Steppe, the keeper of the Torah of the law of the Great Steppe. there is everything, and you have Roman myths of the 15-16th century. science is smarter than you. she talks about facts, and rejects facts that have not passed reasoning. you are imposing the dogma of a myth without scientific knowledge in principle. you are useless. I am the owner of the Scriptures of Rus until 860 from the Crimea of Khazaria, in science these are the Roush-Surski scriptures of the Arameevs, horsemen of the steppe kagans, who ruled from horseback on each drakkar. Hakan or king is they. all the kings of the north came from Asgard south of Tanais. saga of the Ynglings. Horses live only in the steppe and riders are always kings. Rus discovered Is-land the hot land of the Türk in 869 with their priests. Scripture had). you are not. it's funny to meet ignoramuses who appropriated paganism from the books of Rome)).
    Reply
  • Wander 23
    Nyheim said:
    I am Scandinavian, Tor means thunder as in "Tordön", you're not the first nor the last to try tie down the "ancient israelites" to a certain group of people, in fact the same feverish attempts have been made by many; pointing to vastly different groups, like the Anglo-Centric Israelite belief or Afro-centric Israelites. All claiming to be the chosen ones, and all with the same feverish pitch.

    Your claim to own old scripture means nothing, there are thousands of religious scripts far older than the one you claim to have, this does not mean that any of them are true.

    You might be able to convert a small cult, nothing more.

    You are the prototype cultists; and I've met many. All equally convinced.
    Wat text is completely religious and built on myths and archetypes. complete ignorance. you do not know who Thor is in history and sources. you don't know who the Israelites are, and where Israel was. You do not know who the Vikings, Goth, Frank, Warang and Rus are. you do not know the history of the Russian royal family, not you. I have not seen any reasoning from science, only ignorance. you are useless. draw your comics further. I found all the roots of faith in Odin and Torah, I know who your kings are from my places and I am a descendant of them and the owner of the Scripture Rus not of the pagan idiots of the religion of Rome and its books, but of real Israel in Khazaria. horses of the Khazars Karaites run across Iceland. Vik-ing is not a Scandinavian, especially now, this is nonsense. and an outcast, the term Old Türkic, means exiled to Vik, i.e. expelled from the Scandinavian clan in the Vik Varangs, they are mercenaries, servants of kings from the great steppe. Tanais is the homeland of As (the Bulgarians, the Huns, the Türks were always called As) is the land either south of the Tanais or Don rivers now, but there is an ancient Tanais as the Syr Darya river in the land of the Aryans. and I am the nephew of the world's chief academician of archeology in these lands. the term Rus exists in Hebrew, in the Old Icelandic and Old Turkic dictionary of the 11th century. and you have nothing to say except the childish babble of undeveloped ideologies. and I found the temples of Rus and the whole history of Vera Rus and Odin and Thor. you are not capable of this knowledge, they are not your ancestors. yours in the comics. or the false fake of ibn-Fandlan of the 20th century. when you find two horses for the kagan on the drakar, then you can talk to. storytellers spoil the world with lies. Bye
    Reply
  • Nyheim
    Lol, like I said you're not the first cultist I've encountered. And your talking points are cut-and-paste versions of their arguments, very often the use of similar sounding words to prove their points... always pretending to have some mystical knowledge, always sprouting the "TRUTH",

    Here's a wordplay for you to descipher, in my language RUS/ROS can in its various incantations mean the following; rose, russian, being intoxicated, or to row. - The Finnish word for Sweden "Ruotsi" has the same word origin.... interesting, sure but it's not the ground for some religious feverish blabber.

    What does Rus mean in Hebrew, Turkish or even Sanskrit?

    I'll let you guess what "vik" means in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish.

    Cultist are always looking for tidbits to fit ther religion, be it in words or numerology.

    I know how this works,cultist usually try to pick any loose ends and try to fit them into a pre-convceived narrative, as is evident in all religions through history. From the ancient origins of trying to explain the world through Gods to your - very common - tactic of tying the rest of the world to a religion with a middle-eastern origin. The "chosen ones" method.

    So your are descendant of kings uh-huh?. It is said that 1/200 of all males are descendants of Genghis Khan, so what?

    In fact your ideas are nearly a Carbon copy of other groups (who coincidently put other people in the place where you put the Rus).

    It should be noted that people like you cannot be convinced, mockery is used to enlighten other people who happen to stumble upon cultists who claim to have deciphered some ancient hidden truths.

    It's basically Cult 101.

    ;) Carry on, and so will I. The difference is that you will descend into frenzy, while I won't.


    I predict your responses will be more and more threatening in tone as is customary with cultists.

    Wander 23 said:
    Wat text is completely religious and built on myths and archetypes. complete ignorance. you do not know who Thor is in history and sources. you don't know who the Israelites are, and where Israel was. You do not know who the Vikings, Goth, Frank, Warang and Rus are. you do not know the history of the Russian royal family, not you. I have not seen any reasoning from science, only ignorance. you are useless. draw your comics further. I found all the roots of faith in Odin and Torah, I know who your kings are from my places and I am a descendant of them and the owner of the Scripture Rus not of the pagan idiots of the religion of Rome and its books, but of real Israel in Khazaria. horses of the Khazars Karaites run across Iceland. Vik-ing is not a Scandinavian, especially now, this is nonsense. and an outcast, the term Old Türkic, means exiled to Vik, i.e. expelled from the Scandinavian clan in the Vik Varangs, they are mercenaries, servants of kings from the great steppe. Tanais is the homeland of As (the Bulgarians, the Huns, the Türks were always called As) is the land either south of the Tanais or Don rivers now, but there is an ancient Tanais as the Syr Darya river in the land of the Aryans. and I am the nephew of the world's chief academician of archeology in these lands. the term Rus exists in Hebrew, in the Old Icelandic and Old Turkic dictionary of the 11th century. and you have nothing to say except the childish babble of undeveloped ideologies. and I found the temples of Rus and the whole history of Vera Rus and Odin and Thor. you are not capable of this knowledge, they are not your ancestors. yours in the comics. or the false fake of ibn-Fandlan of the 20th century. when you find two horses for the kagan on the drakar, then you can talk to. storytellers spoil the world with lies. Bye
    Reply
  • Wander 23
    Nyheim said:
    Lol, like I said you're not the first cultist I've encountered. And your talking points are cut-and-paste versions of their arguments, very often the use of similar sounding words to prove their points... always pretending to have some mystical knowledge, always sprouting the "TRUTH",

    Here's a wordplay for you to descipher, in my language RUS/ROS can in its various incantations mean the following; rose, russian, being intoxicated, or to row. - The Finnish word for Sweden "Ruotsi" has the same word origin.... interesting, sure but it's not the ground for some religious feverish blabber.

    What does Rus mean in Hebrew, Turkish or even Sanskrit?

    I'll let you guess what "vik" means in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish.

    Cultist are always looking for tidbits to fit ther religion, be it in words or numerology.

    I know how this works,cultist usually try to pick any loose ends and try to fit them into a pre-convceived narrative, as is evident in all religions through history. From the ancient origins of trying to explain the world through Gods to your - very common - tactic of tying the rest of the world to a religion with a middle-eastern origin. The "chosen ones" method.

    So your are descendant of kings uh-huh?. It is said that 1/200 of all males are descendants of Genghis Khan, so what?

    In fact your ideas are nearly a Carbon copy of other groups (who coincidently put other people in the place where you put the Rus).

    It should be noted that people like you cannot be convinced, mockery is used to enlighten other people who happen to stumble upon cultists who claim to have deciphered some ancient hidden truths.

    It's basically Cult 101.

    Carry on, and so will I. The difference is that you will descend into frenzy, while I won't.


    I predict your responses will be more and more threatening in tone as is customary with cultists.
    Not a single knowledge, fact, only myths. the transition to personalities is extreme ignorance, if there is nothing to say)). You don't know anything, but you are ready to teach. will not work. you do not know that the Swedes lived in Little Sweden, Rus is a place to the north of Stockholm, as Rerik Danish was Rus), the nephew of Charlemagne, Charlemagne). Great Sweden is my homeland, not yours and Asgard, the city of Aso is my city, not yours. and my royal family from the 10th century is my family Rus from Lithuania, and for this Karaites are the Khagans of Israel from Khazaria. the rabbis also think so and therefore the Jews of neo-Israel now want to move to the Crimea, which they bought in the USSR in the 1920s to create Israel, therefore there). but they are not true Ashkenazi Jerei Germans). Rus or Rosh is the Bible term of the Book of Ezekiel, it is Rosh the royal lineage. in the annals they write "Rus, Son of Türk, Daudshev Son". Türk is the people of Thor and the chronicles of the campaign of the Normans Rus to Persia speak of the same faith of Rus and the inhabitants of the capital of Berdaa of Caucasian Albania, and there Tat, the Persians lived. Priests of the temple of King Kir. that's how ignorant you are. Thor Heyerdahl was more honest and smarter than you in science. and I found the temples of Rus with their ornaments in the Caucasus, not you. and the owner of the Scripture Rus in the manuscript is me, not you). funny, crowds of comic book lovers argue with the descendants of the knights of Rus Baltic, academicians from Central Asia. I'm all in books, photos, knowledge, and you are nothing at all. not a single quote. come on Snorri Sturulson about the Great Svitod? The saga of the Earth Circle, Ynglings, dozens of other sagas)). you do not have. and I, as an archaeologist, dug the lands of the Aryans and the horsemen of the Khagans)). I write to the whole world, monarchs, patriarchs. and you?))) funny.
    Bye Bro)))
    Reply
  • Nyheim
    Keep blabbering...

    Of course I know what Roslagen is.. but related to the Turk according to whom?

    Again, cherry picking to confirm to your delusions.

    Your reference to scripture means nothing,

    And I am curiously awaiting your take on the rest of the Norse Pantheon of Asar and Vanir.

    Jag född och lever i ett land som än idag har orter och platser som bär namn efter de gamla gudarna; bland dem Tor.




    :D

    Cultist

    "Rus or Rosh is the Bible term of the Book of Ezekiel, it is Rosh the royal lineage. in the annals they write "Rus, Son of Türk, Daudshev Son". Türk is the people of Thor "
    Reply