The Iron Age and Medieval portage at Haraldseid, southwest Norway. Legends, place names and archaeology
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Original versionIn: Albris, S. F. (ed.). Placing Place Names in Norwegian Archaeology. Current Discussions and Future Perspectives, 141-164.
The old Norse term eið occurs in many Scandinavian place names. It denotes a passage over land between two trafficable waters, i.e., an isthmus which could be utilised as a portage for boats, people and cargo. Thus, the eið place names provide important evidence of sites that may have been central communication routes in premodern times. Haraldseid in southwest Norway is among the prominent examples of portage sites. Here, the personal name Haraldr has been associated in local legends with the Viking king Haraldr Fairhair, who resided nearby at Avaldsnes. Place names and legends documented in the 19th–20th centuries might disclose important historical insights into the use of this cultural landscape. Indeed, the archaeological evidence suggests that there might be a core of truth in some of the legends, bridging the gap between myth and reality. The article combines place names, folklore, early maps, historical and archaeological evidence in a synthesis about the strategic importance of the Iron Age and Medieval portage at Haraldseid. While local elites probably controlled and maintained the portage under the influence of rulers at Avaldsnes in the Iron Age, more direct royal control and transport of Hanseatic goods are attested in the Medieval period.