One king, one queen, two princes and a president are all supporting excavations on a wet derelict patch of ground in the center of York. Prince Charles of Britain, Crown Prince Harold of Norway, King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, Queen Margrethe of Denmark and the president of Iceland, Dr. Kristjan Eldjarn, are all patrons of a remarkable archeological excavation which may help to "rehabilitate" the Vikings by giving the clearest picture so far of their peaceful contribution to civilization, once their destroying days were over.
Prince Charles says he would like to have a reunion of the royal and presidential patrons on the archeological site at Coppergate, so that they can see the miraculously preserved creations of the Viking Kingdom of York - or Jorvik - being taken from the waterlogged soil betwwen the rivers Ouse and Foss.
School histroy books and Hollywood films have left clear images of the Vikings in the popular imagination: lean predatory longboats, monasteries plundered, monks murdered, women raped and children tossed on heathen spears.
After decades of piratical raids the "great army" of the VIkings landed in England in 865, took York apparently unopposed two years later and went marauding over the country for the next nine years. But in 876 about 1,000 warriors settled down in York. They became farmers, craftsmen and traders, quickly intermarried with the local population and adopted Christianity.
And over the next 100 years they turned the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York into one of the foremost trading centers in Western Europe.
Because of the preservative properties of the damp black soil, objects in leather and wood, that everywhere else have long since decayed, are coming out in fine condition, giving a unique picture of the lives of ordinary men of York in the 10th and 11 centuries.
Three Viking-age buildings have been found with walls of oak planks still standing more than 3 feet high from a period when such buildings have survived - if at all - only as stains in the earth.
The finds include beautiful leather shoes, wooden bowls, an embossed leather sheath for a long knife, the top of a rush basket, fine bone combs still inside their holders, and bone skates. Iron and bronze, tools and ornaments have also survived little corrosion.
Their great number and variety are evidence of extensive manufacture, widespread trade and tremendous wealth.
Magnus Magnusson, Viking scholar and television presenter on archeology commented: "The York excavations are a very significant step forward in the rehabilitation of the Vikings. We are now seeing them as a rather positive people and not only capable of destruction as has commonly been supposed. York was the great Viking capital of the West and Scandinavian scholars now think of this as the greatest Viking excavation anywhere."
Magnusson - whose televison series on the archeology of the Bible lands PBS expects to show in the United States soon - is chairman of the committee trying to raise 100,000 pounds ($170,000) needed to complete the Coppergate excavations.
It will be Britain's most expensive archeological excavation. Work will have to stop by the end of the summer, before lower Viking. Anglican and Roman layers are excavated, unless expensive shoring work is carried out. The softness of the soil, the depth of the dig already and the closeness of nearby buildings would make it too dangerous to continue. Money is also needed for the recording and permanent preservation of the finds.
"There is little limit to what the skill and scholarship of our archeologists will find here, given the time and finance . . . the site of the royal hall for instance, the city houses of traders and merchants - perhaps even a Viking boat silted up in the mud in the waterfront," said Magnusson in launching the appeal.
The York Archeological Trust is in the process of getting registered as a charity in the United States and appealing for funds here.
But there has already been considerable American help in the excavation of York's many historic sites.
For the past five years Dr. Richard Sherman, a medieval historian from the University of Pennsylvania, has been bringing over teams of students to get their practical excavation experience at York.
A team from Penn spent the month of June working on the Coppergate dig. And a party from Rutgers University has added to archeological knowledge at the more modern end of the historic spectrum in York. They excavated an early 19th-century house - to compare it with the development of American houses after the colonial period.
For years Viking finds have been popping up all over central York - almost every time the ground was broken for a new sewer or new building.
"These buildings are the first of their kind ever discovered. They tell us at last what town structures in Anglo-Scandinavian England look like," says Peter Addyman, director of the York Archeological Trust which over the past five years has been building a picture of the development of York since Roman times.
One of the buildings contained leather stretchers and large amounts of off-cuts, probably form shoe making. And scientists from the Environmental Archeology Unit at York University have identified the alum, chicken dirt and elderberries used in the curing of the skins, the flies that bred by the million in discarded organic material and even the tannery beetles normally associated with leather working.
"All of this must have given rsie to a fearsome smell," says Addyman.
A woodturner's workshop must have been close by because another of the buildings was filled with the debris of woodworking, including cores of wood left from the manufacture of wooden bowls using wheel lathes.
Many traces of cloth in a wide variety of fabrics and weaves suggests another Jorvik industry.
"Jorvik is enriched with the treasure of merchants who come from all quarters," it says in the Life of St. Oswald (circa 1000 A.D.).
Coppergate - in Scandinavian it means Street of the Woodturners - is A shoe from a trench, the planked threshold of a Viking house on the construction site for a new bank. Brief, tantalizing glimpses.
It was when the 1,500 square meter Coppergate site was made available for two years prior to redevelopment that it became clear what rich remnants of the city of Jorvik still endured.
"It's an archeological bonanza," said site supervisor Richard Hall, who is particularly interested in urbanization during the Viking period.
The three oak buildings consist of massive oak planks and split logs held in place by internal uprights, resting on long horizontal sill beams. At one end of the street a large quantity of collapsed planking was found - perhaps the original gable wall of the structure. Roof features also survive giving the first three-dimensional picture of ordinary architecture before the Norman Conquest.
And when the timbers were being lifted in May for preservation and possible reconstruction, a small silver penny fron the reign of King Aethelred ll - Aethelred The Unready - was found. It was minted around 980 A.D. - further evidence suggesting the buildings are from the 10th or 11th century. Dendrochronoloy - analysis of the tree rings - should eventually date the timbers to a precise year.
Also under the collapsed wall was a well-preserved wooden shovel, similar to those depicted in the Bayeux tapestry.
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] providing evidence of that widespread trade.
Large numbers of whetstones were imported from Norway - a boat load of them that didn't make it was recently found sunk in Larvik fjord.
Lava millstones from the Rhineland, pottery wine jars, Frisian bone and metal objects - even the mold of a common type of Norwegian broach have turned up in the excavations.
From the British Isles came soapstone bowls from the Shetland Islands, jet from Whitby, Greenware pottery from Stamford in Lincolnshire and ironwork from Dublin - the other Viking city of the West.
"For the first time we can visualize the lifestyle of 10th-century England," says Addyman, who believes that archeology's most appealing function is to resurrrect the way of life of the millions whose days have passed without leaving a trace in the historic record.
"We are seeing that the Vikings made and incredibly positive contribution to English urban life, with their wharf facilities, crafts and system of town administration," says Addyman, whose wife, Shelley, is an American arhceologist from Atlanta.
From the arrangement of the Viking-age buildings it is clear that the present street plan in the center of York is unchanged since Viking times.
Peter Addyman hopes that York eventually will also have an international Viking museum so that the evidence of Viking civilization so fortunately preserved for more than 1,000 years will always be available in the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York.