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Letter from Germany: Atlantis of the Baltic Volume 56 Number 4, July/August 2003
by Shareen Blair Brysac

Searching for a vanished city that flourished during northern Europe's not-so-Dark Ages

Archaeologist Klaus Goldman has scoured historic maps, like this one from 1633, to locate the lost city of Vineta. (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin; Photo: Ruth Schacht)

Once upon a time, on the Baltic coast of what is now Germany, there arose a city called Vineta. The largest in Europe, it was said to be richer than Constantinople. Travelers and merchants came from all over the old world to live and trade there--Jews from Cordoba, Slavs from Rus, Vikings from Scandinavia. Together with local Wends, Slavonic Pomeranians, and Saxons, they lived in multicultural harmony. But sometime during the twelfth century A.D., Vineta mysteriously sank into the Baltic.

Vineta's wealth inspired exaggerated descriptions in both medieval sources and Nordic sagas. The city--its population somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000--was said to have had twelve gates. Its swains sported coats trimmed with furs and hats decorated with feathers. The women swanned about in velvet and silk, with heavy gold and silver chains studded with jewels around their necks. Even the pigs ate from golden troughs. While the reality of life in Vineta may not have been so glamorous, there would appear to be little doubt that the city existed. But how could it have suddenly disappeared? And where are its remains? For nearly two centuries, historians and archaeologists have argued over its whereabouts. Now a Berlin scientist claims to have located the site.

Klaus Goldmann, a 67-year-old, balding bear of a man given to stoic sighs, is a veteran archaeologist who recently retired as senior curator of Berlin's Museum of Pre- and Early History. Along with economist and journalist Günter Wermusch and in collaboration with the Hamburg Technical University, he is seeking to pinpoint the location of the lost city. For that, Goldmann is relying on medieval documents and maps and modern aerial and satellite photographs.

Shareen Blair Brysac is a contributing editor for ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America