Suddenly it reached the local press, and so the news became very official: Our family will move from Switzerland to Hyllestad in West Norway by the end of July this year. This is not a move to just any kind of place, but to the little community far west in Norway that holds one of Europe’s largest and most long-lived millstone quarry landscapes, and the outdoor heritage museum Norwegian Millstone Centre (Norsk Kvernsteinsenter).
Hyllestad was a key North European producer of essential items for everyday life – quernstones and millstones – from before the Viking Age, through the Middle Ages, and until the modern era. The little community has a history of millstone production for the North European market reaching more than 1200 years back in time.
On the international heritage map
My wife, social anthropologist and current leader of Museum Mühlerama in Zürich, Franziska Rüttimann, will take up work as the new director of the centre in early August. She is following in the footsteps of Astrid Waage, who has done a fantastic job in building up the Millstone Centre over the past ten years, and who is now retiring. Astrid has managed to place Hyllestad on the national and international heritage map. She has drawn on outstanding cooperation with local enthusiasts, the commune, and the local primary school. She has had the help of archaeologists and geologists, and in particular worked with teacher and stone carver Torbjørn Løland. Developments within the widespread European millstone heritage community are now unthinkable without the participation of the Hyllestad Centre.
UNESCO nomination and challenges
Hyllestad is not only a national centre on the European map, but currently also a candidate for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This candidature is part of a transnational, serial nomination of Viking Age archaeological sites in Northern Europe (PDF), spanning archaeological sites in several countries; Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Germany and Latvia. In less than a year we will know whether UNESCO finds the nomination worthy of inclusion on the World Heritage List. If so, Hyllestad will enter a new era of international recognition. But whatever the future might bring, there are huge challenges ahead, in anything from keeping up cooperation with the local school, to setting up interesting programmes that can draw people to the museum, as well as to managing and maintaining the huge archaeological site, spanning more than 20 square kilometres.
Not without support
Luckily, as a new director of the Norwegian Millstone Centre, my wife can draw on great support from the local community, and from Torbjørn Løland, who remains a key player at the Centre. As an official advisor in a minor position, I hope to be able to contribute with my share, in between keeping up my personal geoarchaeology firm (Per Storemyr Archaeology & Conservation Services). Importantly, our little team is part of a larger institution, the foundation that coordinates key museums in West Norway’s Sogn og Fjordane county (Musea i Sogn og Fjordane). In addition, we will have the support from the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage (Riksantikvaren), and not least from all the other communities with historic millstone production in Norway, in particular Selbu, Saltdal, Brønnøy and Vågå. All are described at millstone.no and ngu.no. As a national centre, Hyllestad is there to aid these communities, but we also need to learn from their struggles in investigating, managing and promoting historic millstone landscapes.
In this work we can also rely on our backbone, the continuing support from the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), the University of Bergen and other research institutions. NGU has coordinated the large Millstone research project over the past several years, in which Hyllestad has had a key position. Bergen is the university of archaeologist Irene Baug. She recently successfully defended her PhD-thesis on the Hyllestad quarry landscape and has written the heritage management plan for the landscape, recently submitted to UNESCO. Such cooperation and support is essential for the Millstone Centre – and for developing a small community in the far west of Norway.
- Previous blog post about Hyllestad: International conference on millstone in Bergen – and the Hyllestad quarry landscape
- The website of the Hyllestad Millstone Centre: kvernstein.no
- The Facebook page of the Hyllestad Millstone Centre: facebook.com/NorskKvernsteinsenter
- All documents related to the UNESCO-nomination: brage.bibsys.no