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Directorate for Cultural Heritage

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Archaeological monuments

Archaeological monuments are the oldest traces of human activity. The oldest find in Norway is dating from about 12000 years ago. Norway's aim is to minimize the loss of archaeological monuments. However, reports on the state of our monuments and sites and calculations show that losses are currently running at about 1 per cent per year.

The ruins of Selje Monastery, Selja (Sogn og Fjordane). Photo: Håvard Christiansen / Directorate for Cultural Heritage

Archaeological monuments have been automatically protected by law since 1905. Nowadays, all archaeological and architectural monuments and sites that predate 1537 are automatically protected by the Cultural Heritage Act. Buildings predating 1649 are also protected by this Act.

More than 200 000 registered monuments and sites

The register of monuments and sites lists about 231 000 archaeological monuments and objects at about 107 000 sites. However, there are large uncultivated and mountain areas that have not yet been investigated. Spot checks have shown that there may be as many as 20 unknown archaeological monuments or objects for every one that has been registered.

Some archaeological monuments and sites are easily visible, for example burial mounds, pitfall traps and drift fences, charcoal pits and hill forts. Others are more difficult to find because they are hidden under peat, earth and rock: for example, Stone Age dwelling sites, iron working sites and some rock art sites.

Agriculture is an important cause of damage

We are receiving more and more reports of a rise in the rate at which archaeological monuments and sites are being lost or destroyed. In general, agriculture is the most important cause of damage to and destruction of archaeological monuments and sites.

Other activities with a major impact on land use, such as building and road construction, also damage and destroy cultural monuments and sites, as well as insufficient information and deliberate vandalism.

Strong legal protection is not enough

The Cultural Heritage Act provides strong protection for cultural monuments, but this is not enough to give cultural monuments the protection they need. Monuments and sites are illegally damaged or destroyed both deliberately and accidentally.

Grants for expenses related to archaeological excavations in smaller, private development projects is considered to be an important tool for the preservation of archaeological heritage. Another important tool in this respect is up-to-date registers of various types of cultural monuments and sites. In Norway various registers that contain information on the cultural heritage and the environment have been integrated into one database, Askeladden. It is also important to give everyone who comes into contact with archaeological monuments and sites sufficient information and make them aware of the valuable cultural heritage.


There are about 100 ruins of medieval buildings and other stone structures in Norway. Most of them are churches, but there are also remains of monasteries and castles. The best-known site in Norway is the ruins of Hamar cathedral. A permanent structure enclosing these ruins was built in 1998.

Ruins are threatened by exposure to the elements such as frost damage, running water and unchecked vegetation, wear and tear. Many medieval ruins in Norway were in poor condition. Therefore, the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage started a programme for the protection of the ruins in 2006.

Read more about The Ruin Conservation Project here

Read more about archaeological monuments at environment.no