Mysterious Viking boat graves unearthed in central Norway

Mysterious Viking boat graves unearthed in central Norway

Mysterious Viking boat graves unearthed in central Norway

When an unusual Viking burial site was excavated by Archeologists in Norway, they uncovered two bodies. Together with the remains of two massive boats.

After hundreds of years buried, only traces of wooden boats were found, but the excavation team was able to say that the two boats were stacked atop one another.

Viking burial sites often feature boats, some even buried close by; but boats buried inside each other are “essentially an unexplained phenomena,” said Raymond Sauvage, archaeologist at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in a statement.

The occupants of the boats further added to the mystery of the graveyard. The top ships, a vessel about 24 feet long with the remains of a lady with a set of ornamentation, including the jewelry of a Perl, two pairs of scissors, half of a spindle and a whole cow’s head.

The remains of the woman were adorned by two bright brooches, one shell-shaped and the other in crucifix form.

This crucifix-shaped brooch was found in the woman’s grave.
This crucifix-shaped brooch was found in the woman’s grave.

Aina Heen Pettersen, an NTNU Department of Historical  researcher said in a statement that the crucifix “decoration and style itself are telling us it came out of Ireland and was part of a belt fitting once.”

Vikings who took part in voyages and raids often collected harness fittings as jewelry, Petterson added. Based on the goods recovered from the woman’s grave, the archaeologists determined that she had died during the second half of the ninth century.

But remarkably, the man whose body had been buried in the boat below died in the century prior, they discovered. The man’s boat measured about 30 feet (9 to 10 m) long and contained a shield, a spear and a single-edged sword.

“Sword styles change through the centuries, which means we can unambiguously date this grave to the eighth century, the period that is known as the Merovingian era in Northern Europe,” Sauvage said.

“That’s assuming that we are not dealing with a Viking hipster,” he added. Sauvage and his team concluded that, upon the woman’s death, Vikings had carefully excavated the man’s boat, placed the smaller boat inside, and reburied both vessels together.

The only question is, why?

“It’s reasonable to think that the two were buried together to mark the family’s ownership to the farm, in a society that for the most part didn’t write things down,” Sauvage said. The team uncovered the double-boat grave on farmland now known as Skeiet in central Norway.

In the Middle Ages, law required that a landowner’s family prove that the members had held the land for at least five generations, Sauvage said. Therefore, the Vikings who conducted the double-boat burial likely knew precisely where each deceased family member lay on the property, he added.

What’s more, the double-boat grave lay at the edge of a large mound that may have once held additional grave sites. Long years of farming have decimated most of the mound, but the archaeologists suspect they may find many more buried artifacts scattered over the property.

“So far, we’ve found part of a brooch from the Merovingian era, indicating that the large burial mound once held a richly appointed woman’s grave,” Sauvage said. “This is a fascinating era in Scandinavian history, from which there are few archaeological finds,” he added.

Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.