Researchers Come Across Multiple Viking Ship Burials In North Iceland

Researchers Come Across Multiple Viking Ship Burials In North Iceland
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WED 27 FEB 2019 12:24 AM

Second Viking Age ship burial found at archaeological site in N. Iceland

Archaeologists at work in Dysnes Boar buryals are quite uncommon in Iceland
Archaeologists at work in Dysnes Boar buryals are quite uncommon in Iceland

Archeologists discovered a 2nd boat burial at an archeological site at Dysnes ness in Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland. On Tuesday a burial site where a Viking age chief was buried in his boat, along with his sword and dog had been discovered.

2 other graves dating to the Viking age have been discovered at the site. Archeologists working at the site are optimistic to find more, as the dig has only just started.

Undisturbed graves

Neither boat burial has been disturbed by grave robbers, Most Viking Age burial sites seem to have been opened up relatively early, only decades after the burial, and valuables, especially swords, removed. The reasons for such grave robbing are not known.

Archeologists working at Dysnes have now found 4 different Viking age graves at the site. 2 were boat burials. An archeologist working at the dig told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service RÚV that they expected to find more. “Everywhere we stick a shovel into the ground we seem to find something”.

THE LOCATION OF DYSNES Gáseyri was an important trading post during the Viking age.
THE LOCATION OF DYSNES Gáseyri was an important trading post during the Viking age. 

The dig is only just starting

The boat burial found yesterday was in significantly better condition than the one found on Tuesday. Although neither grave has been disturbed by grave robbers, the boat burial discovered on Tuesday has been badly damaged by erosion from the ocean.

The sea had already destroyed part of the grave, taking half of the boat and most likely some of its contents. Human bones, a Viking sword, and canine teeth, from a dog which was buried in the grave with the boat’s owner, were found. Time and the sea had washed the rest away.

The archeologists are only just starting to explore this 2nd burial, but Hildur Gestsdóttir, who is in charge at the site, told RÚV that they were hoping it would contain more clues as to the life and death in Eyjafjörður fjord amid the Viking Age.

“Part of the boat is completely untouched and we see no signs of it ever having been robbed by people, so we are hoping to discover more artifacts untouched in the grave.”An unusual and important find both boat burials are believed to date to the ninth or tenth centuries.

The 2 sites seem to have been arranged in a line, bot to stern. Hildur told the local newspaper Morgunblaðiðthat she was optimistic the dig would unearth even more boat burials.

The discoveries at Dysnes are extremely vital as only 10 boat burials have been found in Iceland. Out of these 5 have been found in Eyjafjörður: 2 at Dysnes, a 3rd which was found 11 years ago a short distance, 500 m (1600 ft), at Kumlholt south of Dysnes and 2 which were found near the village Dalvík, just north of Dysnes.

The Dysnes find is also unique as it is only the second site in Iceland where two boat burials are found at the same site. The only other site with 2 boat burials is at Dalvík.

Burial-hill and Robbers-ditch

The view towards Dysnes from Ólafsfjarðarvegur road which connects Akureyri and the Ring Road to the villages on the west coast of Eyjafjörður fjord.
The view towards Dysnes from Ólafsfjarðarvegur road which connects Akureyri and the Ring Road to the villages on the west coast of Eyjafjörður fjord. 

Archeologists in Iceland often use location names to guide them in finding sites to explore. Kumlholt, where the burial of the boat found 11 years ago south of Dysnes, translates as Burial – hill, because the word kuml is an old word for the grave of the Viking age.

The area where the ship burial was found is known as Dysnes, a name which points to Viking age graves, as dys is an old word for a burial mound. The word Dysnes translates to “Burial ness”. The precise location of the boat grave is then known as Kumlateigur, which could be translated as “Burial stretch”.

The 2 additional graves which have been found at Dysnes were found in a 2nd  place called “Ræningjagryfja”, a depression which is 6 meters (9 ft) long. This name translates as “Robbers pit”.

The origins of this name are difficult to determine, and we can only speculate whether it refers to some local legends, the people buried in the two graves already excavated or some, undiscovered mysteries.


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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.