Uncovered Viking Funeral Ship In Scotland Contains Treasure Trove

Clockwise from the top left: broad-bladed axe, shield boss, ringed pin, and hammer and tongs.
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THU 17 JAN 2019 12:18 AM.

Uncovered Viking Funeral Ship In Scotland Contains Treasure Trove:

Clockwise from the top left: broad-bladed axe, shield boss, ringed pin, and hammer and tongs.
Clockwise from the top left: broad-bladed axe, shield boss, ringed pin, and hammer and tongs.

A boat which for 1000 years served as the grave of a high status Viking has revealed some of its secrets, according to the 1st detailed report of the iconic discovery.

The tomb, originally unearthed in 2011 on the Ardnamurchan peninsula in western scotland, contained a rich assemblage of grave good’s. It represents the 1st undisturbed Viking boat burial found on the British mainland.

Viking boat burial’s have been documented in Scandinavian countries, but are fairly rare.

They involve using the boat as a coffin for the body. Archaeologist’s estimate the boat used to bury the deceased dates back to the late 9th or early 10th century, at a time when Viking’s were still exploring and trading along the British Isles.

A 1,000-year-old boat served as a burial for a high-status Viking.
A 1,000-year-old boat served as a burial for a high-status Viking.

An in depth investigation, published in the journal Antiquity, has revealed much of the Viking funerary rite involved in the burial at this remote part of Scotland. However, some mystery remain’s.

The ship rotted into the soil long ago, like the bones of the interred individual. Only 2 teeth (both molars) remain of the human.

The absence of a body which researcher’s can biologically sex, might raise the compelling, albeit remote, possibility that it was a female boat grave.

“The burial is probably that of a man — but as we only have the 2 teeth surviving, it is impossible to be definitive. So it is possible, but not likely, that this was the burial of a woman,” Oliver Harris, co director of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project (ATP) at the University of Leicesters School of Archaeology and Ancient History, told Seeker.

The funerary rite began with cutting a boat shaped depression into a natural mound of small, rounded beach stones.

The boat was then inserted and the body was placed inside, surrounded by a variety of artifact’s including a sword, an axe, a drinking horn vessel, a shield boss, a ladle, a sickle and a ringed pin.

“There is nothing female per se in the grave, though of course there are lot’s of objects — sickle, the ladle, the knife, the ringed pin — that are not male either,” Harris said.

The grave was filled to the top with stones which may have been taken from a nearby Neolithic burial cairn (a human-made pile of stones).

“The final artifact’s found in the boat, the spear and shield boss, were higher in the burial, deposited as part of the closure of the monument,” the researchers wrote.

The spearhead was deliberately broken before being deposited, indicating some form of ritual associated with the burial process.

The archaeologist also recovered 213 of the boats rivets. From the the outline of the boat impressed into the soil, they established the boat measured 16 feet in length and would have been a small rowing boat, probably accompanying a larger ship.

Isotopic analysis of the teeth suggest’s the deceased likely grew up in Scandinavia. It also showed that between the age of 3 and 5 the persons diet switched for about a year from meat to fish, an unusual food supply at that time.

“The switch in diet probably show’s there was some shortage in food for a period of time leading people to eat more fish,” Harris said.

Most importantly, the Vikings boat burial reveals the growing relationship between Scotland and the Viking world at that time.

It brings together multiple geographic connections, as shown by the grave goods. A whetstone, used to cut and sharpen the tools, was made from a rock that is found in Norway, while the bronze ring pin, likely used to fasten a burial cloak or shroud, appear’s to come from Ireland.

“The burial evokes the mundane and the exotic, past and present, as well as local, national and international identitie’s,” the researchers wrote.

According to Colleen Batey, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Glasgow, the grave good’s within the find are very significant.

“A sword with shield boss, spearhead and axe are a complete weapon set — which is not so common. And the ladle is an exceptional and uncommon find,” she told Seeker.

She added that there is nothing in the burial boat which would supports an identification of the interred individual being a female.

However, Viking female boat burial’s have been excavated in the past.

Batey has just published details about a boat grave from Shetland, in the Scottish Island’s, which may well have been for a female, or at least one of the occupants may have been a woman, buried with her oval brooch.

One of the most famous Viking ship burial’s was excavated in 1945 in the Isle of Man at Balladoole. This boat burial contained a man, as well as a woman who had been sacrificed in order to be added to the grave.


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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.