TRACES of a buried Viking ship have been detected in southeast Norway, a rare discovery that could shed light on the skilled navigators’ expeditions in the Middle Ages.
“I think we could talk about a hundred-year find,” says archaeologist Jan Bill of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. “It’s quite spectacular from an archaeology point of view.
“It would be very exciting to see if the burial is still intact. If it is, it could be holding some very interesting finds.”
The longboat was detected about 50 centimetres underground in a tumulus (burial mound) with the use of a ground-penetrating radar.
“In the middle of the mound, we discovered what is called an anomaly, something that is different from the rest and clearly has the shapes and dimensions of a Viking ship,” Knut Paasche, an archaeologist at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), told AFP.
“What we cannot say for sure is the condition of the conservation. Yes there was a boat there, but it’s hard to say how much wood is left,” Paasche says.
The longboat grave is near a prominent chieftain burial mound in Halden, a municipality located southeast of Oslo. It stands some 10m above the flat local landscape.
National Geographic reports archaeologists had thought any remains in the local fields would have long since been destroyed by farmers’ ploughs.
But a new survey by ground-penetrating radar has found evidence about eight more large graves — some 27m across — as well as the outline of the 20m longboat’s hull.
Initial indications are that its planks may be well preserved, or have at least left behind clear impressions in the soil. The keel can be seen in the radar image, as can lines of planking.
Experts say it would have been dragged into the burial site from Oslo fjord.
“Ships like this functioned as a coffin,” says Paasche. “There was one king or queen or local chieftain on board.”
Three longhouses, 45m in length, have also been detected. However it is not certain these belong to the same era as the longboat.
Archaeologists intend to return to the site next year to conduct further scans, as well as potentially digging exploratory trenches to determine the condition of the longboat’s remains.
The Vikings, Northern European warriors and merchants who sailed the seas between the 8th and 11th century, would bury their kings and chiefs aboard a boat hoisted onshore and left under a mound of earth.
Only three Viking ships in good condition have been discovered in Norway in the past, including the well-preserved Oseberg ship discovered in 1903. All three of them are now exhibited in a museum near Oslo.
“We need more discoveries to explain what these boats looked like and how the Vikings would sail,” Paasche says.
Left without a bow and a stern, the traces were discovered in Halden prior to agricultural drainage operations. They are about 20 metres long, potentially making it one of the largest Viking ships discovered in Norway, according to NIKU.
The institute says it now considering what to do with the discovery, but ruled out an excavation at this time of the year.
Originally published as Viking longboat burial exposed