Handle of newly revealed Viking sword, Langeid, Norway

Sword of Late Viking Age Burial Unveiled Exhibiting Links Between Norway and England

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Though they discovered it in 2011, archaeologists from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo had to wait through four long years of conservation and research to finally reveal the finding of a unique Late Viking Age sword excavated at a burial ground in Langeid, Norway, with mysterious links to England.

The site's lead excavator, Camilla Cecillie Wenn, told Live Science that she knew that they would find something special during excavation because in the burial grounds there was one grave that was different. It was much larger than the other 20 graves found at the site. But it wasn't only the size that indicated a special grave - the post holes (suggesting a roof over the grave) in the four corners surrounding the grave provided a clear clue to something special waiting beneath.

However, the archaeologists lost some hope as they began to dig in search of the coffin and only found fragments of two silver coins. While the coins were somewhat interesting - one with embossing suggesting it was from the German Viking Age and the other a penny from the time of Ethelred II in England (978-1016 AD), it was not what they were expecting.

Thus, Camilla Cecillie Wenn and her team continued searching even after they reached the coffin.  As she explained in a press release of the University of Oslo : "But when we went on digging outside the coffin, our eyes really popped. Along both sides, something metal appeared, but it was hard to see what it was. Suddenly a lump of earth fell to one side so that the object became clearer. Our pulses raced when we realised it was the hilt of a sword!"

That wasn't the end of the story however, as the team searched the other side of the coffin they also found more metal - a big battle-axe. Many questions arise from these weapons, in no particular order, one wonders: Why were they placed alongside the coffin? Who did they belong to? When and where are they from? The archaeologists and conservators at the Museum of Cultural History have been working hard for the last four years to try to answer these questions.

The archaeologists suggest that the placement may be to protect the corpse from enemies or, more likely, as a means to show the power and prestige of the dead body.

By dating some carbon from one of the post holes they were able to link the burial to the year 1030, which also makes sense due to the English coin discovered above the coffin.

Swords were undoubtedly seen as prestigious adornments and weapons during the Viking Age, and certainly a more ornate a sword would be a visible image of social status.

The Norse sagas also emphasize the importance of an elaborate sword. The mythical sagas speak of magical swords made by the dwarves. As the process to create a well-made sword would have been difficult, there was a sense of mystery and magic that surrounded beautiful weaponry.

King Svafrlame Secures the Dwarven-made magical Sword Tyrfing of Norse mythology from the Poetic Edda (1906) V. Rydberg

King Svafrlame Secures the Dwarven-made magical Sword Tyrfing of Norse mythology from the Poetic Edda (1906) V. Rydberg ( Wikimedia Commons )

As Hanne Lovise, the author of a recent article on ornate Viking Age swords told Live Science,  "[...] swords are referred to as aesthetic, powerful and magical objects. The many similarities between the descriptions of swords in Norse and Medieval literature suggest that the splendor of the sword in the latter had roots in the Viking notions of the symbolic power, magic and ritual aspects of the ornate sword... There is much to suggest that these magnificent swords were such objects, reflecting the status and power of the warrior and his clan."

The sword discovered at Langeid is 94 cm ( inches) long, and despite the rusted iron blade, the handle of the sword has been well-preserved.  It was undoubtedly owned by a wealthy person, due to the silver threads entwining the handle and silver and gold details on the hilt with copper alloy thread edging. The sword decoration includes spirals, Latin letters (with a grouping that remains a mystery), and most surprising is the image depicted at the top of the pommel: a hand holding a cross.

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Myths & Legends

Illustrations to Dante's "Divine Comedy" - "Minos" by William Blake.
When we think of Minos, two images immediately come to mind: (1) the legendary and cruel tyrant of Crete who demanded the tribute of Athenian youths to feed to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth and (2) a judge of the Underworld as depicted in both Virgil’s Aeneid and also in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy story, the Inferno.

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