An Illustration of a Viking boat burial.

1,000-year-old Viking Boat Burial Discovered Under Market Square in Norway


A millennium-old Viking boat grave with bones and sheet bronze still inside has been discovered under a market square in Norway. The grave was found during one of the final days of excavations by the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) in the Norwegian city of Trondheim.

Viking Ship Grave Found in Norway

A team of archaeologists excavating in Norway, have unearthed a 1,000-year-old Viking boat burial measuring more than 4 meters (13 feet). The tomb was found during excavations beneath the market square of the Norwegian city of Trondheim as Live Science reported . While none of the vessel's wood remains, preserved lumps of rust and nails indicate a boat was buried at the site between the 7 th and 10 th centuries AD. “Careful excavation works revealed that no wood remained intact, but lumps of rust and some poorly-preserved nails indicated that it was a boat that was buried here,” archaeologist Ian Reed told NIKU .

The Viking boat is in a poor state of preservation. Credit: Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU)

The Viking boat is in a poor state of preservation. Credit: Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU)

The Importance of Ships in Viking Society

Many historians suggest that the Viking ship was one of the greatest technical and artistic achievements of the European dark ages. These fast ships had the strength to survive ocean crossings while having a draft of as little as 50cm (20 inches), allowing navigation in very shallow water. Ships were an important part of Viking society , not only as a means of transportation, but also for the prestige that it conferred on her owner and skipper. That’s why if a high-born clansman did not die at sea he would be buried in a ship on land, often with weapons and pottery.

Additionally, ships motivated the Vikings to embark on their voyages of trading, of raiding, and of exploration. Viking ships were quite varied, depending on what the ship was intended for, but they were generally characterized as being slender and flexible boats, with symmetrical ends with true keel. They were clinker built, which is the overlapping of planks riveted together. Some might have had a dragon's head or other circular object protruding from the bow and stern, for design, although this is only inferred from historical sources. Viking ships were not just used for their military prowess but for long-distance trade, exploration and colonization.

Viking ships were used for trade, raids and colonization.

Viking ships were used for trade, raids and colonization. ( public domain )

The Tradition of Viking Boat Burials

Burial of ships is an ancient tradition in Scandinavia, stretching back to at least the Nordic Iron Age, as evidenced by the Hjortspring boat (400-300 BC) or the Nydam boats (200-450 AD), for example. Ships and bodies of water have held a major spiritual importance in the Norse cultures since at least the Nordic Bronze Age. The newly uncovered grave, which pointed north to south, was found with two long bones inside. Like the boat, these bones were oriented north to south, and experts will now perform DNA analysis to confirm that they are human.

Inner view of oak made Nydam-boat.

Inner view of oak made Nydam-boat. ( CC by SA 3.0 )

Findings Include Sheet Bronze and a Piece of a Spoon

Other finds included a small piece of sheet bronze propped against one of the bones, as well as what appear to be personal items from the grave. Interestingly, in a pothole dug through the middle of the boat, the team found a piece of a spoon. “We also found a key to a small box in the grave,” team member Julian Cadamarteri told Norwegian daily Adresseavisen. And added, “If it originates from the grave, it [the site] is likely to date from anywhere between the 600s and the 900s.”

Could it be an Åfjord boat?

Åfjord, a municipality in Sør-Trøndelag County in Norway, is mainly known for its distinctive wooden boats that were dragged over this thin peninsula in order to shorten the journey and to avoid risking them in bad weather. Archaeologists speculate that the newly discovered boat could be an Åfjord boat, which has historically been a common sight along the Trøndelag coast as Knut Paasche, a specialist in early boats, suggests. “It is likely a boat that has been dug down into the ground and been used as a coffin for the dead. There has also probably been a burial mound over the boat and grave,” he tells NIKU . And continues, “This is another discovery by NIKU that refers to a Trondheim older than the medieval city. Other Viking settlements such as Birka, Gokstad or Kaupang, all have graves in close proximity to the trading centre,” pointing out that this is the first time a ship burial from the Iron Age and into the Viking Period been discovered in Trondheim city center.

The archaeological investigations are financed by the municipality of Trondheim and the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

Top image: An Illustration of a Viking boat burial. Credit: Avaldsnes

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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