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The oldest of the Viking boats of the boat burial is from the 8th century. Source: Arkikon / NTNU.

Extraordinary Twin Viking Boat Burial Found in Norway

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Archaeologists in Norway have uncovered a particularly odd burial. They have found two Viking boats in one grave. The second burial was placed in the grave some 100 years after the first ship burial. A large number of grave goods were also recovered, and they are helping experts gain a greater understanding of the early years of the Viking Age.

Archaeologists from the NTNU Science Museum were working on some farmland as part of a road improvement project, at Vinjeøra in central Norway. Under Norwegian law, archaeologists must ensure that a construction project does not threaten or damage the country’s heritage.

The archaeologists were working in the area to protect the site of a Viking Age farm , where a burial house was recently found. Then they came across the mysterious grave with its two boat burials.

Viking Boat Burials

The original grave has long since been leveled, possibly by plowing. The Heritage Daily reports that “Nearly all the wood in the boats had rotted away, there was only a little left in the keel of the smallest boat”.

A large number of rivets from the vessels were found and it appears, based on their distribution that one boat had been placed on top of the other. Further investigations revealed that the smaller vessel was carefully placed on top of a larger ship in the grave, many years after it was dug.

In the smaller of the two boats was a female who probably died sometime in the 9th century AD. She was evidently a person of some importance judging by her grave goods, which included a pearl necklace, scissors, and a spindle whorl .

Life in Norway reports that “The dead woman's clothes were fastened with a bronze-plated bowl-shaped buckle and a cross-shaped buckle from a harness made in Ireland”. The harness may have been seized during a Viking raid in Ireland and this would have been a symbol of high social status in the 9th century.

This crucifix-shaped buckle was found at the twin boat burial site. (Raymond Sauvage / NTNU)

This crucifix-shaped buckle was found at the twin boat burial site. (Raymond Sauvage / NTNU)

The other burial was from the 8th century and it contained the remains of a man who was buried with a sword, spear, and shield. He was probably a warrior and was in the larger boat, which was about 30 feet (10 meters) long. This twin grave was located near a bigger burial mound, overlooking a Fjord which would have been a major landmark in the area.

Rare Two-in-one Grave

This boat burial was typical of Viking funerary practices and all that makes it unique is the twin internment. It appears that instead of digging a new grave for the woman her relatives had her buried in one that was about 100 years old. These double internments are not unknown in Norway, but they are rare.

Some similar graves were found in Tjølling, in the south of Norway in the 1950s. The leader of the excavation Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum stated that the twin burial “is essentially an unknown phenomenon” according to Heritage Daily .

Researcher excavating the site of the Viking boat burials. (Vitenskapsmuseet / NTNU)

Archaeologists then asked themselves the question of why the man and woman who lived decades apart came to be buried together. The Heritage Daily quoted Sauvage as saying that “it’s reasonable to assume that the two were related”.

It appears that the local Vikings knew who was interred in each mound and this knowledge was passed down through the generations. It seems that the woman was buried with a long-dead relative.

The Dead and Property Rights

The family was central to Viking life , it was important because it gave an individual status and property rights. Burial mounds were often used to legally prove a claim to a piece of land.

Sauvage states that “it’s reasonable to think that the two were buried together to mark the family’s ownership of the farm” reports Life in Norway . The twin internment was a way of symbolically asserting a legal right to the property, which was important in a pre-literate society.

The skeletons of the two appear to have disintegrated many years ago. However, a fragment of the woman’s skull has been found and this is going to be tested for DNA and isotopes. These can help researchers to better understand the life of the woman but also help them to recreate an image of what she looked like.

The soil in the area of the boat burials was not good for preserving human remains. Archaeologists were consequently overjoyed when they found parts of the skull of the woman in the upper boat tomb. (Astrid Lorentzen / NTNU)

Another important aspect of the burials is their date. Judging by the style of the sword it is apparent that the man was buried during the Merovingian Age in Scandinavia. There is little known about this period and it is expected that the grave of the dead warrior may provide some clues. It is hoped that some more remains and artifacts from this obscure period will be found around the old burial mound.

Top image: The oldest of the Viking boats of the boat burial is from the 8th century. Source: Arkikon / NTNU.

By Ed Whelan

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