1,000-Year-Old Buried Viking Ship Will be Raised!
Norwegian archaeologists have announced a plan to raise a buried Viking ship from the earth. The vessel is from a ship burial that is over 1000 years old. It is the first time in over a hundred years that a buried Viking ship has been excavated. But the experts have declared the excavation necessary and are in a race against time to salvage and preserve the very rare and important vessel.
The Gjellestad Viking Ship was found near Halden in southern Norway in 2018. It was discovered during a georadar survey, conducted by NIKU, overseen by Knut Pasche. Georadar technology allowed researchers to scan and image the vessel that had been buried here sometime between the 8th and the 10th century AD. They determined that it measures 65 feet (19.8 meters) and is made of oak.
Live Science quotes Sigrid Mannasaker Gunderson, an archaeologist with the local county, that the “vessel was likely made for travelling long distances at sea.” It is possible that it once had a mast and oars. Images show that there may be grave goods in one section of the buried ship.
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Viking Ship Burials
Ship burials were an important funerary custom in the Viking era, but they were typically reserved for the elite. Most likely, the vessel was the final resting place for a king or queen, who was laid in the longboat which was then covered by a large earthen mound. The burial was once part of a larger burial complex and several other structures such as longhouses were identified nearby. “The ship burial does not exist in isolation, but forms part of a cemetery which is designed to display power and influence,” according to NIKU archaeologist Lars Gustavsen.
The buried Viking ship is part of a larger mound cemetery and settlement site from the Iron Age, next to the monumental Jell Mound. (Lars Gustavsen, NIKU)
Initially, archaeologists were reluctant to excavate the ship because buried wood can be damaged or even disintegrate upon exposure to the air. However, in 2019, during a test dig archaeologists made a worrying discovery. A drainage ditch near the grave was contributing to the rapid decay of the wooden vessel. They would have to excavate the buried Viking ship or allow it to decay anyway. “Only the imprints of the plank-or the stakes-were left together with the iron nails” Gundersen told Live Science.
Racing Against Time
Some of the organic material that lies at a distance from the drainage ditch seems to be in good condition. The keel of the buried Viking ship appears to be in intact. However, it was also found that the craft is also under attack from a fungus.
The combination of the moisture, growing exposure to air after the trial dig, and the fungus means the ship needs to be taken from the ground as quickly as possible. A Norwegian Minister, Sveinung Rotevatn, is quoted by The Smithsonian Magazine as stating that “It is urgent that we get this ship out of the ground.”
The ship grave is clearly visible in the georadar-illustration (top) and in the magnetometer-data (below). (NIKU)
The Norwegian government has agreed to fund a project to excavate the ship, and once the parliament votes on it, the project can begin. They are providing 15.6 million Kroner (1.6 USD) to fund the work. It is only the fourth ever ship burial that has been found in the Scandinavian Kingdom. The other examples of ship burials are the Tune, Gokstad, and Oseberg longboats.
Insights into Viking Ship Design
Unlike the previous burials, this discovery can be investigated using modern techniques. Jan Bill, an expert on Viking ships, told the Local.ie that “with the technology that we have now and the equipment that we have today, this gives us a tremendous opportunity to understand why these ship burials took place.” These internments are believed to have taken place for complex social, religious, and political reasons, and if we understand them better, we can obtain more insights into Viking life and death.
Moreover, it can help us understand the evolution of Norse ship design by comparing this buried Viking ship to other examples. Bill told the Local.ie that “the keel appeared to be much less massive than the Osebery ships, which comes from the 9th and early 10th century.” The Gjellestad Viking craft most likely comes from an era when researchers have little information regarding shipbuilding.
The trial dig in 2019 found that part of the keel was well-preserved. (Museum of Cultural History)
Raising the Buried Viking Ship
Once parliamentary approval has been met, excavations will begin immediately to excavate the ship and retrieve as much of its as possible. The earth above the buried Viking vessel will be sieved to discover any artifacts. After removing the earth, 3D images of all the wood will be taken. Scans will also be taken of the remaining imprints of the wood to ensure that researchers can recreate the Viking ship burial digitally at a later date.
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A tent will be erected to shelter the site. Løchsen Rødsrud, an archaeologist told Live Science “The wooden remains of the ship will have to be kept wet during excavation.” This will help to preserve the wooden remains. Anything organic will be treated with chemicals to give it solidity and strength.
If enough of the Viking ship is found, it can be put on display. The Oseberg Ship, taken from a similar ship burial, is currently housed in a museum in Norway and can be visited by members of the public.
Top Image: A side-rendering of the giant mound that once covered the buried Viking ship. Today, the ship's remains lie under less than 20 inches of topsoil. (NIKU/LBI ArchPro)
By Ed Whelan