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Examination of 1,000-Year-Old Viking ‘Death House’ Reveals Elite Burial with Stunning Artifacts

Examination of 1,000-Year-Old Viking ‘Death House’ Reveals Elite Burial with Stunning Artifacts

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A team of researchers have examined a rare Viking tomb known as a ‘death house’, revealing an elite burial containing the remains of two noblemen and a woman, along with impressive artifacts including a large battle axe.

The initial discovery of the grave took place in south west Denmark in 2012, during construction work to create a new highway. The burial was identified as a rare Viking tomb known as a ‘d'ødehus’', meaning ''death house''. Since the beginning, it has been obvious that the tomb belonged to a highly distinguished person or people.

The tomb measures 4m by 13m and contained three burials dating back to 950 AD. Unfortunately, the soil conditions at the site affected the preservation of the human remains. However, an analysis of the burial finds allowed the researchers to confirm that it is a grave of two men and a woman. According to excavation leader Kirsten Nelleman Nielsen, who described the finding in an article called 'Dead and buried in the Viking Age' published by Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, it seems that one man and a woman were buried together in the main part of the tomb, while another man was buried in the back. The third grave in the tomb had been added later.

Sketch of the tomb layout. On the left, is a room with two graves belonging to a man and a woman. On the right, is an additional grave for a man that was added later

Sketch of the tomb layout. On the left, is a room with two graves belonging to a man and a woman. On the right, is an additional grave for a man that was added later. (Illustration: Museum Silkeborg)

Science Nordic reports that the man in the main part of the tomb was buried with an impressive battle axe.

"It’s a very large axe and would have been a formidable weapon. People across Europe feared this type of axe, which at the time was known as the Dane Axe--something like the ‘machine gun’ of the Viking Age,” says Nielsen.

Archaeologists found a large axe buried in one of the men's graves

Archaeologists found a large axe buried in one of the men's graves (Photo: Museum Silkeborg)

The woman was buried with two keys. One of them was a symbol of her status and power as a noble woman, while the second one fits a small square shrine that was also buried with her. Moreover, she was buried in a wagon, which was typically used by women of noble birth.

Other grave goods included a smaller battle axe in the second man’s grave, ceramics, and two silver coins that came from as far away as Afghanistan.

Two silver coins found at the site came from as far away as Afghanistan

Two silver coins found at the site came from as far away as Afghanistan (Museum Sikeborg)

The researchers suggest that the man and woman may have been local rulers, while the third man may have been a successor.

The most unique fact about the finding is that both the man and woman are buried in the same elaborate tomb, which suggests that they held equal positions in society. While it is not as common to find graves of such high status women, some female burials with rich grave goods have been found. As Natalia Klimczak from Ancient Origins  wrote in April 19, 2016:

''The partial skeleton of a young woman was discovered in 1938 at Ketilsstaðir, in eastern Iceland. She lived in the 9th or 10th century AD and was found with typical copper-alloy Scandinavian oval brooches, one of which was in direct contact with her face, resulting in significant soft tissue and textile preservation. The skeleton was very poorly preserved and incomplete, but after many decades, a team led by Jakob and Joe Walser III of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, decided to re-examine it…

According to  Science News , she was buried with Viking-era artifacts and she could have been a child of the earliest settlers of Iceland. Moreover, she was buried in a blue apron. The apron's blue dye was plant-based, and cloth with exactly this color is characteristic of female Viking clothing.''

Top image: Main: Outline of the 1000-year-old tomb. Inset: reconstruction shows how the woman may have looked in Viking times (Photo: Museum Silkeborg)

By Natalia Klimzcak

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