An Abnormal Viking Mausoleum Shows Ship Burials Weren’t for Everyone!
Archaeologists have found a Viking burial house in central Norway. It was located in an area which is revealing many archaeological treasures, including a Roman-era bronze cauldron. The mausoleum is helping researchers better understand Viking burial practices and their evolution.
Archaeologists, from NTNU Science Museum, made the significant find near the central Norwegian city of Trondheim. They are working on two sites in the area. This work is being completed prior to “the construction of the new E6 highway south of Trondheim,” according to Phys.org. The mausoleum, or burial house, was found during work at Vinjeøra, which is an area where Viking farms and burial mounds have been identified in previous surveys.
From above, the imprint of the house and ditch are clearly visible. ( Raymond Sauvage, NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet )
Local archaeologists have long known that there was a Viking-era settlement in the area, but it was hard to investigate because intensive agriculture down the years destroyed many of the remains. Experts from NTNU decided to use aerial photography to examine the site.
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In one of the aerial shots, they found something unusual in a burial mound. They saw the outline of a ditch that was rectangular in shape. The experts determined that “this is an imprint of a building, and not a boat or a ship that was typical of burials” (from the Viking era), reports Life in Norway .
It appears that there was a burial house that was covered by a mound of earth and stone. Raymond Sauvage, one of the lead archaeologists, stated that the burial is “a very rare and interesting find,” according to Life in Norway .
The Rare Viking Mausoleum
The archaeologists have been digging at the burial mound since the aerial images revealed the outline of a building. It was probably solidly built out of timber and had stone walls. All that remains now is its ditch and outline and some stones that supported the walls. The original structure was once 15 feet (5 meters) long by 9 feet (3 meters) wide. “We believe there was a tomb in the house because we see that the house was in the middle of a large mound,” explained Sauvage to Life In Norway .
This type of house burial is not unknown in Viking era Norway, but it is very rare. Only about a dozen have been unearthed in the country. A few have also been found in neighboring Sweden and Denmark.
The Viking mausoleum excavation site. ( Raymond Sauvage, NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet )
Interestingly, in the general area the archaeologists have found some other evidence of Viking-era graves in ship burials . This would seem to indicate that there was a diversity in burial practices in the Viking period. Why one family would bury a loved one in a ship and another in a mausoleum is not known.
The burial house was probably related to ideas about life after death, just as ship-burials were. The person or persons interred in the mausoleum may have been buried on a farmstead in order to protect their kin and family.
The archaeologists note that the “building style is typical of the Viking age but also bears similarities to the oldest stave churches ” reports Life in Norway . This may indicate that early Norwegian Churches were influenced by earlier forms of architecture.
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Roman-Era Bronze Cauldron
At the other site that is being investigated in the area, archaeologists have “discovered a bronze cauldron in an ancient cemetery,” reports Archaeology.org. This was found under a stone cairn by experts using a metal detector. The cauldron was probably imported into the region from the Roman Empire. This suggests that the region was wealthy in ancient times, possibly because of the availability of iron ore in nearby peatlands.
A team from NTNU found cremated human remains in the cauldron, which is about 1700 years old. The person who was cremated and placed in the vessel was probably of high status. Sadly, the cauldron was damaged when rocks were piled upon it. The practice of placing the cremated remains of high-ranking individuals in cauldrons was quite common in Scandinavia prior to the Viking-era.
The cauldron has been uncovered, and Heidi Fløttum Westgaard, Ellen Grav Ellingsen and Kjell André Brevik carefully clean it off. ( Astrid Kviseth / NTNU University Museum )
The latest findings near Trondheim are showing the diversity of Viking era funerary practices. Finding a rare house burial is going to add to our knowledge of this form of burial. The discovery of a Roman cauldron with cremated remains nearby will also allow researchers to understand the culture of the region in the 1st to 5th century AD.
Top image: How the Viking mausoleum would have looked according to archaeologists. Source: Raymond Sauvage, NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet
By Ed Whelan