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The Viking ship burial was found by the old Edøy church in Norway.

Viking Ship Burial Discovered on Norwegian Island

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As technology is advancing, it is allowing us to know more about our past. Researchers in Norway have used it to identify a Viking ship burial on an island. The ship's outline was detected, and researchers have been able to study the buried vessel without even digging into the soil.

The exciting discovery was made after a survey of a historic church on the small Island of Edøy, which is located 70 miles (85 km) west of Trondheim in western Norway. The survey was conducted by a team of local experts and members of the NIKU (Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage). The team used georadar technology to map the area around the historic Church.

Edøy old Church

Edøy old Church. (Henny stokseth/CC BY SA 3.0)

High-Tech Archaeology

Georadar uses radar pulses to create images of the area beneath the topsoil. It can help to identify the outlines of larger structures and objects. It is a non-invasive form of investigation and allows archaeologists to make exciting discoveries without excavating. This technology was developed by the LBI ArchPro Institute in Austria and its partners and it has been used successfully around the world.

The team has been surveying the area since 2018, but only discovered the ship in September 2019. The technology showed the unmistakable outline of a ship and it was ‘located just below the topsoil’ reports the Knut Paasche, a NIKU archaeologist, stated that the burial is “unusual and exciting,” reports The Daily Mail. It was located in an area where there was once a large mound, about 18 ft (6 meters) in length, which was probably a pre-Christian burial place.

The ship burial site

The ship burial site. (NIKU)

1000-Year-Old Viking Ship Burial

Based on the evidence, it appears that the ship could be 1000 years old or even older. However, more evidence needs to be collected before it can be dated. The Daily Mail quotes Pasche as stating that “It is too early to say anything certain about the age for the ship, but the ship must be from the Merovingian or Viking Period.”

Using data from the survey  and other examples of ship burials found using georadar, the experts were able to estimate the size of the boat. The vessel was originally about 56 feet (19 meters) long and its keel was 43 feet (14 meters) wide. Despite being buried under the ground for centuries, the ship is not intact. The fore and aft sterns of the vessel appear to have disintegrated or been destroyed. This may have been a result of a farmer plowing at the Viking burial site.

The vessel was originally about 56 feet long and its keel was 43 feet wide

The vessel was originally about 56 feet long and its keel was 43 feet wide. (Manuel Gabler / NIKU)

However, experts believe that the vessel is in good condition overall. There have only been three similar well-preserved burials found in Norway and they all were discovered many years ago. The condition of the ship may mean that it could contain items of archaeological importance. Forbes reports that the archaeologists have named their discovery the ‘Edøy Ship.’

Ship burials are where a deceased person is placed in a ship and buried. Vikings believed this type of burial helped the dead in the afterlife. According to Forbes, ‘It is thought that Viking ship burials were reserved for people of significant status in the community’. They were often filled with grave goods, including weapons and jewelry.

More Viking Burials Unearthed

There have been several important finds of Viking boat burials in Norway in recent times. A 1000-year-old ship burial was found under a market square in Trondheim in 2017. And a rare double boat burial was recently found in central Norway. Georadar also identified a ship burial in Viksletta, near Oslo. Two similar Viking burials in boats have also been found in Sweden.

According to The Daily Mail, ‘Archaeologists also saw traces of settlements’ near the find. The remains may indicate that there are more archaeological sites to be found at the location. Edøy Island was an important center in the Viking Age as it was on an important shipping lane and a coastal pilgrimage route.

Prow of a Viking ship in a museum in Oslo, Norway

Prow of a Viking ship in a museum in Oslo, Norway (Karamell/CC BY SA 2.5)

There are no imminent plans to excavate the ship burial on the island. More survey work may need to be conducted on the site first. The experts from NIKU hope to collaborate more with local authorities. They believe that geo-radar can help to identify more archaeological sites in the future.

Top Image: The Viking ship burial (insert) (Manuel Gabler / NIKU) was found by the old Edøy church in Norway. (Henny stokseth/CC BY SA 3.0)

By Ed Whelan



Gary Moran's picture

Need to check your dimensions – either the length or width is wrong, if you look at the image, Ship design usually has a length at least 4 times the length. If the length is right, looks like 4.3 feet wide, not 43. 

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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