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Viking ship at Jarlsberg

Signs of Viking Age Ship Burial Found in Vestfold County, Norway

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In 2018 metal detectorists in Norway found curiously shaped and obviously old iron rivets scattered around in the shallow soil of a field at Jarlsberg Hovedgård (Jarlsberg Manor), the ancestral home of the aristocratic Wedel-Jarlsberg family. Further investigations by professional archaeologists have found proof that this site near the historic city of Tønsberg in Vestfold county once featured a burial mound, and that a large Viking ship was entombed inside of it along with the deceased. 

Today, there are no signs of the burial mound present on the earth’s surface. Its location was long ago repurposed for agricultural activity, and repeated plowing of the field obliterated the mound completely. However, a team of archaeologists from the University of Oslo was able to confirm the presence of a burial mound on the site many centuries ago, based on data collected during ground-penetrating radar surveys that detected the mound’s hidden traces.  

“We can now say for certain that yes, here lie the remains of a Viking ship,” archaeologist and excavation team leader Christian Løchsen Rødsrud told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. “This discovery adds a new landmark to the map, once a significant site during the Viking Age [793 -1066 AD).” 

 The large rivets, securing thick planks, leave archaeologists entirely confident that a Viking ship was once buried at Jarlsberg Manor

The large rivets, securing thick planks, leave archaeologists entirely confident that a Viking ship was once buried at Jarlsberg Manor. (Museum of Cultural History / University of Oslo) 

A Riveting Tale of Discovery 

There have been about 70 iron rivets collected from the soil on Jarlsberg Manor since the initial discovery. Detector hits show that there are many more of these items buried beneath the field’s surface, presumably along with other broken and scattered parts of the Viking Age ship. 

One of the most significant characteristics of the iron rivets was their size. Their length and density suggest they were used to hold together wooden planks that were up to one inch (2.4 cm) thick.  

“The size of the rivets indicate that it was a large ship. Their similarity to those found at Gokstad and Oseberg leaves no doubt … we’re talking about a Viking size ship,” Rødsrud stated, comparing this find to ship burials discovered at two other Norwegian sites. 

Rødsrud is an acknowledged expert on this subject. He was the leader of the archaeological team that unearthed the Gjellestad ship several years ago, which was the first excavation of a Viking ship in Norway in more than a century. 

 Christian Løchsen Rødsrud excavates for traces of a Viking ship at Jarlsberg Manor outside Tønsberg in southeastern Norway.

Christian Løchsen Rødsrud excavates for traces of a Viking ship at Jarlsberg Manor outside Tønsberg in southeastern Norway. (Museum of Cultural History / University of Oslo) 

In addition to the scattered collection of iron rivets, the Rødsrud  and his colleagues also discovered and removed other ancient metal items linked to Viking Age activities and burial customs. These were iron clampons, special spikes that could be attached to the hooves of horses to help them walk across icy ground (a frequent condition in Scandinavia during wintertime).  

Like the Viking ship itself, these would have been a type of burial good that would have been somehwo associated with the lifestyle of the person entombed in the lost mound. 

“The ship and the horse are recurring themes in Viking Age burial customs and mythology, and are a typical phenomena one would expect in a ship burial,” Rødsrud noted, adding that “finding horse crampons in the material suggests that the rest of the grave goods are also in the field.” 


Is This the Grave of Harald Fairhair’s Son? It Could Be! 

At the present time no signs of the skeleton of the person buried with the ship has been found. But the archaeologists speculate that this individual may have been Bjorn Farmann, the 10th century ruler of Vesthold who was the son of the legendary Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway who led the country from 850 to 932 AD.  

This assertion is based on historical tales from 13th century sagas written by an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician known as Snorri Sturluson. In Snorri’s stories, which consist of a mixture of real history and Old Norse mythology, it is said that Bjorn was murdered by his brother Eric Bloodaxe (the second king of Norway who succeeded Harald Fairhair) at Jarlsberg Manor around 930 AD.  

In 1917, an explorer named A.W. Brogger found a burial mound in the region at a site called Farmannshaugen, which was located quite near (but not on) the grounds of Jarlsberg Manor. He was certain that this was the grave site of Bjorn Farmann, but a series of excavations over the next several years found no traces of a buried Viking Age ship (one would have been buried with Bjorn), or any other artifacts that might have been grave goods, for that matter.  

“The old archaeologist A.W. Brøgger was completely convinced that he would find a ship here,” Rødsrud said. "It would take another hundred years for solid evidence to emerge that a ship burial was not entirely far-fetched. He was simply searching the wrong mound.” 

If indeed the newly discovered mound was the burial site of Bjorn Farmann, it means the artifacts unearthed there are more than 1,000 years old.  

Whoever the ship burial was for, the one thing known for sure is that he was interred in what would have been considered sacred ground in the Viking Age. That can be said because of how many different ship burials have been found in the region over the years. 

“It’s situated in a fantastically intriguing cultural landscape, even though the ship has suffered from a harsh encounter with the plow,” Rødsrud explained. "All signs indicate that they [the lands of Jarlsberg Manor) surround what might have been the focal point here. This landscape, with its numerous ship burial sites, remains somewhat unknown and could benefit from further exploration and research.” 

Top image: Left, Archaeologist Charlotte Finnebråten shows one of the large rivets from the Viking ship at Jarlsberg. Right, Site of Viking ship burial at Jarlsberg Manor, Norway.  Source: Museum of Cultural History / University of Oslo 

Nathan Falde's picture


Nathan Falde graduated from American Public University in 2010 with a Bachelors Degree in History, and has a long-standing fascination with ancient history, historical mysteries, mythology, astronomy and esoteric topics of all types. He is a full-time freelance writer from... Read More

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