By David Nikel
Swedish authorities have announced the first Viking boat grave discoveries in the country in more than 50 years. Archaeologists taking part in a routine dig in Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala), 46 miles (74km) north of Stockholm, were shocked as they unearthed the Viking boat graves that included human remains.
There are only a handful of known burial sites of this kind in the country. While rare in Sweden, discoveries of Viking burial sites have become more frequent elsewhere in Scandinavia. Last year, Norwegian archaeologists found remains of longhouses and at least one ship lying just below the topsoil near Halden in the south-east of Norway. Just months later, another ship discovery was made on the shores of the Oslofjord at the Midgard Viking Center in Horten.
One of the two boats found in the grave is intact and holds the remains of a man, horse and dog. Personal items including a sword, spear, shield, and an ornate comb were also in the grave. The people discovered in the grave were likely of high social standing, as it is believed such boat burials were reserved for a privileged few. A spokesperson from consultant archaeologists Arkeologerna called the find “sensational.”
“This is a unique excavation. The last excavation of this grave type in Old Uppsala was almost 50 years ago,” said archaeologist Anton Seiler. The fact the grave contents are so well-preserved and undisturbed is especially exciting for the team. That’s because it will be the first opportunity archaeologists have to study Viking burial traditions with modern scientific analysis methods in Sweden. “We can now use modern science and methods that will generate new results, hypotheses and answers. We will also put the boat burials in relation to the very special area that is Old Uppsala and the excavations done here before,” said Seiler.
A routine excavation
Such a find was not at all what archaeologists were expecting at the beginning of the project. Old Uppsala was an important religious, economic and political settlement as far back as the 3rd century, and is an area rich in historic remains. The routine dig began in the grounds of the vicarage last fall. The work involved excavating a cellar and well that were known to date from the Middle Ages.
But as the work progressed, one of the boats was gradually revealed beneath the structures. The scope of the project quickly changed, and archaeologists have spent the last month excavating the two burial boats. It’s thought the damage caused to the second boat was done when the cellar was built sometime around the 16th century.
Once archaeologists have finished their analysis, parts of the discovery will be put on display at Old Uppsala Museum and the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.
This article was originally published in Forbes on July 6, 2019.