Category Archives: NORWAY

Archaeologists Extract 1,300-Year-Old Wooden Ski From Norwegian Ice

Archaeologists Extract 1,300-Year-Old Wooden Ski From Norwegian Ice

The long-lost ski of a pair used more than 1,300 years ago has been discovered on a Norwegian mountain top. The first ski was uncovered in 2014 and seven years later, the Digervarden ice patch melted enough to reveal its wooden counterpart – together they make the oldest pair of skis ever to be found.

On September 26, a team of Norwegian archaeologists led by the Secrets of Ice program hiked three hours up Mount Digervarden to the spot where the first ski was discovered.

Using GPS position and photos taken from the initial visit, the researchers located the second ski under the ice, which they chipped away with an axe and melted with boiling water to break the artefact free.

Archaeologists Extract 1,300-Year-Old Wooden Ski From Norwegian Ice
The second ski was better preserved than the first, perhaps because it was buried more deeply in the ice.

The Digervarden ice patch is in Reinheimen national park, located in Nordberg, Norway. It is a popular archaeological site that has revealed several ancient treasures once used thousands of years ago.

However, the reason these forgotten items are surfacing is due to climate change melting the once-solid ice sheets. The newly discovered ski is 187 cm long and 17 cm wide, 17 cm longer and 2 cm wider than the first ski found in 2014.

Archaeologist Lars Holger Pilø, who was part of the excavation, wrote in a blog post that the preservation of the new ski is much better, which may be due to it being deeper in the ice.

The skis may have belonged to a hunter or traveller.
Close-up view of the repaired foothold of the 1,300-year-old ski Espen Finstad / Secrets of the Ice
In November 2020, Pilø and his colleagues found a trove of artefacts on a mountainside in Jotunheimen in Norway. The items included nearly 70 arrow shafts (pictured), shoes, textiles and reindeer bones

‘That may account for some of the differences in dimensions between the two skis,’ Pilø shared.

The long wooden plank features three twisted birch bindings, a leather strap and a wooden plug through the hole in the foothold.

The ski found in 2014 only had one twisted birch binding and a leather strap through the hole.

Both skis have a hole through the tip.  

There are slight differences in the pair, one being that the back end of the new ski, while the one found in 2014 is straight. Interestingly, the new ski shows signs of repairs and a piece of the back end is missing that could still be frozen in the ice.

‘Whether it broke when lost or while inside the ice may be possible to say at a later stage based on a careful study of the edge of the break,’ Pilø shared in the post.

‘The skis are not identical, but we should not expect them to be. The skis are handmade, not mass-produced.

‘They have a long and individual history of wear and repair before an Iron Age skier used them together and they ended up in the ice 1300 years ago.’

In November 2020, Pilø and his colleagues found a trove of artefacts on a mountainside in Jotunheimen in Norway. The items included nearly 70 arrow shafts, shoes, textiles and reindeer bones. 

The heads were made from a variety of materials — iron, quartzite, slate, mussel shell and even bone. 

Several still had the twine and tar used to affix them to a wooden shaft. 

Melting Norwegian glacier releases 500-year-old perfectly preserved wooden box full of candles

Melting Norwegian glacier releases 500-year-old perfectly preserved wooden box full of candles

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a beeswax candle used to assist Vikings to find their farms in a 500-year-old wooden box discovered in a perfectly preserved form when a glacier in Norway melted.

Archaeologists removed the tight lid of the pine box with the leather straps, uncovered in Norway’s Lendbreen ice patch, discovering the candle that was essential to Vikings hundreds of years ago.  

The team suggests the box – which was first uncovered in 2019 – was used to transport the long candles that were used by Vikings to light the path between their main farm and summer farm.

The Lendbreen ice patch has become a sought-out destination for archaeologists since 2011 when teams discovered thousands of artefacts sticking out from the melting Norwegian glacier.

At first, the team thought it was a tinderbox that was lost accidentally in the pass, but a further analysis proved otherwise, The History Blog reports.

The box found at the Lendbreen ice-patch containing a well-preserved beeswax candle.

‘It is radiocarbon-dated to AD 1475-1635, so 400-500 years old,’ glacial archaeologists from the Secrets of the Ice team shared in a statement. 

‘The content of the box was analyzed at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo: We were in for a big surprise – the content is beeswax!

‘What we are seeing inside the box is very likely the remains of a beeswax candle.’

Candle boxes were a common item among Vikings that were used to house expensive beeswax candles as Vikings made their travels to different farms. 

The melting glaciers, brought on by climate change, is creating a valuable archaeological site in Norway, which was an ancient passageway used by Vikings for thousands of years and littered with forgotten artefacts. 

The Lendbreen ice patch has produced more than 6,000 artefacts since archaeologists began investigating the area.

Last November, teams unearthed nearly 70 arrow shafts, plus shoes, textiles and reindeer bones on a mountainside in Jotunheimen, about 240 miles from Oslo.

Last November, teams unearthed nearly 70 arrow shafts, plus shoes, textiles and reindeer bones on a mountainside in Jotunheimen, about 240 miles from Oslo
Clothes, tools, equipment and animal bone have also been found by a team in Norway’s mountainous region.

Based on radiocarbon dating, the oldest arrows are from around 4100 BC, with the most recent dating from 1300 AD.

Clothes, tools, equipment and animal bone have also been found by a team in Norway’s mountainous region, according to the journal Antiquity. 

Researchers collected a haul of more than 100 artefacts at the site includes horseshoes, a wooden whisk, a walking stick, a wooden needle, a mitten and a small iron knife.

Although a warming world is revealing these extraordinary relics, archaeologists are in a race against time because the ice is what is keeping them preserved.

Archaeologist Regula Gubler told AFP in October 2020: ‘It is a very short window in time. In 20 years, these finds will be gone and these ice patches will be gone.’

‘It is a bit stressful.’

She explained that materials like leather, wood, birch bark and textiles can be destroyed by erosion.

And the only reason they have stayed preserved is because of the ice.

A cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway

A Cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway

Science Norway reports that seven gold pendants, or bracteates, estimated to be 1,500 years old have been unearthed in southeastern Norway by archaeologists Jessica Leigh McGraw, Margrete Figenschou Simonsen found in a field and near a small hill at the edge of the field.

A Cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway
Gold doesn’t deteriorate, even if it’s spent a thousand years in clay soil. But the gold bracteates can still be quite fragile. The purity of the gold is high, which makes it soft and easy to bend.

If this spot was in fact a place where gold bracteates would have been laid down for sacrifice, it has been disturbed in modern times by farming.

Save for an assembly of gold artefacts which included one bracteate which was found in Møre og Romsdal in 2014, it has been 70 years since similar findings were done in Norway.

“Such votive hoards are incredibly rare”, three archaeologists write in a blog post on (link in Norwegian).

Jessica Leigh McGraw, Margrete Figenschou Simonsen and Magne Samdal are all archaeologists working at the UiO Museum of Cultural History, and they have just undertaken an excavation on the site.

An excavator removes the clay soil bit by bit before the archaeologists search the area repeatedly with metal detectors.

A scandie take on roman culture

A total of about 160 bracteates have been found in Norway, whereas in total around 900 such pendants are known. They are considered a Scandinavian phenomenon, and when found in Germany and England are presumed to have been imported to those places.

The inspiration for the pendants, however, is the Roman Empire Medallions.

“In homely tradition, the portrait of the emperor has been replaced by Norse gods and animal figures in Germanic style”, the archaeologists write.

“People in Scandinavia took ownership in a status item from the Roman culture, gave it a Norse look and made it their own.”

Animals, humans, symbols and runes

The name bracteate is derived from the Latin bractea – meaning a thin piece of metal.

The pendants were single-sided, made out of gold, and usually worn as jewellery. They could also be laid down as votive gifts to the Gods, as hoards of gold bracteates suggest.

Bracteates are classified according to what they depict. The seven that were recently found in Råde in Østfold, are of the types C and D.

Type C bracteates depict scenes of a person on the back of a horse-like animal, often in combination with birds, other symbols and runes. The dominating feature, however, is a large human head with prominent hair.

Type D bracteates are different stylistically from the other classifications and are assumed to be the youngest variants, dating from the 6th century AD. They depict various highly stylized animals and can be quite hard to understand and interpret today.

A close up of one of the bracteates.

Pleasing the Gods

The bracteates are from the so-called Migration Period, a time of widespread migrations in Europe that mainly took place between the 4th and 6th century AD.

Norway has rich findings from this period from sites like farms, graves, hillforts and stray finds. Imported items from the Roman Empire, as well as copies of antique status symbols, show that Norway had cultural and economic ties to the continent, the archaeologists write in their blog post.

This is also evident in the gold bracteates.

“There is little doubt that these were items connected to aristocratic communities within a Germanic elite in Scandinavia”, they write.

In the year’s AD 536-540 however, a series of volcanic eruptions lead to thick clouds of ashes that affected the climate. This is referred to as the Fimbul winter in Norse literature. The sun did not shine for more than a year, crops failed, and people starved.

“We don’t know if the gold bracteates from Råde were laid down before or after 536”, the archaeologists write.

“But it appears as though gold offerings become larger and more numerous during the 500s. In a time of bad years and insecurities, people may have felt a heightened need to try and avoid dangers and seek protection. The Gods needed pleasing, and an increased amount of gold offerings may have taken place”.

The screen shows an enlarged image of a 5 mm broad area of one of the gold bracteates. Using a scanning electron microscope such as this allows the archaeologists to study the pendants up close in great detail.

The screen shows an enlarged image of a 5 mm broad area of one of the gold bracteates. Using a scanning electron microscope such as this allows the archaeologists to study the pendants up close in great detail. 

Will be studied in detail

The seven gold bracteates will now be studied in detail at the UiO Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. Some of them are a bit bent and the motifs are partly hidden.

Using advanced technology, the archaeologists hope to be able to say something about how the pendants were made, and perhaps even by whom and where.

They will also compare the newly found bracteates to old findings. This might tell us something about connections between the elites in Scandinavia or Northern Europe.

“Laying down seven gold bracteates must have been a considerable ritual act, reserved for only the most privileged in society”, the archaeologists write.

“Thus, they are also bearers of stories from the time before they were given as offerings”.

Hiker Accidentally Discovers 1,200-Year-Old Viking Sword in Norway

Hiker Accidentally Discovers 1,200-Year-Old Viking Sword in Norway

After hiking across the plateau that covers the region between the west and east sides of Norway, Goran Olsen sat down to take a break. That’s when he spotted a rusty sword blade lying under some rocks on the well-travelled mountain path.

While hiking on a mountain path in south-central Norway, a man recently stumbled on a well-preserved Viking sword that archaeologists say dates back to A.D. 750.

Archaeologists have identified Olsen’s find as a type of Viking sword made circa A.D. 750. That makes it some 1,265 years old, though the scientists have warned this is not an exact date.

Double-edged and made of wrought iron, the sword measures just over 30 inches long (77 centimetres). Though covered in rust, and lacking a handle, it is otherwise in excellent condition.

A hiker is dwarfed by the landscape of the mountain plateau where the Viking sword was found

The Haukeli mountains are covered in snow and frost at least six months out of the year and experience little humidity in summer, conditions that may explain why the sword is so well preserved. As County Conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd told CNN: “It’s quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking Age that are so well-preserved…[the sword] might be used today if you sharpened the edge.”

Beginning in the 8th century, many Vikings left their native homes in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, using advanced navigational technology to spread out across Europe and beyond. Famous—and feared—for their violent attacks on coastal cities and towns, they were also skilled traders and daring explorers who founded the first colony in Greenland and reached North America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

The Viking Age endured until the late 11th century, leaving a lasting impact on Western society and the world.

Viking law mandated that all free men were required to carry weapons and be prepared to wage war at all times. Of the most common weapons—swords, spears and battle-axes—swords were the most expensive to make. With their decorated hilts of silver, bronze or copper, Viking swords functioned as status symbols.

According to the pagan beliefs of many Vikings, a sword was a sacred object that could help its bearer enter heaven. After attaining the highest honour of dying in battle, the heroic Viking warrior, with his sword in hand, would feast with the gods in a special place known as Valhalla.

Many later Viking sword blades were emblazoned with specific markings, believed to be the names of their creators. Of the thousands of Viking swords that have been discovered across Scandinavia and northern Europe—most excavated from burial sites or found in rivers—some 170 have been marked with the name Ulfberht.

Their superior quality shocked archaeologists, as the technology needed to produce such pure metal would not be invented for another 800 years. In order to liquefy iron ore and remove impurities (known as “slag”), modern metalworkers heat it to 3,000°F (1,650°C); carbon is then added in order to strengthen the brittle iron.

In medieval times, when ovens could not achieve high-enough temperatures to liquefy the iron, metal workers would have to remove slag by pounding it out, a much less effective process.

With very little slag, and high carbon content, the Ulfberht blades are made of what’s known as “crucible steel,” a state-of-the-art metal that would not be seen in Europe again until the Industrial Revolution.

Experts believe the crucible steel used by the Vikings may have come from the Islamic world. Warriors in Central Asia had been using swords of material similar to that of the Ulfberht for centuries before the Viking Age, and a robust trade route known as the Volga connected Scandinavia with northern Iran from the early 9th to the mid-11th century.

Last March, researchers announced that a ring recovered from a 9th century Viking grave a century ago bears an Islamic inscription meaning “for/to Allah,” providing a rare physical link between the two worlds.

The sword Olsen discovered in Haukeli is not branded, and is missing its handle, but is still a strong blade. Experts believe it could be from a Viking burial site, or it could have belonged to a traveller who died in an accident or succumbed to frostbite. Either way, they say, its owner would likely have been a high-status member of Viking society.

The sword is now at the University of Bergen, for preservation and research purposes. Archaeologists are planning an expedition to the site of Olsen’s discovery for next spring, once the snow melts, in order to see if they can uncover any more artefacts.

Survey Reveals Viking-era Site in Northern Norway

Survey Reveals Viking-era Site in Northern Norway

Arne Anderson Stamnes, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum, was observed methodically making his way back and forth across the fields just east of the campsite in the municipality of Bodø in November 2019. He is towing a ground-penetrating radar device behind the four-wheeler he is driving.

Survey Reveals Viking-era Site in Northern Norway
The ground was frozen and the field was covered with a fine layer of snow – ideal conditions for this type of archaeological research.

GPR sends electromagnetic signals down into the subsurface, and some of these signals are reflected back when they encounter structures deeper down in the ground. This is how archaeologists obtain a kind of X-ray of objects two to three meters below the surface.

Stamnes quickly finds that the ground here is content-rich, to put it mildly. The results are astonishingly good and they whet your appetite for more, says Nordland county archaeologist Martinus A. Hauglid.

One of the region’s largest burial mounds

“Our findings included traces of 15 burial mounds, and one of them appears to contain a boat grave. Both the size and design of the burial mounds are typical of the period 650 to 950 CE—that is, what we call the Merovingian Period and Viking Age,” says Stamnes.

“A lot of the mounds are big. The largest burial mound has an inner dimension of 32 meters and must have been a towering presence in the landscape,” he says.

In fact, this giant mound is one of the largest burial mounds known in the region. But this isn’t what aroused the greatest enthusiasm among archaeologists. Previous studies indicated the presence of a plowed over burial ground right here, and this was an important reason why Bodø municipality and the Nordland County Council wanted to investigate the area with GPR.

What they didn’t know beforehand was that an ever-so-small mystery lurked underground. Or perhaps we should say many mysteries.

The study area was full of discoveries.

Intriguing mystery

As Stamnes trawls back and forth across the fields, more and more oval ditches appear on the screen, totaling 32 in all. You may not think oval ditches sound particularly mysterious or sexy—it’s not like you hear the Game of Thrones theme song in the background when someone whispers “oval ditches.” However, this is actually something that has not been seen before.

“I’ve asked a few of my colleagues, but so far haven’t found anything similar to this find in other excavations. So it’s difficult to conclude what it might be,” Stamnes says.

“The shape and the fact that most of the ditches have a clear orientation with the short end towards the sea—probably also the dominant wind direction—make it likely that this was a type of house foundation,” he said.

He adds that the GPR images do not show any traces of buried firepits inside the ditches, which indicates that they might have had a more temporary function.

“Maybe they served as a kind of market stall. It’s also possible to interpret such constructions as semi-permanent house foundations, also called “búðir”, which are known from assembly places in Iceland.

Still impossible to say what the ditches are

Archaeologist Jørn Erik Henriksen at the Norwegian Arctic University Museum says that it’s not possible to say anything more definitive about what the oval ditches are until excavations have been made. However, he thinks Stamne’s interpretation is interesting.

Our findings included traces of 15 burial mounds. The size and design of the burial mounds are typical of the period 650 to 950 CE.

“I’m fascinated by the idea that there might be stalls connected to larger crowds gathering on the site,” says Henriksen. The GPR surveys also revealed 1257 pits of various sizes. It’s even harder to say for sure what all these are. Most likely they’re a bit of everything—from cooking pits and post holes to nothing special.

“What we can say is that these pits are another sign that this area has been packed with human activity,” says Stamnes.

Seat for chiefdom?

According to some theories, the area around the earlier Bodin municipality—including the scanned areas—was once the seat of a chiefdom that had sovereignty in the Salten district.

So the question is: does the archaeological investigation confirm this hypothesis?

Henriksen says he’d like to see similar investigations done at other contemporaneous central sites in the area before uncritically proclaiming this as the power headquarters.

“However, the findings have in no way weakened the hypothesis that this place was the center of power in Salten, on the contrary!” he says.

The scanned area is seen from above. Previous studies indicated the presence of a ploughed burial ground right here.

A mighty family

In any case, there is little doubt that a powerful family lived here, based on the size and number of the tombs gathered in one burial ground. Eight of the burial mounds are circular in shape, while seven are oblong. Long mounds are often interpreted to be female graves, so judging by the numbers, the burial ground contains an even gender balance.

“Five of the round grave monuments have a diameter greater than 17.5 meters, where the largest measures about 32 meters. The long mounds are between 17.7 and 29 meters long,” Stamnes says.

“Building such large tombs is resource-intensive, so it’s plausible that the people buried here had great power and influence, both locally and regionally,” he says.

County archaeologist Hauglid agrees.

“Bodøgård was the seat of the sheriff—and later the county governor—in the Nordland region from the beginning of the 17th century, while Bodin church nearby is a stone church from the Middle Ages. The burial ground that has now been discovered testifies that a political-religious power center has existed here since the Late Iron Age.

“A new city quarter has given us the chance to explore an area we’ve long been curious about. We can even see from aerial photos that there’s something under the ground. The findings from the investigation have yielded a long-awaited and exciting mystery,” says Ingrid Nøren, the manager for the New City—New Airport project in Bodø municipality.

Norway ice melt reveals ‘frozen archive’ of ancient reindeer-hunting arrows

Norway ice melt reveals ‘frozen archive’ of ancient reindeer-hunting arrows

In the Jotunheimen Mountains, the team found 68 arrows on the Langfonne ice patch, tracing the objects again to various lengths of time over 1000 years, from the Stone Age to the Medieval Period.

In addition, the find, printed this week as an examination in the Holocene journal, includes the stays of reindeer antlers, Iron Age scaring sticks utilised in reindeer searching and a 3,300-year-old shoe from the Bronze Age.

In line with the authors of the survey, the arrows mark the earliest ice findings in Northern Europe.

Norway ice melt reveals 'frozen archive' of ancient reindeer-hunting arrows
Archaeologists have uncovered a haul of ancient artifacts from a melted ice patch in Norway, including this leather boot that dates back more than 3000 years.

Norway’s Jotunheimen Mountains are positioned greater than 200 miles (in extra of 320 kilometres) north of the capital, Oslo.

The Langfonne ice patch, the place the arrows have been discovered, has retreated by greater than 70% over the previous 20 years as international warming has brought about dramatic ice melt, the examine says.

“With the ice now retreating due to climate change, the evidence for ancient hunting at Langfonne is reappearing from what is, in essence, a frozen archive,” mentioned Lars Pilø, the examine’s lead writer and an archaeologist from the Innlandet County Council, in a press release.

“The ice melt, sad as it is, provides an unprecedented archaeological opportunity for new knowledge.”

The oldest arrows, courting again to 4000 BC, are in a poor situation. But surprisingly, the arrows from the Late Neolithic interval (2400-1750 BC) have been higher preserved compared to these from the next 2,000 years, in line with the examine.

Researchers discovered a plethora of ancient arrows that date across various periods of Norwegian history.

Using floor penetrating radar (GPR) know-how, researchers imagine that the dangerous state of the oldest arrows could also be as a result of ice motion.

GPR information revealed ice deformation deep inside of the patch could have damaged the outdated, brittle arrows, however, it additionally helped to convey them to the floor to be found.

“Icy patches are not your regular archaeological sites,” Pilø mentioned. “Glacial archaeology has the potential to transform our understanding of human activity in the high mountains and beyond.”

Viking temple to Thor and Odin unearthed in Norway

Viking temple to Thor and Odin unearthed in Norway

Archaeologists have uncovered a Viking temple devoted to Ancient Norse gods like Thor. In Norway, the ruins of the 1,200-year-old pagan temple have been dug up and provide a rare insight into the Viking religion.

The Old Norse “god house” was built from wood about 1200 years ago to worship gods like Odin, Thor, and Freyr. Post-holes that show its distinctive shape, including its central tower, have been unearthed at the site.
The god house (shown here in a digital reconstruction) was strongly built of beams and walls of wood; some lasted for hundreds of years. It included a central tower, patterned on Christian churches seen in lands further south.

Archaeologists have dated the remains of the large wooden building to the end of the 8th century. They think it would have stood 40 feet high and was 45 feet long and 26 feet wide.

That’s just over half as tall as Buckingham Palace.

It’s thought sacrifices and feasts would have occurred inside to honour the gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices.

A large white penis-shaped stone was previously found near the site and was linked to ancient fertility rituals.

This is the first Old Norse temple to be found in Norway.

Old Norse is the ancient language associated with the Vikings.

Archaeologist Søren Diinhoff of the University Museum of Bergen told Live Science: “This is the first time we’ve found one of these very special, very beautiful buildings.

“We know them from Sweden and we know them from Denmark. … This shows that they also existed in Norway.”

He added: “It is a stronger expression of belief than all the small cult places. “This is probably something to do with a certain class of the society, who built these as a real ideological show.”

The temple was unearthed during a dig taking place before planned housing

The foundations of the ancient building, or “god house” as they’re often called, were unearthed last month in a Norwegian riverside village called Ose.

Digging was happening there in preparation for new houses.

Traces of early agricultural settlements were also found nearby. They dated to the earlier time of around 2,000 to 2,500 years ago.

The remains of the temple date to a later time when the area is thought to have been dominated by elite wealthy families.

It is thought the families would have led the cult worship.

Experts think the elite likely wanted a “god house” built based on more Christian structures with a high tower on top.

Before this time, Viking gods were more commonly worshipped in simplistic settings.

The wood of the temple no longer remains but you can see the postholes where the main beams would have stood and the area where the tall tower would have been.

Evidence of cooking pits and animal bones fit in with the theory that feasts and sacrifices occurred there.

Food, drink, animal sacrifices and precious metals were often offered to Old Norse gods. The worshippers would then feast and enjoy the goods themselves because they knew the gods couldn’t come and join them.

Instead, wooden figurines may have been used to represent the gods. Popular Old Norse gods include storm god Thor and war god Odin.

Norway’s kings enforced Christianity from around the 11th century so burned down a lot of Old Norse temples and religious sites. There’s no current evidence to suggest the Ose temple was burned down.

Viking sword found in a grave in central Norway

Viking sword found in a grave in central Norway

A 9th century Viking sword has been unearthed by archaeologists in central Norway.

Viking sword found in a grave in central Norway
It’s been more than 1000 years since someone held this sword. It belonged to a warrior who lived in Trøndelag in Viking times. But why was the sword placed on the opposite side of what was common practice?

During the Viking Age, a man was buried with a full set of weaponry at Vinjeøra in the south of what is now Trøndelag county in central Norway. An axe, spear, shield and sword were placed alongside his body in the grave.

Archaeologist Astrid Kviseth recently became the first person to hold the rusty sword in their hands for approximately 1,100 years:

Astrid Kviseth carefully carries the sword away from the site. Now it will be investigated further.

“I’m a little surprised at how heavy it was. I don’t exactly know ​​how heavy a sword is, but it had some heft to it. You would have had to be pretty strong to be able to swing this sword!” she said.

An area rich in Viking history

The grave was the latest in a series of archaeological finds in connection with the improvements to Norway’s E39 highway.

By law in Norway, archaeological surveys must be conducted in connection with all new construction projects, including roads. This is so that important cultural heritage can be preserved. The rule has led to many fascinating finds including the remains of a historically important church in downtown Trondheim.

A team is now excavating what appears to be a burial ground on a former Viking farm. Last year, remains of a burial house and an unusual double grave was found in the area.

“The fact that he was buried with a full set of weapons tells us that this was a warrior. In Viking times and the early Middle Ages, most warriors were free men who owned their own farms,” said Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum and project manager for the excavation.

A left-handed owner?

An unusual aspect of the find was that the sword appears to have been placed on the left side of the deceased. Typically, swords are placed on the right-hand side of the body.

Swords are usually placed on the right side of the body in weapon graves like this. In this grave, it was laid on the warrior’s left side. One explanation may be that the warrior was left-handed.

The custom itself is a little odd. That’s because warriors would typically carry their sword on their left, in order to allow the right hand to access it easily.

“Why the swords are almost always placed on the right side is a bit mysterious. One theory is that the underworlds you go to after death are the mirror image of the upper world,” said Sauvage.

He suggested the sword in the Vinjeøra grave may have been placed on the left to signify the warrior was left-handed.

A ditch burial

The warrior’s grave partially overlapped three other graves. They were laid to rest in a ditch surrounding a large burial mound. Sauvage explained that using a grave more than once appears to have been common in the area:

“People were buried in the same grave or partly inside older graves. It was obviously important to lie next to or in the burial mounds and the ring ditches around them.”

“We can imagine that this burial practice is an expression of how important the family’s ancestors were on a farm in Viking times. In addition to being present on the farm as companion spirits – fylgjur – the ancestors could continue to live physically in the burial mounds.”

Another grave with burial gifts

Archaeologists found a fourth grave most likely to have been for a cremated Viking woman. One of the beads found in the grave. Photo: Raymond Sauvage, NTNU University Museum. Burial gifts included an oval brooch, a pair of scissors and beads. But there was a strange addition: a large number of bones.

In the same area, archaeologists discovered what they believe was a woman’s grave, based on the artefacts they found – like this bead.

“A study done several years ago showed that cremation graves from the Iron Age on average contain only about 250 grams of bone. A dead human body that is cremated, on the other hand, burns down to about 2 kilos of bones,” Sauvage said.

So while the cremated woman was buried in her entirety, archaeologists also found bird bones in the material. The team believes this could have been part of a burial ritual.

Lab work to follow

Sauvage said that the sword will now be examined in a Trondheim lab to see what remains under the rust:

“It will be exciting to get the sword into the conservation laboratory and have it x-rayed so we can see what’s hiding under the corrosion. Maybe it has ornamentation or pattern welding in the blade,” he says.