26 May 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Scandinavia’s Oldest Identified Ship Burial in Trøndelag “Rewrites History”

In Leka, a municipality in Norway’s Trøndelag county, archaeologists have uncovered Scandinavia’s oldest identified ship burial, dating back to around 700 AD.

This summer, archaeologists carried out a small survey of the 60-meter mound Herlaugshaugen, a site mentioned in Snorre’s royal sagas as the final resting place of King Herlaug.

Herlaugshaugen is one of the country’s largest burial mounds. In the late 1700s, it was excavated three times. According to reports, findings included a type of wall, iron nails, a bronze kettle, animal bones, and a seated skeleton with a sword.

“Unfortunately, these findings disappeared already in the early 1920s. The skeleton was once displayed at Trondheim Cathedral School as King Herlaug, but no one knows where it ended up,” explained Geir Grønnesby, project leader from NTNU Science Museum.

The aim was to date the pile and find out if it contained a ship. They carried out the surveys on behalf of the National Archives, and in collaboration with Trøndelag County Municipality.

The team became extremely excited when they discovered big nails, which are a clear sign of a ship burial. The findings pushed back the origins of ship burial customs, placing the mound’s creation in the Merovingian period, roughly 700 CE.

Photo: Geir Grønnesby, NTNU Science Museum

According to Geir Grønnesby, archaeologist and project manager of research at the NTNU Science Museum, the discovery reveals the region’s advanced maritime capabilities much earlier than previously thought.

This discovery sheds light on the pre-Viking period, when ship development was critical. The ship’s size and sophistication imply a society with extensive maritime knowledge and resources. Furthermore, the Herlaugshaugen mound, one of Norway’s largest burial mounds, is regarded as a symbol of power and wealth, indicating that the region’s prosperity was likely derived from trade and maritime activities rather than agriculture alone.

The development of the ship has been central to the discussion about when and why the Viking Age began. We cannot say that the Viking Age started earlier based on this dating, but Grønnesby says that you do not build such a large ship without having a reason for it.

Grønnesby added,  “The ship grave suggests that contact with the wider world was greater and earlier than previously thought: “Because when one builds somewhat large ships, it is usually because one is going to travel a distance with them.”

From the investigations at Herlaugshaugen. Photo: Geir Grønnesby, NTNU Science Museum.
From the investigations at Herlaugshaugen. Photo: Geir Grønnesby, NTNU Science Museum.

Connections to the Elite in Sweden & England

The Herlaug mound is dated to the Merovingian period (approx. 550 to 800 AD), which is just before the Viking Age. This is an era that is generally quite poor in terms of archaeological finds, but early in the period, the first boat burials appeared. Among these are the spectacular boat graves from Vendel and Valsgärde in Sweden, where people were buried lying on down pillows with flashy weapons and helmets.

There has been speculation about a connection between these sites and Namdalen, Norway, which has similar large mounds. Namdalen is home to roughly 10% of Norway’s large burial mounds. This link continues to Sutton Hoo in England, another important Merovingian site. Researchers are eager to delve deeper into these possible historical ties.

NTNU

Cover Photo: Hanne Bryn, NTNU Science Museum

Related Articles

Spanish Stonehenge re-emerges from the ‘Valdecañas reservoir’

19 August 2022

19 August 2022

Submerged by the Valdecañas reservoir for decades, the Guadalperal dolmen has been fully exposed as it was two summers ago....

4,000-year-old cylinder seal found in Blaundos excavations

29 September 2022

29 September 2022

A 4,000-year-old cylinder seal was found during the excavations of the ancient city of Blaundus (or Blaundos, as it is...

1,500-year-old secret underground passage uncovered in Istanbul

15 May 2023

15 May 2023

During the ongoing excavations in the ruins of Saint Polyeuktos Church in Istanbul’s Saraçhane neighborhood, which was destroyed during the...

Medallion of Emperor Caracalla Minted in Pergamon Found in Roman Tombs in Bulgaria

13 February 2024

13 February 2024

One of the valuable discoveries from the Roman tombs discovered near the village of Nova Varbovka in Strazhitsa municipality in...

Rare Elizabethan ship discovered at a quarry

2 January 2023

2 January 2023

An Elizabethan ship in “remarkable condition” has been discovered on the lake bed of a Kent quarry, one of only...

Countless Votive Offerings Discovered at Ancient Sanctuary on Greek Island Kythnos

10 June 2023

10 June 2023

Archaeologists excavating a hilltop temple complex on the Cycladic island of Kythnos (commonly called Thermia) Greece have unearthed more than...

3 mummified skeletons were found in Iznik, western Turkey

8 October 2021

8 October 2021

Archaeologists discovered mummified skeletons dating from the 2nd century A.D. within two sarcophagi at the Hisardere Necropolis in Bursa’s Iznik...

Ancient Funerary Stones Looted from Yemen Will Be Exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum

14 September 2023

14 September 2023

The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has signed a historic agreement with the Yemeni government to temporarily keep and display...

The ancestors of many animal species alive today may have lived in a delta in what is now China, new research suggests

20 April 2022

20 April 2022

The ancestors of many animal species alive today may have lived in a delta in what is now China, new...

Stone Age Loved to Dance to the Rhythm of the Elk Tooth Rattles

4 June 2021

4 June 2021

Thousands of years ago, people danced frequently and to the rhythm. This is the conclusion of the discovery of elk...

A 1600-year-old writing set was unearthed in the city of Bathonea, which has the oldest ancient port in Istanbul

21 August 2022

21 August 2022

During the Istanbul Bathonea excavations, a 1600-year-old writing set containing a miniature vessel, a bone writing pen, and an inkwell,...

The newly discovered fossils are 200,000 years old in Denisova Cave

29 November 2021

29 November 2021

Scientists have discovered the earliest remains of a human lineage known as the Denisovans. Researchers have identified stone artifacts connected...

Medieval Moat and Bridge Discovered Protecting Farmhouse in England

14 March 2024

14 March 2024

Cotswold Archaeology’s excavations in Tewkesbury, a historic riverside town north of Gloucestershire, England, have revealed a medieval moat and bridge...

Homo Sapiens are older than we previously thought

16 January 2022

16 January 2022

Researchers have discovered that Omo I skeletons, previously thought to be less than 200,000 years old, are 230,000 years old....

Remains of ‘female vampire’ found with sickle across her neck and a padlocked toe in Poland

2 September 2022

2 September 2022

A skeleton of what archaeologists believe may have been a 17th-century female vampire has been discovered near Bydgoszcz in Poland....