Researchers come across multiple Viking ship burials in north Iceland

viking-ship-burials-north-iceland_1Credit: Auðunn

On 13th June, Icelandic archaeologists (state sponsored) working at a large burial site in Eyjafjörður fjord, in northern part of Iceland, came across the remnants of a ship burial dating from the Viking Age, circa 9th or 10th century AD. The burial scope was probably furnished for a Viking chieftain, who was ritually interred in his ship along with some of his worldly possessions, including his sword and dog. And by 15th June, the researchers identified possibly two other ship burials at the same site. Suffice it to say, they are expecting to find even more such burial specimens, considering their excavation project is only in its preliminary stage.

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Credit: Loftmyndir, IcelandMag

From the historical angle, the main archaeological site of these Viking ship burials, known as Dysnes, is located north of the town of Akureyri, which during the Viking period was a settlement of local importance. Even more fascinatingly, just a few hundred meters south of the site is Gáseyri, which was the main trading port of the Eyjafjörður fjord region during 10th century. Interestingly enough, the very name Dysnes in itself can be possibly translated as ‘burial-ness’, with dys referring to an old Norse word for ‘burial mound’. The precise location of the discovered ship burials also follows an etymological route, since it known as Kumlateigur, which roughly translates as ‘burial stretch’. In that regard, eleven years ago, researchers did find a separate ship burial at the site Kumlholt (‘burial hill’), in proximity to this new site.

Now it should be noted that while it may have been a known practice to bury wealthy chiefs in boats during the Viking Age, archaeological evidences for such graves are rare, especially in Iceland. One of the hypothetical reasons relates to how timber had a limited supply in the region which made boats pretty expensive to build. Furthermore, Viking burials in their preserved states are also very rare, due to unfortunate occurrences of grave robbery throughout the centuries. But fortuitously in this case, the all the three graves didn’t show any initial signs of disturbance, as could be comprehended from the presence of the sword (in the first grave).

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Rich agricultural lands close to site. Credit: Google Street View

However the archaeologists are still in a race against time to salvage various sections of these early medieval Viking ship burials, with the site in question being afflicted by sea erosion. To that end, according to their initial assessment, the waves had already destroyed half of the first boat and also snatched away the artifacts from inside the grave. In an interview with the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, the researchers talked about their quandary –

The ocean has washed away most of the boat, and probably some of its contents. We have found human bones scattered in the surface, so we can determine that a man once lay in the boat. The fact that we found the sword suggests that this grave had not been disturbed by grave-robbers. So, at some point we had a completely undisturbed Viking age grave, which we lost to the ocean.

In any case, it is not all doom and gloom, since the archaeologists are also looking forth to find more clues from the relatively well-preserved second ship burial. As Hildur Gestsdóttir, the head researchers at the site, said

Part of the boat is completely untouched and we see no signs of it ever having been robbed by people, so we are hoping to find more artifacts untouched in the grave.

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Artist’s illustration depicting a Viking ship burial. Source: Avaldsnes

Source: Iceland Mag

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