Before the emergence of the Norsemen raiders (aka the Vikings), Uppland, the east-central part of Sweden was known as the political and religious center of Scandinavia – during the era better known as the Vendel Period (circa 550-790 AD). In terms of archaeology, this is rather reflected by the various fascinating finds from the area discovered over the years. The latest discoveries, made at a burial site close to Uppsala, pertain to opulent specimens ranging from an ornate sword, exquisite jewelry to ivory game pieces. To that end, archaeologists have touted the finds to be rare in the context of entire Western Europe, let alone Scandinavia.
According to the researchers, led by Anna Hed Jakobsson, one of the project managers of the recent excavation, the grave in question here (located in Fyrislund, eastern Uppsala) is dated from circa 550-600 AD. Interestingly enough, the site is close to the Gamla Uppsala, the area that was used for the arrangement of numerous royal tombs from a similar time-frame. On the other hand, Fyrislund in itself is not really known for its historical legacy of opulent graves, which rather alludes to the rarity and mysteriousness of this discovery. Furthermore, in spite of the rich findings, the archaeologists couldn’t identify any discernable mound structure over the tomb.
Talking of rich findings, the ‘piece de resistance’ of the discovery arguably relates to the aforementioned ornate sword bedecked with gold, silver-gilt, animal decorations, and garnets. The weapon is complemented by a bevy of other ritzy items, including small gold fittings with filigree, a pendant patterned in the shape of a fishbone (herringbone), yellow-green glass cups, and around 50 pieces of ivory game pieces (with 20 of them gilded in silver). The pendants might have been used as markers for rank in the region, and as such may have been worn on shoulders or ears. The sheer opulence of these objects might also reflect the already developed trade networks that connected Iron Age Scandinavia with distant regions.
As for the game pieces, quite intriguingly, similar specimens were also found in later Viking graves, thereby suggesting the popularity of board games in Iron Age and Early Medieval Scandinavia. And while such board games were considered recreational in their scope, the Vikings also attributed some ‘martial’ value to these pieces. Consequently, the need for quick mindedness and strategy in these games (like hnefatafl, the early medieval Nordic equivalent of chess) often symbolically mirrored the deceased man’s status as a steadfast warrior in his actual life.
And lastly, as for the scope of this burial, the tomb pertains to a fire grave – basically suggesting that the bodies (and funerary objects) were burned before being interred into the grave. Additionally, the researchers noted that the grave contained the remains of a man and a child. The former was possibly a high-ranking noble or an elite warrior who served in the royal court of Old Uppsala (during the Vendel Period). The human remains were also accompanied by the remains of other animals, including a bird of prey, horses, dogs, sheep, two bear traps – thereby once again suggesting the high rank of the man.
Image Credits: Archaeological consultant/TT