The Vikings originated in what is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden and became famous for plundering and plundering their way across Europe in the 11th century. Expert sailors and navigators aboard their longships established many colonies, including in the British Isles. In 2015, human remains – believed to date back to the Viking era – were discovered on the northeast coast of Papa Westray, Orkney, and left archaeologists perplexed.
Lindsay Dunbar of AOC Archeology explained what happened during a recent History Hit podcast.
He said: “A landowner was carrying out renovations to a small building at the end of his estate.
“As he was trying to buttress the walls there, he disturbed some human remains.
“We were quickly sent there and got, what turned out to be, a classic Viking ship burial.
“It was very unexpected.
“It was such a small building that the boat was sort of slightly larger than the building itself.”
The archaeologist detailed how experts slowly uncovered the incredible 10th century tomb.
He added: “It stretched out to either side – he found the stern sticking out under the door of the building.
“In essence, the boat was intact under the building, but obviously he disturbed it slightly when propping it up.
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Mr Dunbar continued: “If you can trace where they are and search carefully, that will show you the plan of the boat.
“Some of them are quite impressive. We collected 230 nails from them. The boat is about five meters long and one and a half meters wide.
“In the boat, the body had been placed in a squatting position in the center.
“On the body was a wooden shield covered in leather – so it definitely meant a Viking ship burial.”
Alongside the rare Viking ship burial, a second grave of a man with weapons – including a sword – was discovered at the site.
Experts have speculated that they may have belonged to first-generation Norwegian settlers on Orkney, given the similarities to other burials.
Post-excavation analysis is now underway on the graves and their contents after funding was secured from Historic Environment Scotland last week.
AOC Archeology will analyze the tombs to better understand the life and death of the Viking community of Orkney in the 10th century.
This will include a bone analysis and radiocarbon dating program.
Experts believe the graves could be part of a previously unknown cemetery in the area.