Viking Age boat grave discovered in Norway

A Viking Age boat grave has been identified in the municipality of Kvinesdal in Agder county in southern Norway, offering new insights into burial customs practiced in the area between 1500 and 2000 years.

The discovery was made in the Øyesletta Plain during surveys carried out by the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) on behalf of Nye Veier and the National Heritage Board, before a road was built main crossing Kvinesdal, the E39.

It was known prior to the survey that the site was part of one of the largest cemeteries in Øyesletta, which had been used between vs. AD 1 – 500. Although burial mounds once existed on the land, due to past agricultural activity, none are still visible.

Conducted as part of the ‘Archaeology on New Roads’ research project and led by NIKU project manager Manuel Gabler, the team surveyed the site using non-invasive ground penetrating radar (GPR) .

The investigation revealed the presence of several burial mounds as well as the first boat grave (central circle) discovered in Kvinesdal. IMAGE: Jani Causevic, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research.

In the southernmost part of the large cemetery, the team identified several previously unknown burial mounds and, most excitingly, a Viking ship grave measuring around eight to nine meters in length.

It appears that the grave was dug and the boat – which may have housed one or more deceased – was placed there before being buried under a mound.

Physical excavations will be necessary in order to assess the quantity of preserved boat and to identify the presence of any grave goods.

While many late Iron Age and Viking ship tombs have been discovered in Europe, this is the first such example found at Kvinesdal.

The Øyesletta Plain is home to one of the largest Late Iron Age and Viking cemeteries. IMAGE: Jani Causevic, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Jani Causevic, an archaeologist at NIKU who led the survey. “Both to find such a discovery, but also to see how the use of ground-penetrating radar gives us the opportunity to explore and document cultural history through new and exciting methods.”

Rare, elusive, and generally rich in grave goods, ship burials were typically reserved for late Iron Age and Viking elites.

Agder County Municipality Project Manager Nils Ole Sundet believes the discovery will help us “understand and tell better stories about Øyesletta society”.

“The fact that the project succeeded in producing knowledge that we thought was lost is very exciting.”

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