Horse found buried under the bow of a Viking ship in Sweden


The skeletons of a horse and a dog have been unearthed in a Viking ship burial in Sweden. © The Archaeologists/Arkeologerna Statens Historiska Museer

Two rare Viking ship burials have been discovered in Sweden, with one of the ships holding the body of a man in the stern, and those of a horse and dog in the bow.

Archaeologists have also uncovered personal items, including a sword, spear, shield and ornate comb.

The researchers describe the findings as sensational.

The two boats were found last fall during a dig at Old Uppsala rectory, in an area outside of present-day Uppsala.

A cellar and a well dating from the Middle Ages were excavated and then one of the boats was observed under the more modern structures.

The two boat graves were only fully excavated last month.

Osteologist Ola Magnell discovers the skeletons of a horse and a dog.
Osteologist Ola Magnell discovers the skeletons of a horse and a dog. © The Archaeologists/Arkeologerna Statens Historiska Museer

One of the two newly discovered tombs was intact while the other was damaged, probably during the construction of the much later cellar, dating from the 16th century.

The man’s remains were found aft of the ship’s undisturbed burial. The horse and dog that accompanied him in death were at the front of the same ship.

“This is a unique excavation,” says archaeologist Anton Seiler. “The last excavation of this type of tomb in old Uppsala dates back nearly 50 years.”

A boat burial was a specific burial practice in which the deceased person was placed in a ship or boat, often with rich gifts like jewelry or sets of weapons and other items.

This type of grave dates back to the Iron Age (c. 550-800 AD) or, in this case, the Viking Age (800-1050 AD), when it was common to cremate the dead. However, the individual in this boat was not cremated.

Such burials were probably reserved for people of higher status in society.

In Sweden, only about ten such boat burial sites have been discovered, mainly in the provinces of Uppland and Västmanland in the center of the country.

“It’s a small group of people who were buried in this way,” says Anton Seiler, who works at The Archaeologists, part of Sweden’s national historical museums.

“You can suspect that they were distinguished people in the society of the time since burial ships, in general, are very rare.”

Osteologist Carolin Arcini with the skeleton of the man found in the Viking ship.
Osteologist Carolin Arcini with the skeleton of the man found in the Viking ship. © The Archaeologists/Arkeologerna Statens Historiska Museer

The researchers suspect that the decision not to cremate the grave may have reflected the influence of the arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia.

We also found wood and iron nails that were used to build boats.

The fact that it is an intact tomb, undisturbed by looting, offers researchers a particularly interesting opportunity to study rare burial traditions, with modern scientific analysis methods and documentation techniques.

This is the first time in Sweden that this type of method has been used for this type of burial.

“It’s extremely exciting for us because boat graves are so rarely excavated,” says Seiler. “We can now use modern science and methods that will generate new results, hypotheses and answers. We will also relate boat burials to the very special area that is Old Uppsala and the excavations carried out here before.

Parts of the find will be on display at the Gamla Uppsala Museum and the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

Work continues at the excavations of the rectory in old Uppsala, outside the modern city of Uppsala in Sweden.
Work continues at the excavations of the rectory in old Uppsala, outside the modern city of Uppsala in Sweden. © The Archaeologists/Arkeologerna Statens Historiska Museer

Previous Viking 58 Convertible Boat Review
Next This Viking Burial Of A Boat Put Into A Bigger Boat 100 Years Later Is Quite Confusing