Viking ship grave discovered in Kvinesdal


Archaeologists examining a field with georadar technology have found a new Viking ship grave. This is the latest in a list of recent breakthroughs in georadar technology.

Burying the dead in boats was a practice found in several coastal settlements during the Viking Age. Recent advances in georadar technology have led to the discovery of more of these rare boat graves in various parts of Norway.

Georadar analysis showed remains of Viking ship graves at Kvinesdal. Photo: Nye Veier.

Today archaeologists discovered a previously unknown boat grave in Kvinesdal, southern Norway. The ground penetrating radar scan was carried out as part of the construction of the new E39 motorway.

Boat grave and tumulus

The discovery was made on a plain in Øyesletta, already known to be one of the largest cemeteries in southern Norway.

However, it is the first boat grave to be discovered in the region. Such discoveries are rare and would have been reserved for important people in society. Several burial mounds were discovered near the tomb of the boat.

“It’s not every day that archaeologists come across Viking-era boat graves,” said Nye Veier archaeologist Frans-Arne Stylegar.

However, more work will need to take place before the team understands the status of the discovery. “We do not yet know how many boats and funerary furniture have been preserved. Some boat graves are richly equipped,” he added.

An ongoing archaeological research project

The archaeological work was carried out as part of the Nye Veier project Arkeologi på nye veier (Archaeology on new routes). Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) carried out the work on behalf of Nye Veier.

NIKU archaeologist Jani Causevic discovered the ship’s grave in ground-penetrating radar data: “It’s incredibly exciting. Both to find such a discovery, but also to see how the use of georadar gives us the opportunity to explore and document cultural history through new and exciting methods.

Archaeologists from NIKU and the municipality of Agder with the georadar machine.
Archaeologists from NIKU and the municipality of Agder with the georadar machine.

The boat is estimated to be 8-9 meters long and could serve as a grave for one or more people. The boat appears to have been dug into the ground, before a burial mound was built over it.

NIKU project manager Manuel Gabler is very happy that this project is yielding results: “It’s great fun not only to test and demonstrate how the method can be used practically in the registration process, but also to contribute to such an exciting discovery.”

The largest Viking cemetery in southern Norway

Most of the remains of the cemetery – believed to have been used in the late Iron Age and Viking Age – were thought to have been lost forever.

Agder County Municipality Project Manager Nils Ole Sundet confirmed NRK it was a surprising discovery: “We thought the whole cemetery was lost forever. It’s exciting that we are suddenly confronted with this discovery.

On Øyesletta, ground penetrating radar surveys not only uncovered a boat grave, but also a number of burial mounds.  Photo / model: Jani Causevic, NIKU.
At Øyesletta, ground penetrating radar surveys not only uncovered a boat grave, but also a number of burial mounds. Photo / model: Jani Causevic, NIKU.

The old burial mounds of Øyesletta farms were gradually destroyed with new machinery and farming methods. Today, none of the old burial mounds remain. This latest discovery changes that.

“It is fantastic that our colleagues from NIKU have also found several surrounding burial mounds. This can help to better understand the site,” said Claes Uhner, Project Manager of the Museum of Cultural History, UiO.

Project E39 Changes

Stylegar said it was too early to tell if the discovery will change anything in the new E39 road project. However, if a supply road is to be constructed on the land, excavation will be required.

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