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Old Viking ship found buried alongside busy Norwegian freeway



The buried ship seen from the ground radar
Image: NIKU

Using ground radar, archaeologists in Norway discovered an ancient Viking ship buried only 20 inches below the surface of a farmer's field. The 66-foot ship, deliberately buried in a funeral ritual, appears surprisingly intact ̵

1; and it could contain the skeletal remains of a high-ranking Viking warrior.

It's called Jellstad Ship, and it was planted on farmland in Østfold County in southeastern Norway. The site, known as Viksletta, is located near the large and perfectly intact Jelle Grave Hill, visible from the busy Norwegian Rv41 118 expressway.

Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) have demonstrated the ship with a mobile ground radar with the help of radar specialists from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospecting and Virtual Archeology (LBI ArchPro). The discovery is significant in that, according to Knut Paasche, head of the department of digital archeology at NIKU, it is only the fourth Viking ship grave ever discovered

The Viksletta Terrain: red circles indicate grave mound locations, orange Rectangles the longhouses, and the green eye-shaped object the old boat.

In addition to the ship, the scans revealed eight previously undiscovered burial mounds and several longhouses. All eight of the hills had been plowed by farmers, but enough evidence remained below the surface for the explorers to identify them as such.

In a statement, district conservator Morten Hanisch in Østfold said that the archaeologists "are certain that there is a ship, but how much is preserved is difficult to predict before further investigation."

The researchers have not yet dug into the topsoil because they hope to perform as much non-invasive work as possible using "all modern means of archeology," Paasche said. In fact, the boards of the ship, once exposed to the elements, will immediately begin to deteriorate. In addition, radar scans show the ship in its undisturbed state. The researchers plan to conduct further scans of the area, but they have not ruled out excavating the ship at some point in the future.

The ship rests only 20 inches (50 centimeters) below the topsoil, and it is about 66 feet (20 meters) long. Preliminary scans indicate that the keel of the ship and the timbers are still intact. While the researchers have not yet dated this page, similar places in Norway date to 800 AD.

Artist depiction of the ship before its burial.
Illustration: NIKU

The researchers say the ship was intentionally buried in a burial mound that is not as extraordinary as it might sound. Boats and ships were an indelible aspect of the Viking culture that was used for transport, trade and conquest in Northern Europe until about 1000 years ago. Ships were valuable and were considered symbols of wealth and status. Archaeologists have found previously buried ships, some even with bodies. In 2011, for example, archaeologists in Scotland discovered a 15-foot (5-meter) boat with a warrior inside, along with its shield, sword, spear and other grave goods.

This newly discovered ship may have been part of a cemetery "uniquely designed to show power and influence," said archaeologist and project leader Lars Gustavsen in a statement. It is very likely that the Jellstad ship contains the remains of a high-ranking Viking, but that remains to be proven. It is not immediately clear if the ground radar could pick up traces of a body or bodies; Soil excavations may be necessary.

Five longhouses or halls were also discovered by the researchers, some of them quite large. The scientists said that the site is reminiscent of another place of the Vikings: the Borre area in Vestfold County on the opposite side of the Oslo Fjord.

These results are all very tentative and researchers are preparing for the next phase of the project. This will include more extensive scans of the Viksletta site with additional non-invasive geophysical methods. The discovery of this old ship is very exciting, but perhaps the best is yet to come.

[Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research]


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