How an ancient Viking ship is excavated in Norway

(ORDO NEWS) — Pyramids, castles, statues – historical symbols of status and power are known in abundance. For the Vikings, they were long, narrow ships.

This month, Norwegian archaeologists hope to complete the excavation of a rare ship buried in Gjellestad, a large Viking “cemetery” southeast of Oslo.

The last time such a ship was discovered was about 100 years ago. They are called “drakkars”. These are large boats – the Vikings used them for long voyages, often not with the most peaceful intentions.

The Hellestad ship is over 1000 years old. Most of the wood from which it was made has rotted over the centuries that the ship has spent underground. However, archaeologist Knut Paasche is confident that the location of the iron nails could eventually be used to build a replica of it.

With the help of radar, archaeologists found out that the vessel’s hull is 19 meters long and 5 meters wide. This puts it on a par with the famous Oseberg and Gokstad ships, which are exhibited at the Viking Ship Museum located on the Bygdø Peninsula in Oslo.

In the 9th century, the Vikings began to set sails on ships, but rowers were still used for long voyages.

In their drakkars, the Vikings skirted the British Isles, attacking coastal settlements. Subsequently, they settled there, leaving a legacy of craft skills, Scandinavian words and names.

The Norwegian Vikings conquered Iceland, and then reached Greenland and the territory of what is now Newfoundland in North America.

Burial complex

The Hellestad ship was a warship that was built around 750-850 AD, Knut Paasche, an expert at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, told the BBC.

“We don’t know yet if it was a rowing or sailing vessel. The ships found in Gokstad and Thun were combined,” he said. “It’s difficult to sail in the coastal area because the wind changes all the time and rowers were often used there. But to sail, say, from Bergen to the Shetland Islands, it was better to wait for the right wind.”

Gellestad is a whole burial complex. There may be up to 20 mounds, archaeologists say.

Jell, the second largest burial mound of the Iron Age (1-400 AD) in Norway, is located 100 meters from the ship. It is several centuries older than the buried ship.

The ship itself is also a burial ground – in it, as scientists believe, was buried a noble influential person who died more than a thousand years ago.

The head of the excavation, Christian Rhodesrud, says that the Ell mound was erected at the cremation site on top of the remains of burnt bodies. Nothing was found inside it – perhaps at some point in history this mound was plundered.

In the 19th century, farmers plowing the fields leveled this mound on top of the ship and other burial grounds nearby.

In addition to the ship, archaeologists have found in Gellestad the remains of a settlement – in particular, long rooms – halls, supposedly used for feasts and ceremonies that lasted several days. These were the times of the struggle for power between rival leaders.

“The ship clearly relates to earlier burials on this land, and in particular to the large Ell mound. It is clear that the Vikings wanted to show a connection with the past.”

A king, queen, or an influential noble warrior could have been buried on the ship, Rhodesrud believes.

Vikings were often buried inside ships, but the scale of the Hellestad find speaks of the deceased’s particularly prestigious status.

At the moment, inside the ship, archaeologists have found the bones of a large animal – perhaps a horse or a bull. No human remains have yet been found.

A scientific study of this burial site says that, according to a number of signs, there was a perfectly well-organized attack with the aim of stealing buried artifacts. It could have been a political act aimed at “strengthening the power of the dynasty.”

In those days, the coast was only 500 meters from Gellestad, and the water level could be 6.5 meters higher than today.

“I’m sure the locals kept in touch with lands far away from there. The person buried in the ship probably sailed long distances,” says Rhodsurd, an assistant professor at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. The Vikings traded with many countries, in particular with Byzantium.

Local geography determined the fact that the Viking culture was inextricably linked to the sea. They were skilled seafarers and experienced shipbuilders. They had hundreds of ships at their disposal, and the sailors had a unique understanding of the weather, the state of the sea and the behavior of marine life.

The ships were built from planks overlapping each other with a waterproof tar coating. They were lightweight and could be carried ashore.

“The Vikings moved with the sea, not against it. The fact that their ships were shallow allowed them to rise on the wave,” explains Paasche. It also allowed ships to move along shallow rivers and canals inland to countries they wanted to conquer, giving them an edge.


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