A sensational find of two boat burials from the Viking Age have been discovered in Uppsala. One of the two graves was intact with remains of a man, a horse and a dog.
”This is a unique excavation, the last excavation of this grave type in Old Uppsala was almost 50 years ago,” says archaeologist Anton Seiler.

The two boat burials were found during an excavation at the vicarage in Old Uppsala (Gamla Uppsala) an area outsida of the town of Uppsala, last autumn. A cellar and a well dating from the Middle Ages were excavated and then one of the boats was observed beneath the more modern structures. The two boat burials have been excavated during the last month and the results are sensational.

A boat burial och ship burial was a specific funeral practice in which the dead person was placed in a ship or boat often along with rich gifts like jewellery or sets of weapons and other objects. This kind of grave dates back to the Iron Age i e the Vendel Period, or Merovingian Period (around 550–800 AD) or the Viking Age (800–1050 AD), when it otherwise was common to cremate the dead but the people in these boats are not cremated. The graves can therefore be very well preserved. This custom was probably reserved for people of a higher social standing in society.

In Sweden, only around ten boat burial sites of this kind is known previously, mainly in the provinces of Uppland and Västmanland in mid Sweden.

”It is a small group of people who were buried in this way. You can suspect that they were distinguished people in the society of the time since burial ships in general are very rare,” says Anton Seiler, who works at The Archaeologists, part of the National Historical Museums in Sweden.

One of the two newly discovered graves was intact while the other was damaged, probably when the much later cellar, dating from the 16th century, was built. Remains of a man was found in the stern of the intact boat burial. A horse and a dog accompanied him in death and theser were found in the bow of the boat. Archeologists also uncovered personal items including a sword, spear, shield, and an ornate comb.

Wood and clinch-nails of iron that were used in the construction of the boats were also found.

The fact that it’s an intact grave undisturbed by plundering, makes this a particularly interesting opportunity to study these kind of rare burial traditions with modern scientific analysis methods and documentation techniques. This is the first time in Sweden these kind of methods are used in relation to this grave type.

”It is extremely exciting for us since boat burials are so rarely excavated. We can now use modern science and methods that will generate new results, hypotheses and answers. We will also put the boat burials in relation to the very special area that is Old Uppsala and the excavations done here before”, says Anton Seiler.

Selected parts of the find will go on display at Gamla Uppsala Museum and Stockholm’s Swedish History Museum.

For press pictures see Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/arkeologiuv/albums/72157709399277026

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Contacts

Ninna Bengtsson +46 (0)10-480 80 76, +46 (0) 76-128 40 76, ninna.bengtsson@arkeologerna.com

redaktionen@arkeologerna.com

 

The remains of a man was discovered in the boat. Photo: The Archaeologists

Osteologist Ola Magnell and archaeologist Anton Seiler are excavating the boat grave. Photo: The Archaeologists

Osteologist Ola Magnell is excavating the horse skeleton. Photo: The Archaeologists CC-BY

Part of the shield and an ornated comb found close to the dead man. Photo: The Archaeologists CC-BY

The intact burial boat, prior to excavation. Photo: The Archaeologists CC-BY