Vikings in Recent Archaeological News

A Viking ship is apparently parked at a pub near Liverpool. The pub wasn’t there when the ship was “parked,” however, since it has been there for over 1,000 years. Its now sitting about 2 meters below ground and was discovered by a University of Nottingham archaeologist using ground-penetrating radar. And in Norway, a Viking burial mound was opened on Monday by archaeologists who were hoping to learn about the tomb’s occupants who were laid to rest at least 1,173 years ago.


Ground penetrating radar creates three dimensional maps of subsurface features like pithouse floors, hearths, and Viking ships by sending radar pulses through a surface antenna which then reflects back to the surface antenna after encountering objects of a density higher than the surrounding soil. The three dimensional possibilities arise when the pulse travel time is analyzed and the results of multiple transects are organized in a grid.

The archaeologist that found the ship admits he hasn’t any hard evidence that a Viking ship is actually there -he’s basing the hypothesis on the GPR profile, and he would like to raise $5 million to excavate the site properly. The location is in Merseyside near Liverpool, but still some distance from the coast. The search for the ship began when the archaeologist obtained information that it was originally uncovered in 1938 after a previous pub was demolished.

The two women in Norway were originally excavated with different Viking ship in 1948 and their remains were reburied in aluminum caskets placed within stone sarcophagi. The idea was that future scientists might be able to exhume them once again to study their remains once technology advanced.

The mound that they were reburied in is the original mound that they were found in along with the Oseberg Viking Longboat, one of Norway’s “greatest archaeological treasures.” It was originally discovered in 1903 by Knut Rom, who dug into the burial mound on his farm, and excavated by Gotlander Gabriel Gustafson. This discovery led to Norway’s prohibition of the export of antiquities since it was realized at the time of excavation that there really wasn’t any law protecting cutural resources in the nation and the farmer could, if he chose to, sell the artifacts and the ship itself to anyone, including foreign collectors. The Oseberg Ship was a celebrity in its own right and the find created a sense of national pride -the realization that that national treasures and cultural resources had little protection under early 20th century Norwegian law created a stir. Luckily a wealthy Norwegian purchased the ship and donated it to the state. Soon after, legislation was passed to protect future cultural resources.

In Norway today, archaeology still seems to create a sense of national pride. According to various news sources, the event on Monday drew quite a crowd, upwards of 300 people, including school children. I wonder if an event like this would get media coverage and a similar turnout in the U.S.? The two women are estimated to be in their 60s and 30s, the eldest assumed to be a woman of power such as a queen. The younger may be a daughter, making her a princess, or a slave, buried with the matriarch for companionship and servitude in the afterlife. Modern DNA techniques may reveal the answer.

Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology provides a bit more information on the mound’s dating (834 CE) and an alternative hypothesis to the burial of the women: the barrow was actually a male grave in which the two female bodies were unceremoniously deposited after being murdered. The male skeleton never found in the site? Removed by Viking period or later relic hunters, possibly even decendents of the man buried.

Interesting stuff.