Archaeologists unearth remains of 1,300-year-old ship at Norwegian burial mound suggesting maritime exploration dates back further than previously thought

an archeologist digs on a mound
Archeaologists uncovered the remains of a pre-Viking age ship at the Herlaugshaugen burial ground this summer.Courtesy of Geir Grønnesby, NTNU Science Museum
  • Researchers unearthed the remains of a pre-Viking age ship at a Norwegian burial mound.

  • The ship burial likely dates back 1,300 years to 700 AD, media outlets reported.

  • The discovery suggests maritime exploration may have begun in Scandinavia earlier than previously thought.

Norwegian archeologists uncovered the remnants of a centuries-old pre-Viking-era ship burial that indicates maritime exploration may have begun in Scandinavia earlier than previously believed.

Trøndelag County announced the discovery of the ship's remains in a Facebook post this week, saying researchers from the county worked alongside Norway's NTNU Science Museum this summer to survey the Herlaugshaugen burial mound in Leka where several other historic artifacts have been found over the years.

The team of archeologists came across several large nails and rivets at the mound site that confirmed the past presence of a large ship there, the county said.

Ship burials — in which a deceased person was placed in a boat that was then covered by a mound — have frequently been discovered throughout Scandinavia. The custom is thought to have symbolized safe passage into the afterlife for seafaring people.

The ship buried at Herlaugshaugen dates back to the Merovingian Era, the county said, which preceded the Viking Era and lasted from the middle of the 5th century to about 750 AD.

overhead shot of the Herlaugshaugen burial mound.
The Herlaugshaugen burial mound.Courtesy of Hanne Bryn, NTNU Science Museum

Gemini, a Scandinavian science and technology outlet, reported this week that the ship was built around 700 AD, making it the oldest known ship burial in the region.

Researchers took samples of the wood from around the nails they discovered to date the burial, according to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.

Geir Grønnesby, an archaeologist and the project manager for the investigations, told Gemini the discovery raises interesting questions about our understanding of history in the region.

"This tells us that people here have had maritime expertise — they could build large ships — much earlier than we previously thought," Grønnesby told the outlet.

One of the ship's rivets discovered at the burial mound.
One of the ship's rivets discovered at the burial mound.Courtesy of Geir Grønnesby, NTNU Science Museum

The ship's remains were discovered at the same burial mound where 18th century excavators once uncovered a skeleton and sword, Gemini reported.

Over the years, researchers have also found animal bones, a bronze cauldron, and iron nails at the burial site, according to the outlet.

Grønnesby told Gemini that the discovery doesn't necessarily mean the Viking Era as we know it began earlier than previously thought —but it does indicate that Scandinavians were further advanced earlier that previously thought.

"The ship grave opens up the possibility that contact with the world around us has been greater further back in time," Grønnesby told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. "Because when you build somewhat large ships, it's usually for traveling a distance."

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