Possible Viking boat grave found beneath Trondheim market square.

Archaeologists reveal that Central Trondheim in Norway has been hiding a boat grave.

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Press release:

On one of the last days of the excavation in the market square, archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) became aware of a feature with a somewhat special shape.

The feature, which was dug into the natural deposits, had been disturbed in several places by later pits and postholes, but it was quite clearly boat-shaped.

– Careful excavation revealed that no wood remained intact, but lumps of rust and some poorly-preserved nails indicated that it was a boat that was buried here, says archaeologist Ian Reed.

The remains of the boat show that it was at least 4 meters long and oriented more or less north-south.

Boat remainsThe boast is damaged several places by pits and post holes. Cautious excavation has reveiled that there is no wood left but clumps of rust and some poorly preserved nails that show that this is probably a boat grave.

Skeletal remains

The boat contained two long bones, which, like the boat, were oriented north-south.

– This suggests that there was a human skeleton contained within the boat. Because of the poor state of preservation we will have to carry out DNA tests to be 100% certain that the bones are human, says Reed.

Sheet bronze and a key

Other finds included a small piece of sheet bronze, located up against one of the bones, as well as what are likely personal items from the grave.

– In a posthole dug through the middle of the boat we found a piece of a spoon and part of a key for a chest. If this is from the grave then it can probably be dated from the 7th to the 10th century, says Reed.

Boat graveBoat graves are not unusual in Norway. Here is a boat grave with a boat/ ship from Myklebostad in Nordfjord. Photo: Knut Paasche, NIKU
The grave used to be placed on higher groundKartet viser hvordan landskapet kan ha sett ut mellom 600- og 900-tallet. This map indicates the landscape in Trondheim between the 7th and 10th century.

Could it be an Åfjord boat?

The location away from today’s harbor and the fjord suggests that the boat grave dates from the late Iron Age, or perhaps the early Viking Age.

– It is likely a boat that has been dug down into the ground and been used as a coffin for the dead. There has also probably been a burial mound over the boat and grave, says NIKU’s Knut Paasche, a specialist in early boats.

He believes that the boat type is similar to an Åfjord boat, which has historically been a common sight along the Trøndelag coast.

– This type of boat is relatively flat in the bottom midship. The boat can also be flat-bottomed as it is intended to go into shallow waters on the river Nidelven.

Sketcth of an Åfjord boatThe boat in the grave is likely similar to this boat. Source: Nordlandsbåten og Åfjordsbåten av G. Eldjarn og J. Godal, 1988.

Boat graves are common from the Iron Age and into the Viking Period, but this is the first time a ship burial from this period has been discovered in Trondheim city centre.

– This is another discovery by NIKU that refers to a Trondheim older than the medieval city. Other Viking settlements such as Birka, Gokstad or Kaupang, all have graves in close proximity to the trading centre, says Paasche.

Work on the boat has now been completed.

The archaeological investigations are financed by the municipality of Trondheim and the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

 

For any further information, please contact Communications Adviser Thomas Wrigglesworth at thomas.wrigglesworth@niku.no or +47 958 77 882