Unearthed Viking Burial Site Yields Unexpected Technology

A rare archaeological find—an intact Viking burial boat—discovered in Scotland has yielded a significant number of interesting artefacts, amongst them evidence of technology that most folks probably didn’t know existed in the 10th century (I know I sure didn’t). A full report on the findings, authored by the archaeologists who done did the digging, was published earlier this week by Antiquity. If you’ve time, I suggest reading the whole thing—it’s fascinating stuff. Or, if TL;DR, here’s the Cliff’s Bolen’s Notes version:

“A Warrior of High Status” (Not Ragnar Lothbrok)

The burial boat, first unearthed in 2011 near Ardnamurchan in western Scotland, contained a “rich assemblage of grave goods,” according to archaeologist Dr. Oliver Harris of the University of Leicester. These goods include an almost completely intact (if a bit rusty) sword, a spearhead, a shield, and a broad-bladed ax head. According to the report, and a bit of common knowledge regarding warfare, these weapons indicate that the dude who was buried there was not just some grunt, but “a warrior of high status.”

Not an artist's rendition of the Viking in question.

*Not* an artist’s rendition of the Viking in question.

Mineralized remains of textiles (likely the warrior’s garb) and wooden objects (the handle of the ax, among others) were also found in the burial boat. All other artefacts were made of copper or copper alloys—including more than 200 rivets used to build the boat.

That’s the part that amazes me. I knew the Vikings were skilled smelters and blacksmiths—that’s where their fearsome weapons came from, after all—but I had no idea that metalworkers of the time were capable of producing smaller and more intricate items like rivets. And I certainly didn’t know that Vikings were capable of building boats using rivets. Someone must’ve had to hammer the hell out of those things to install ‘em—it’s not like they rivet tools like Rosie used.

The find is a significant one for other reasons, as well. As the report states, “The [dig] represents the first excavation of an intact Viking boat burial by archaeologists on the UK mainland, and makes a significant addition to our knowledge of burial practices from this period.”

Photo credit: fuchur via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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