Norse revelations

Survey around Norway’s Gjellestad ship burial is revealing important landscape.

The Gjellestad ship burial, which lies some 86km southeast of Oslo, Norway, was the final resting place for a powerful Norse ruler in AD 800. Discovered in the autumn of 2018, it measures 18m long, and is one of the largest-known Norse ship burials. Destructive fungi accidently introduced by a modern drainage pipe had been destroying the vessel. Thankfully, the ship-burial is now being carefully excavated – as part of a major project that is also examining the wider landscape.

Norwegian archaeologists have made extensive use of ground-penetrating radar to locate now-vanished structures around the ship-burial area. So far, they have surveyed 40 hectares south, north, and east of the ship, and have identified structures that include a ‘ship-shaped’ house that was likely a feast hall, a farmhouse, a 60m-long longhouse (one of the largest-known in Northern Europe), plus traces of 13 additional ploughed-out burial mounds in nearby field. Together the evidence is suggesting this was a prestigious place for the Norse as they rose to power, involving gathering, feasting, governing, and burial.

The radar survey is part of a long-term project involving scientists from many disciplines that will undoubtedly revolutionise our knowledge of Norse society and of its leaders.