Almost one thousand years after the end of the Viking Age, Norwegian archaeologists have made a sensational find near Halden in the south-east of Norway. The burial mound and adjacent field harbour several longhouses and at least one ship burial.
Digital data visualizations reveal the well-defined 20-meter-long ship-shaped structure, with indications that the lower part is well preserved. Incredibly, the ship lies just below the topsoil, with just 50cm separating it from the fresh air.
The discovery was made quite by accident when a local farmer wanted to dig ditches to solve an ongoing drainage problem in a boggy field. In previous years trenches in the area had turned up items of interest, so archaeologists from Østfold county decided to try a non-intrusive method of analysis before giving the work the go-ahead.
The farmer is now being paid compensation for the lost land to allow archaeologists further time to analyze the site. Since the find late in 2018, the team has returned to obtain more data and map the wider area.
The discoveries were made by the archaeologists Lars Gustavsen and Erich Nau from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU). Gustavsen talked to Forbes about the ‘very special find’.
“These are enormous mounds and the scale of what we have found is something very special. The ship is getting all the attention but it’s really just one part of a big burial mound cemetery. What we can already tell is that this area was an important center of power in the Viking Age.”
The motorized high resolution georadar was developed by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro). Before the find, not everyone in the archaeological community had been convinced of its benefits.
“A find of this scale has never been made before by non-intrusive methods. It really shows the potential of this system in giving you a feel for the wider context of an archaeological survey. While you don’t find a Viking ship every day, I am optimistic that this kind of technology can turn up similar finds in the years to come.”
There are hopes of allowing public access to the find in some form, but the future of the site remains uncertain for the time being. Once the NIKU team have finished the analysis and any subsequent fieldwork, the decision will be taken by the project team at Østfold county council and the Directorate for Cultural Heritage.
This isn’t the only recent find of significance that NIKU archaeologists have been involved with. In 2016, the Norwegian city of Trondheim fell into the spotlight when the remains of St. Clement’s church were unearthed. It is believed to have been the church in which Olav Haraldsson was first enshrined as a saint.
Gustavsen says that the increased media coverage of finds such as the Gjellestad ship are contributing to increased understanding of the era, and will probably lead to further discoveries.
“Over the last ten years we have become a lot better at disseminating information across the web and social media, so there is more awareness of what should happen if a construction project stumbles across items of interest. We now have proper routines to deal with these scenarios.”
This article originally appeared on Forbes