A Viking Age boat grave has been identified in the municipality of Kvinesdal in Agder County, southern Norway, offering new insights into burial customs practised in the region between 1500 and 2000 years ago.
The discovery was made on the Øyesletta plain during investigations carried out by the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) on behalf of Nye Veier and the National Heritage Board, ahead of construction a major road through Kvinesdal, the E39.
It was known prior to the study that the site fell within one of Øyesletta’s largest burial grounds, which had been in use between c. AD 1 – 500. Though burial mounds had once existed on the land, due to past agricultural activity not a single one remains visible.
Conducted as part of the research project ‘Archaeology on new roads’ and led by NIKU project manager Manuel Gabler, the team surveyed the site using non-invasive ground-penetrating radar (GPR).
Within the southernmost part of the large burial ground, the team identified several previously unknown burial mounds and – most excitingly – a Viking boat grave measuring approximately eight to nine metres in length.
It appears the grave was cut, and the boat – which may have accommodated one or more deceased – placed within before being buried beneath a mound.
Physical excavation will be required in order to assess how much of the boat is preserved and to identify the presence of any grave goods.
Whilst many Late Iron Age and Viking boat graves have been unearthed in Europe, it is the first such example found in Kvinesdal.
‘This is incredibly exciting,’ said Jani Causevic, archaeologist at NIKU who conducted the survey. ‘Both to find such a discovery, but also to see how the use of georadar gives us the opportunity to explore and document cultural history through new and exciting methods.’
Rare, elusive, and typically rich in grave goods, boat burials were usually reserved for Late Iron Age and Viking elites.
Nils Ole Sundet, project manager from Agder County Municipality, believes this discovery will help us ‘understand and convey better stories about society on Øyesletta.’
‘That the project has managed to produce knowledge that we thought was lost is very exciting.’