For over 1,000 years, farmers near the Norwegian village of Jellestad have plowed their fields and planted their crops next to a large hill over 30 feet tall in an otherwise flat landscape. But this mound wasn’t made by nature; it was the handiwork of some of the greatest sailors and warriors that Europe has ever known: the Vikings.
The Vikings descended from their bases in the frozen North of Scandinavia to terrorize the peoples of mainland Europe from the 8th to 11th centuries A.D. Their incredible ships sailed around the known world, making it all the way to the Middle East and even discovering North America.
For people in modern Scandinavia, the remains of Viking treasure are still buried all around them, often just beneath the surface in the least-expected places. The Jellhaugen mound is well-known for locals and farmers who use it as a landmark, their own little mountain.
But as recently as 2018, researchers with the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Research found signs of a strange object inside the mound. As Dr. Knut Passche, director of archaeology at the Institute, told The Daily Mail, his team realized the anomaly in the mound “clearly ha[d] the shapes and dimensions of a Viking ship.”
Further scans revealed that Jellhaugen mound contained a massive Viking ship, and even more amazing, it was estimated to be over 1,000 years old. Amazingly, the 65-foot-long ship wasn’t discovered by being dug up from deep within the ground. Using advanced radar technology, Norwegian researchers found that the ship was buried barely 50 centimeters (about 20 inches) underground.
Viking ship burial discovered in Norway just 50cm underground https://t.co/Q3J4g1DkIN
— The Guardian (@guardian) October 15, 2018
How would a Viking ship have ended up a couple of kilometers from the nearest river? And why would the Vikings go to the trouble of burying a ship? The answers to these questions reveal important parts of life during the heyday of these Nordic warriors.
First, the ship would have been pulled from the nearby fjord to dry land. As Knut Paasche told National Geographic, “ships like this functioned as a coffin.” The larger the size of the ship, the more important the person buried on board would have been. For each ship of this size, “there was one king or queen or local chieftain on board.”
While researchers aren’t sure who would have been buried on this particular ship, given its impressive size, it must have been a great figure in Viking society.
The 65-foot-long ship was buried more than 1,000 years ago to serve as the final resting place of a prominent Viking king or queen—making it one of the largest Viking ship graves ever found.
The other remarkable fact about this particular ship is that the small burial mounds around it appear to be relatively intact. Over the centuries, known Viking sites were raided as poor peasants searched for buried treasure. But while grave robbers took any gold or silver they could find, it seems that ship’s wood is in good shape.
The next step is to do more scans, as archaeologists like Paasche want to find out as much as they can from above ground before they start digging. This will help them avoid exposing the buried wood to the elements, at which point it will quickly degrade.
Regardless of what they find, the ship is a testament to the grandeur of the Vikings, who even today on cable TV still have the power to thrill and terrify viewers.