When archaeologists began to digitally scan the area close to Jell Mound, a burial site in Østfold County, Norway, they likely expected to find a few skeletons. But what they found was far more than simply some old bones. Beneath the cemetery was a 66-foot Viking ship, buried just 50 centimeters (about 1.5 feet) beneath the ground, according to a press release sent out today by the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU).
Right now, there are more questions than answers about this mysterious ship: Where did it came from? How did it get there? How old is it? And how much of it, beyond the keel and floor timbers visible from radar scans, is left?
We do know, according to NIKU archeologists, that the ship is buried in a vast complex of at least seven dome-shaped burial mounds—beneath which lie remains of five longhouses. Whoever buried the ship and longhouses was trying to say something fairly unsubtle about their political might, Lars Gustavsen, an archaeologist with NIKU, said in a statement: “The ship burial does not exist in isolation, but forms part of a cemetery, which is clearly designed to display power and influence.” The find is not far from Jell Mound, a previously excavated burial mound thought to be named for a long-dead king called Jell. It dates back around 1,500 years, perhaps shedding light on a possible timeframe for this ship.
Though it’s not the first time Viking ships have been found buried in this way, the discovery is still extremely significant. “This find is incredibly exciting as we only know three well-preserved Viking ship finds in Norway [that were] excavated [a] long time ago,” said Knut Paasche, head of the Department of Digital Archaeology at NIKU. “This new ship will certainly be of great historical significance as it can be investigated with all modern means of archaeology.”
As yet, there are no plans to dig it up physically. Amid fears of damaging the ship by exposing it to the open air, archeologists may be forced to continue to rely on what can be seen from above, using other geophysical scans.