Oddbjørn Holum Heiland was digging in his yard to prepare for a home extension when he accidentally unearthed a ninth-century Viking burial site rife with artifacts.
A man in Setesdal, Norway recently unearthed an 1,100-year-old Viking warrior’s grave while digging in his yard to build an extension on his home.
“I wasn’t going to dig a lot, just a little bit in the slope behind the house, to get some more space between the house and the land,” Oddbjørn Holum Heiland told Science Norway.
As Heiland removed the first layers of grass and topsoil, he came across an odd, oblong stone, though he thought little of it. The next layer of soil, however, revealed something even stranger: a piece of iron that looked strikingly similar to a blade.
“I looked at it and thought that this looks a lot like a sword blade,” Heiland said. “And then when I released the contents of the digging bucket, the hilt of the sword fell out.”
After re-examining the oblong stone, Heiland realized that it was actually a gravestone. After some quick Googling, Heiland found images of a nearly identical Viking Age sword discovered in a different part of the country.
“That’s when I realized that this must be some Viking stuff,” Heiland said.
At that point, Heiland stopped digging, set the relics safely aside, and called county officials the following Monday morning. A day later, county archaeologist Joakim Wintervoll and Jo-Simon Frøshaug Stokke from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo made the trip to Heiland’s property to observe the find.
“I immediately cleared my schedule and made some calls to see what was possible to get done,” Wintervoll said. “Jo-Simon and I went up there together to have a look at it, and it was quite clear that this was a grave. It is a very rare find, very exciting.”
Speaking with Live Science, Wintervoll explained that the archaeologists were able to date the burial to the late 800s or early 900s C.E.
“We have a good record of how the ‘fashion’ in the shapes of sword handles developed in Norway, from early ages up to more modern eras,” he said. “Comparing it to other known sword handles, we believe this sword is from the late ninth century to the 10th century.”
Along with the sword, archaeologists uncovered a lance, glass beads, a gold-gilded belt buckle, and a bronze brooch. Researchers believe the artifacts likely belonged to a Viking warrior, though no remains, human or animal, have been discovered at the site.
“It’s very rare to discover weapon graves from the Viking Age, and this grave is a little richer than we are used to. The objects are also a bit better preserved than what we normally have to work with,” Stokke said.
Curiously, while no other Viking artifacts had been found before at Heiland’s property, there was a similar discovery at a nearby farm in the 1930s where archaeologists uncovered a sword, spear, glass beads, and a horse bridle.
Wintervoll said it’s “a bit too early” to determine if these two sites are connected, but “it is interesting that they are relatively close and have almost identical finds in them.”
Graves have historically served a variety of purposes, usually spiritual, but in Viking society, visible graves served as a way for descendants to claim ownership of the land surrounding it.
“Burying is done by the descendants of those who have died. They are claiming the land where the person lies,” Stokke explained. “A pattern that we see is that you bury those who have owned land near the farm, and often in a spot that is easily visible from the nearby roads… These are our relatives; we lay claim to this land and have done so for generations. This is the function of the visible grave.”
A person may have been buried whole or had their ashes laid down in the grave, but so far, Wintervoll said, researchers have yet to find any burnt bones.
“Right now, we don’t think this is a grave that was meant to be visible at a great distance,” Wintervoll said. “These types of graves might have a more family or private function.”
More digging and research still needs to be done in order for the archaeologists to gain a more thorough understanding of the grave’s purpose and who had been buried in it. Ideally, Stokke said, they could find a bone, which might offer clues about the person buried at this astounding site.
After reading about this astonishing find, learn about the recent discovery of a 3,000-year-old sword in Germany that was so well-preserved “it still gleams.” Then, discover the most astounding facts about Vikings.