A 1,100-Year-Old Viking Grave Was Just Uncovered In Southern Norway By A Family Renovating Their House

Published July 13, 2023
Updated March 12, 2024

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.

Viking Sword Found In Norway

Joakim Wintervoll/Science NorwayAnne and Oddbjørn Holum Heiland with the Viking sword that they found on their property.

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.

History News July 2023
History Uncovered Podcast
Episode 79: History Happy Hour, July 2023
These are the most fascinating history news stories and anniversaries of the month, from a Viking warrior's grave in Norway to a thrift store vase that proved to be a valuable relic.

“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.

Viking Sword Hilt

Joakim Wintervoll/ Science NorwayThe rusted Viking sword hilt uncovered on the Heiland property.

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.

Jo-Simon Frøshaug Stokke

Joakim Wintervoll/Science NorwayArchaeologist Jo-Simon Frøshaug Stokke of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.

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.”

Stone Viking Grave Marker

Joakim Wintervoll/ Science NorwayThe oblong stone used to mark the Viking 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.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.