Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Viking Boat Burial in Scotland; thoughts

An intact Viking boat burial has been recently excavated at Port an Eilean Mhòir on the remote Scottish peninsula of Ardnamurchan.

The soil conditions have long since eroded away most of the boat’s timbers and all but the teeth and a few bone fragments but, just as at Sutton-Hoo, the outline of the boat is preserved as a soil shadow lined by rows of rusted ships rivets... 

The boat has been dated to the 10th Century. It measures a mere 5 metres long with a beam of 1.5 metres and is thus likely to have been used only in coastal waters. It is probably what is known as a Færing, from the Old Norse feræringr meaning having four oars.

The warrior had been laid to rest for his final voyage to Valhöll with his finest possessions. These included a full weapon set of sword, axe spear and shield. He also had a knife, pottery and a drinking horn ( of which only the bronze terminal has  survived). A Norwegian whetstone and an Irish-style bronze cloak-pin were also found in the boat.

The substantial axe-head looks to be a Type F (in Peterson's Typology). Many Norse warriors preferred the axe to the sword as their primary weapon.

The sword is broken into several pieces and may have been ‘ritually killed’ to put it beyond re-use in the mortal world. The X-ray image of the sword makes it clear that the hilt-type is half way between a (Wheeler’s typology) Type IV and a Type VI in that the lower guard is curved slightly away from the grip whereas the pommel is of the ‘loaf’ shape. Stylistically, this suggests that the sword is of Norwegian origin. The hilt is said to be ‘beautifully decorated’. Such Viking swords often had complex silver / copper-alloy inlays.

There is no evidence from the radiograph to indicate that the blade was of pattern-welded construction; most Viking blades were not.
Overall, the sword can be dated to the 9-10th Century.

It will be interesting to learn if Carbon dating of the wood and bone fragments confirm this dating and if bone isotope chemistry confirm him to have been a Norseman.

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