Norway to excavate Viking ship burial for first time in 100 years
Norway's government has agreed to fund the first excavation of a Viking ship burial for over 100 years, launching a race to pull the vessel out of the ground before it is destroyed by fungus.
The country's government announced on Monday that it was providing 15.6m kroner (€1.4m) to excavate the Gjellestad Viking Ship, which was discovered during georadar studies in 2018, and from which part of the keel was pulled up last year in a test study.
"For the first time in 100 years, we will now excavate a Viking ship. We are very excited about the result," Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway's Minister for Climate and Environment told state broadcaster NRK. "It is urgent that we get this ship out of the ground."
The announcement follows a warning in January from Jan Bill, curator of the Viking Ship Collection at the Museum of Cultural History, that the structure had suffered fungus attacks since air got into the burial mound.
"When we did that trial last year, we only found preserved wood at the very, very deepest level, the lowest part of the keel," he told The Local. "Everything above that had rotted away, and as we looked at that keel we could see that there was soft rot in it, so it was actively decaying as we looked at it."
Bill said that the researchers hoped that parts of the ship furthest from a drainage ditch which had been dug above the vessel would be better preserved.
The ship is roughly the same size as the Oseberg, which is on display in the Oslo Museum of Cultural History. Photo: Oslo Museum of Cultural History.
He said that even if the vessel was less well preserved that the team hoped, it could still provide important new information on Viking ship burials, as the Tune, Gokstad, and Oseberg ships, which were excavated in 1868, 1880 and 1904, respectively, were not carried out to modern standards.
"It's important because it's more than 100 years ago that we excavated a ship burial like this," he said. "With the technology we have now and the equipment we have today, this gives us a tremendous opportunity to understand why these ship burials took place."
"These were very early excavations so there's a lot of information that we really don't have because of the way it was done at the time."
He said that as well as the keel of the boat, there were also signs of burial goods and other matter inside the ship.
"We know that when we excavate we will be able to investigate some of those objects," he said.
"I think the most exciting thing about this find is perhaps the date: we know for sure that it's not earlier than the middle of the 8th century, and it could be considerably later."
The trial dig in 2019 found that part of the keel was well preserved. Photo: Museum of Cultural History
He said the keel appeared to be much less massive than the Oseberg ships, which come from the 9th and early 10th century.
If the Gjellestad Ship turns out to be 100 years older, it might indicate something about the evolution of ship design, he said.
If Norway's parliament votes through the funding, the team, which is being led by the museum's Christian Løchsen Rødsrud, intends to start excavating in June.
The team has had to adapt its procedures to take into account social distancing and hygiene measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.