A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester in the UK has published the results of a six-year investigation of a mysterious 10th-century Viking burial discovered in Scotland in 2011. According to a university press release, the burial site is the first intact boat burial of its kind to be found on the UK mainland.
According to their recent publication in the archaeology journal Antiquity, the researchers believe the individual buried in the grave was likely a warrior of high status due to the objects in the grave and the manner in which they were interred. A bent sword, broken spear, battleaxe, and shield were all found in the grave, along with metalworking tools, a drinking horn, textiles, and jewelry.
Several intact teeth were found in the grave. Analysis of isotopes in the enamel revealed that this individual ate a diet rich in seafood early in life, indicating that the individual lived near the coast.
The researchers are quick to note that there are no indicators of gender in the remains or burial. Given that the histories of Norse female warriors are well-documented in other research, the possibility then remains that this could be the burial site of a female warrior, or “shieldmaiden.”
Whoever the individual was, there are several indications that their burial was highly ceremonial. Their weapons were broken, and all of the burial items were carefully arranged around the remains, typical of other known symbolism-laden ritualistic Viking burials:
Those undertaking the actions, caught up in the burial, and those watching, were also changed through the memories and connections they made [through] the drama of Viking funerals, and we can imagine this here too. The boat set into the ground, the sword bent, the spear snapped.
This burial has already added considerable information to the growing body of evidence surrounding 10th-century Scandinavia and its relationship with the rest of Europe. Only a handful of burials have been found, but similarities between them are revealing a broader picture of ancient Viking culture:
When considering a burial like this, it is essential to remember that each of these objects, and each of these actions, was never isolated, but rather they emerge out of, and help to form, an assemblage that knits together multiple places, people and moments in time.
The Scottish location of this burial indicates that there was significant contact between what is now the United Kingdom and the Viking cultures of Scandinavia at the time. Could this be the resting place of a vicious warrior princess who fell in an epic battle on foreign shores? Sounds like a fantasy straight out of adventure fanfic. Which is fine with me.