Painstaking race against time to uncover Viking ship’s secrets

14 Nov 2020

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This handout picture released by the Museum of Cultural History shows the remains of a rare Viking ship grave seen from the northern stern being excavated by archaeologists at the site in Walden, Norway.—AFP
This handout picture released by the Museum of Cultural History shows the remains of a rare Viking ship grave seen from the northern stern being excavated by archaeologists at the site in Walden, Norway.—AFP

HALDEN: Inch by inch, they gently pick through the soil in search of thousand-year-old relics. Racing against onsetting mould yet painstakingly meticulous, archaeologists in Norway are exhuming a rare Viking ship grave in hopes of uncovering the secrets within.

Who is buried here? Under which ritual? What is left of the burial offerings? And what can they tell us about the society that lived here? Now reduced to tiny fragments almost indistinguishable from the turf that covers it, the 20-metre (65-foot) wooden longship raises a slew of questions.

The team of archaeologists is rushing to solve at least some of the mystery before the structure is entirely ravaged by microscopic fungi.

It’s an exhilarating task: there hasn’t been a Viking ship to dig up in more than a century.

The last was in 1904 when the Oseberg longship was excavated, not far away on the other side of the Oslo Fjord, in which the remains of two women were discovered among the finds.

“We have very few burial ships,” says the head of the dig, Camilla Cecilie Wenn of the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History.

“I’m incredibly lucky, few archaeologists get such an opportunity in their career.” Under a giant grey and white tent placed in the middle of ancient burial grounds near the southeastern town of Halden, a dozen workers in high visibility vests kneel or lie on the ground, examining the earth. Buried underground, the contours of the longship were detected in 2018 by geological radar equipment, as experts searched the known Viking site.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2020