Saturday, December 5, 2020

Newly Discovered Viking Burial in Central Norway

Beads found at Hestnes, in Central Norway.
(Photo: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum)
This week, I read an article about an archaeological dig this fall by archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology ("NTNU").  The dig was in Central Norway at Hestnes in Heim municipality.  The article appeared in, and can be read here

The researchers were surprised to discover a grave, because no other graves have been found anywhere nearby.  Even more interestingly, the grave was nothing like any other Viking era grave finds in Central Norway.  It was a chamber grave, of which few if any have been found previously in this region.  Such graves are characteristic of more urbanized areas than Central Norway, such as Birka and Hedeby.  It was possible to tell the burial had been a chamber grave from the imprints left were the supporting poles had been, the remains of the chamber walls, and the size of the "chamber" where the remains lay.  The way chamber graves are built, the "chamber" is dug into the earth, and a lid is placed upon the top after the deceased person and her grave goods have been deposited.  This particular grave has been dated to between 850 - 950 CE.  

The article from does not mention any textile remains, but there were a number of jewelry finds, including a pair of double-shelled tortoise brooches, a tri-lobed brooch, and a large number of tiny beads.  A photograph of the tiny beads that appeared in the article is reproduced with this post.  339 of the tiny beads had been located as of when the article was written, each of which is between 1-2 mm in size.  Beads in that size range are typically called "seed beads" today, and they have been, and still are, used for embroidery on clothing.  The article observes that, according to one of the NTNU researchers, a similar find at Hedeby has been interpreted as containing the remains of beaded embroidery.  

The tortoise brooches, which at other sites have been found to contain bits of textile from the dead woman's clothing, here contained fragments of bone and teeth, which have not yet been analyzed.  A spindle whorl was also found in the grave.  

It was suggested by one of the researchers that the woman had come to Hestnes from the south (e.g. closer to Hedeby or nearby areas) and had been buried with jewelry characteristic of her home region.  

I will be looking out for analyses of this grave in the hope that some textiles, or other materials giving a clue as to her costume, are eventually located.  I will also look out for articles on other Viking women's graves containing large numbers of seed beads.  Perhaps we are looking at the first hints of finds showing another distinctive fashion among some Viking women.

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