One of the Project’s most exciting finds was made in 2011. In our first season we had noticed a low lying mound close to the shore. A small test trench confirmed the presence of human-laid stones within it, but gave no sign of what was to come. The mound was respected by medieval agriculture so we presumed it predated that – perhaps it was a clearance cairn? When we returned in 2011 we discovered something very different. At some point in the 10th century AD, more than 1000 years ago, a group of Vikings had dragged a boat up to this low natural mound. They dug into it, forming a neat boat-shaped grave, into which they placed the craft. Inside they laid the body of a dead warrior, alongside a whole host of possessions. These included a spear, a shield, a whetstone, a sword, an axe, a drinking horn, flints for making fire, a pan with a 1m long handle, and a bronze ring pin from Ireland. There are other pieces of metalwork yet to be identified. This was clearly a very high-status person, someone who saw themselves as a proper Viking warrior but also someone who was tied into local and international networks. The ring pin from Ireland and the whetstone from Norway show the international side of things.
This is a unique site, as it is the first complete boat burial excavated on the British mainland, and we are very proud that between 6th March – 22nd June 2014 the artefacts from the site were displayed as part of the British Museum’s Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition. This was visited by 288,351 people!
Although our excavations at the site are now complete, our investigation into the burial and the Viking has not finished yet. Our post-excavation programme is well underway, with exciting detail arising about the artefacts the Viking was buried with, about what the Viking was eating, and where they came from. Because the body only survived in the form of two teeth and a couple of scraps of bone we are also now awaiting the results of DNA analysis which will let us know whether this was a man or a woman. We also hope that further survey and excavations may tell us if there are more burials nearby, or if the Vikings lived in Swordle Bay. We look forward to reporting on all of these findings in the future.
Please click here to view a PDF of the Viking Boat Burial Data Structure Report (2011)