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Warrior grave from the early iron age

Somewhere between 220 and 250 ad. , a man of 25-30 years old was laid to rest in a grave mound at Ås farm in Sande, Vestfold.

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An unusually wide range of weaponry followed him into the cremation fire - among other things: 3 swords, 3 lances, 3 spears, three knives and probably 3 shields. Melted fragments of gold from a ring or a belt buckle and a rare tip of a drinking horn in the form of an ox head show that this was someone from the higher echelons of society. His cloak was held together with an iron brooch in the fashion of the times.

Many of the remaining bones are only partly burnt, especially those from the backbone area. This can give evidence that the deceased was laid on his back with the funeral pyre on top of him. In addition, a number of bear claws were found, probably from a bearskin that the deceased lay upon.

The traditions of cremation graves and unburned burial were practiced side by side in eastern Norway during the third century. A typical trait for cremation graves is that all equipment was made unusable in one way or another. We see here that the shield bosses were cut into small pieces, and the swords were neatly rolled up.

What does this find tell about death - and life after death in iron age Norway? The dead were often equipped with weapons, tools, jewelry and accoutrements which were identical with those that they had used during life. In some cases, we see that the equipment is unused, or specially made for the grave. The three swords are examples of this. More common is when the objects are destroyed as part of the ritual, such as the other weapons in this grave.

We can never know with certainty how people imagined life after death during the early iron age. Perhaps the graves reflect a kingdom of the dead that was similar to that on earth? Somewhere where one needed the equipment one was used to in order to keep ones position and rank in society?

Published Mar. 24, 2020 12:10 PM - Last modified Dec. 14, 2020 9:01 AM