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The Gokstad grave

Around approximately 900 AD, a rich and powerful man died, and the Gokstad ship was used for his burial. A burial chamber was built in the aft of the ship where the dead man was laid to rest.

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The Gokstad burial mound. © Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo/ Rebecca Cannel.

The burial chamber

The exhibited burial chamber at the Viking Ship Museum will be dismantled in October 2019. The burial chamber was covered by several layers of birch bark. The archaeologists found remnants of silk interwoven with gold thread stuck between the logs in the roof. These are possibly the remnants of a lavish woven tapestry that decorated the inside walls. A bed made up with bed linen in which the dead person was laid to rest stood in the burial chamber.

The Gokstad man

The skeleton shows that the man in the Gokstad grave was in his forties, powerfully built and between 181 and 183 cm tall. Signs of cutting blows to both legs show that he died in battle. A cut in the right calf bone meant that he would not have been able to stand upright but a knife wound on the inside of the right thigh was probably the cause of death. In the Viking Age and the Middle Ages striking at the legs was a common fighting technique. We do not know who the man was, but the magnificent burial he received indicates that he was a person of importance. Perhaps he was a chieftain or of royal descent?

Marketplace near the Gokstad mound

Recently a large marketplace was found to the south of the burial mound. The finds from this bear witness to a rich trading centre with international links. Dating of weights from the marketplace shows that merchants and craftsmen were trading here at the same time as the burial at the Gokstad mound around 900 AD. 

Burial gifts

The dead man must have been clad in well-made garments when he was buried. His weapons and jewels have disappeared. Grave robbers were probably in action as early as the Viking Age, but they left a lot behind, including a gaming board with counters of horn, fish-hooks and harness fittings made of iron, lead and gilded bronze, 64 shields, kitchen utensils, six beds, one tent, a sleigh and three small boats. Also found in the grave were 12 horses, eight dogs, two goshawks and two peacocks. The peacocks prove that the Gokstad man had a large, international network. Perhaps the birds were a gift from another ruler, or trophies of war he had brought back with him.

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Published July 7, 2016 10:42 AM - Last modified Feb. 11, 2021 8:59 AM