A boat which for 1,000 years served as the grave of a high status Viking has revealed some of its secrets, according to the first detailed report of the iconic discovery.
The tomb, originally unearthed in 2011 on the Ardnamurchan peninsula in western Scotland, contained a rich assemblage of grave goods. It represents the first undisturbed Viking boat burial found on the British mainland.
Viking boat burials have been documented in Scandinavian countries, but are fairly rare. They involve using the boat as a coffin for the body. Archaeologists estimate the boat used to bury the deceased dates back to the late 9th or early 10th century, at a time when Vikings were still exploring and trading along the British Isles.
An in-depth investigation, published in the journal Antiquity, has revealed much of the Viking funerary rite involved in the burial at this remote part of Scotland. However, some mystery remains.
The ship rotted into the soil long ago, like the bones of the interred individual. Only two teeth (both molars) remain of the human. The absence of a body which researchers can biologically sex, might raise the compelling, albeit remote, possibility that it was a female boat grave.
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"The burial is probably that of a man - but as we only have the two teeth surviving, it is impossible to be definitive. So it is possible, but not likely, that this was the burial of a woman," Oliver Harris, co-director of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project (ATP) at the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, told Seeker.
The funerary rite began with cutting a boat-shaped depression into a natural mound of small, rounded beach stones. The boat was then inserted and the body was placed inside, surrounded by a variety of artifacts including a sword, an axe, a drinking horn vessel, a shield boss, a ladle, a sickle and a ringed pin.
"There is nothing female per se in the grave, though of course there are lots of objects - sickle, the ladle, the knife, the ringed pin - that are not male either," Harris said.