Archaeologists in Sweden have discovered a Viking Age burial with bear claws and two swords that appear to have served as headstones.
The two Viking-era swords were discovered by archaeologists who excavated a set of three stone chambers in a burial mound at Viby/Norrtuna outside Köping, Västmanland, Sweden. This was an important Swedish Viking-era port and market town, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the investigative team discovered artifacts belonging to an elite Viking merchant or trader.
A comb, a game piece and a large cache of glass beads were all discovered inside a mound. In another, archaeologists found a pair of Viking Age swords, buried shallow and upright.
When history pierces through the dirt
Archaeologists working on the Västmanland mound have found evidence of Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age agriculture. The Västmanland burial site has so far yielded around 100 early Viking graves and two burial mounds. The recent discovery and excavation of three stone tombs built into one of the mounds was carried out by Arkeologerna. In their recent report, Professor Anton Seiler, an archaeologist at the State Historical Museums, said the team “could see the hilt of one of the swords sticking out of the ground, directly under the turf”.
One of the two graves had two Viking Age swords left standing, apparently as tombstones ( Arkeologerna Statens historiska museer/E18 Viby CC BY)
Around 20 Viking Age swords have so far been discovered in the Västmanland region. However, the researchers said it was the “first time” that two swords had been found in the same cemetery and left intact. Both swords are thought to have been forged in the Late Iron Age, around 600 – 1000 AD. Seiler suggests that the swords could have been placed on the mound “to honor and remember his loved ones, being a physical marker that family members could visit and touch 1,200 years ago”.
Keeping old traditions alive
The earliest tombstones in Europe were huge megaliths dating from Celtic and Roman cultures around 3000 BC. AD, which often defined huge family burial chambers, or cairns. These ancient burials often contain the charcoal remains of burnt offerings to the ancient gods, including human bones. Excavations in the Västmanland burial mound also revealed cremated remains of humans and animal bones, representing a continuation of Neolithic traditions.
The research team does not yet know why several individuals were buried in the mound centuries after it was abandoned. however, the results of the osteological analysis will soon provide an answer. Along with these latest bodies, archaeologists have uncovered three fascinating artifacts: a piece of comb, a game piece, and bear claws.
In 2020, I wrote an ancient origins news article about the discovery of a tiny crown of glass on the holy island of Lindisfarne, which dated back to the first wave of Viking raids in England. Made from swirling blue and white glass with white glass balls, a Times report said archaeologists believe the crown was “a game piece from the strategy game hnefatafl (king’s table) played in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia before the arrival of chess in the 12th century”.
The game piece discovered at the Västmanland burial was discovered among dozens of other glass beads, and it is likely that the Viking elites who were buried at this site engaged in some sort of bead game. of glass.
A Viking re-enactor playing Hnefatafl (F4Niko / CC BY SA 2.0 )
Eliminate evil from communities
Comb making in the Viking Age in Scandinavia was a highly valued craft that not everyone could do; and many tombs contain these tools. The reason so many combs are found in Viking tombs is that in addition to being used to clean one’s hair, the comb had religious functions as a symbol of cleansing and purification.
Viking Age combs discovered in the town of Birka in central Sweden were dated to 750-950 AD. They have been grouped into two different categories, by date and method of construction. The older combs were found to be of genuine Scandinavian origin, while the younger ones were made in the northern part of Germany and Denmark.
Pet bears were all the rage
The discovery of bear claws in one of the stone tombs raises some interesting possibilities. Norse legends and mythology are sprinkled with stories about Vikings keeping pet bears, for example, the ‘Auðunar þáttr vestfirska’ (Auðun’s Tale of the Westfjords) saga. However, pet bear keeping was not limited to mythology, as most research suggests that elite Vikings did indeed keep brown bears ( arctic ursus ) as pets.
According to an article in the Viking Herald, cubs were often captured and then domesticated in Viking villages. “House bears” lived in the homes of some Vikings, and they were trained to be “fearsome protectors of property”. However, the article states that due to their size and power, bears often cause “damage and damage” and laws have been passed to impose stiff fines on bear owners if their bears damage objects. property or injure people.
We’ll never know for sure, but the bear claws discovered next to the glass beads, game piece, comb and two Viking swords may have belonged to a pet!
Top image: The moment a Viking sword was pulled from a burial mound near Köping, Sweden Source: Arkeologerna Statens historiska museum
By Ashley Cowie