Mystery Upright Viking Swords at 1,200-Year-Old Burial Site Unearthed

Two ancient Viking swords have been unearthed from a stone burial chamber in central Sweden during a highway excavation. The weapons had been left untouched for roughly 1,200 years and provide an insight into the lives of the people who lived there.

The discovery was made in Viby/Norrtuna, in the province of Västmanland, in a large burial field with around 100 graves, dating back to the Late Iron Age between 600 and 1000 AD.

Anton Seiler, an archaeologist involved in the excavation from Sweden's State Historical Museums, told Newsweek why this site was so well preserved.

Ancient viking sword at excavation site
Photo of one of the ancient swords at the excavation site. They were found in a large burial field dating back to the Late Iron Age. The Archaeologists/National Historical Museums, CC BY

"In the region, burial sites from the Viking Age are often located on ridges, and therefore they have not been damaged by agricultural work in later centuries," he said.

"Previous excavations have shown that many Viking Age graves in the region contain weapons and horse equipment. Presumably, this shows a regional network of armed people, to secure, for example, trade routes and production at the farms," Seiler added.

"Only some 20 Viking Age graves with swords from Västmanland are known, despite several hundreds of graves being excavated during the 19th to 21st centuries. This clearly shows that these graves with swords from Viby/Norrtuna are very uncommon."

The swords themselves were stood upright in the middle of the burial chambers. They are made of heavy iron and measure roughly 3 feet long, although it is hard to determine their exact length as they were both shattered when they were pressed into the ground. The weapons have also withstood more than 1,000 years of degradation.

Ancient sword poking out of the ground
Photo of one of the swords sticking up from the ground. The weapons are made of heavy iron and are roughly 3 feet long. The Archaeologists/National Historical Museums, CC BY

The excavation has been ongoing for two years to make way for the construction and broadening of a highway between two cities.

"During the period in question, the dead were cremated, therefore all grave goods are burnt and fragmentary," Seiler said. "The graves contained, in addition to swords, several kilos of burnt human and animal bones. The osteological analysis has not been done yet, but bones from at least horse, dog and bird (specimens) have been found."

VIking sword in stone
A photo of the second sword found at the excavation site in central Sweden. The swords were spotted by their handles, sticking out of the rock. The Archaeologists/National Historical Museums, CC BY

Other discoveries from the site include a game piece of whale bone, pottery vessels, iron rivets and nails, silver posament knots, which would have been worn with clothing, and bear claws.

"[The] objects and other finds can represent different things," Seiler said. "The personal belongings of the buried people, items that belong to the funeral rituals, gifts from relatives and things necessary for the next life."

Archaeologist excavating Viking burial site
Photo of one of the archaeologists excavating the site in Sweden. The area is being excavated to make way for a new highway. The Archaeologists/National Historical Museums, CC BY

What remains of the graves' inhabitants has been submitted for scientific analysis to determine their age and gender, and whether several individuals had been buried in the same grave.

"Given the swords, it is tempting to think that these graves must contain men, in other words that the owners were male warriors. But we cannot be sure of this," Seiler said.

"Female warriors during the Viking Age have been widely discussed in research in recent years, and swords may also have been deposited in children's graves to show them belonging to a prominent family.

"The swords may also reflect an investment from the farm as a whole, a symbolic act from the collective of relatives to manifest power structures in the immediate area."

The weapons were sent for conservation immediately after they were excavated. "After conservation, when the fragments are pieced together, we will be able to determine the exact length and shape of the swords," Seiler said. "Wear and any possible battle damage will also be visible after conservation."

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