Ship burials are rare and signal royal status: Sutton Hoo, Oseberg, Gokstad, Borre, Tune. Burials in smaller boats, large enough for only three or four pairs of oars and useless on the high sea, are far more common (though never a majority rite). The most famous and richly equipped boat inhumations are 7th and 8th century burials in Uppland, Sweden at sites like Vendel and Valsgärde. But most boat inhumations are in fact Norwegian 9th and 10th century burials of middling to fair wealth. Two have recently been excavated in Rogaland county at on-going excavations at Fr°yland farmstead.
The place’s name is very nice, meaning “land of the fertility god Freyr” or “fertile land”. Here Olle Hemdorff of the Archaeological Museum in Stavanger is directing excavations in fertile ploughland, saving finds and structural data from the annual attrition.
Two boats have been found, identifiable by the clench nails that once held the wooden parts together, both originally between 6 and 9 metres long. One held a 9th century female burial with bronze jewellery and glass beads (pic above), a set of shears, a sickle, a knife, mounts from a box and textile remains. Less remained of the other boat burial, but a lance head indicates a weapon burial typical of the well-to-do Viking Period farmer. “Viking” was of course not an ethnic denominaton, it was more of a job really, and an uncommon one at that. Most Scandinavians in the Viking Period were full-time farmers.
I like the Fr°yland graves a lot, but that’s because I have strange tastes. Without the magic of the boat burial, which easily becomes conflated with actual ship burials and the whole Viking romantic thing, the find wouldn’t have attracted much attention. Particularly if the graves had been cremations and the jewellery burnt to bits. But for all of us Viking Period aficionados, it’s a joy to see two more boats and a fine pair of P37 brooches brought to light after eleven centuries in the Rogaland earth.