A Viking Woman’s Last Journey
This buried boat with a woman dating back to the early 800s documents the Viking women’s independence. (Photo: Møre and Romsdal County, Culture Department)
In 1910, there were conducted archaeological excavations of several burial mounds at Røttingsnes in Tingvoll, Western Norway. Two of the graves contained boats, one with a woman who presumably must have been the Mistress on the nearby farm.
The findings are dated to about the year 800 AD, i.e. the start of the Viking Age, and the grave is another evidence of Viking women’s strong position in pre-Christian Scandinavia.
Prominently placed on top of a rock ridge, there was found the remains of a five-meter long boat inside the burial mound. The woman was wearing a dress with two oval bronze buckles, a pearl necklace and a gold plated piece of jewelry. A bronze key was hanging from her belt.
On the last journey to the Afterlife, the dead brought with her iron scissors, whorls, a frying pan, a pan, knives and flint for starting fires.
The piece of jewelry probably originates from the British Isles. Much indicates that it was as a holy book fitting, perhaps from a Bible. It has probably been turned into a piece of jewelry after it was brought to Norway and may stem from looting a monastery or a church.
The Man’s Grave
Near the woman’s grave, there was found a smaller burial mound containing a boat. The dead was a man, and it was among other objects found the remains of a sword in a wooden sheath, a shield bulge, a buckle, a sickle, a possible awl, a gem made of brown slate stone, and three pieces of flint for starting fires.
The man’s boat grave found next to the woman at Røttingsnes. (Photo: Møre and Romsdal County, Culture Department)
The boat originally was three to four meters long but was totally decomposed. There was also found remains of other iron objects, but they had been damaged that it is difficult to determine what they were used for.
It is logical to ask the question whether the man was the woman’s husband or not.
Viking Age Boat Graves
The burial custom where the deceased was laid in a boat started at the end of the early Iron Age (c. 550-650 AD) but was common during the Viking Age (c. 800-1060 AD).
Map showing the Røttingsnes burial field. The woman’s grave is no. 5 on the map and the man’s grave no. 4. (Photo: Møre and Romsdal County, Culture Department)
It was only people who belonged to the elite who were buried with all their earthly goods in magnificent Viking longships like the Oseberg and the Gokstad ships, including horses, dogs, birds – and slaves.
The “average Viking” was buried with some of his or her belongings, while only a few free men and women could afford to be buried in a boat.
The Røttingsnes graves are examples of more modest boat graves. The distinction between “boat” and “ship” are usually set at a length of fifteen meters (49 feet).
Being buried in a ship or a boat was a status symbol for the dead and their families, and would bring them safely to Valhalla.
In the description of Baldr’s funeral in the Prose Edda, the Norse god gets a grand cremation in a boat that is put into the water.
The portrayal of the funeral may have been a model for burials in the Viking Age. It has many of the same elements, such as the procession, cremation, and the sacrifice of animals and objects.
If you want to read about the two elderly women buried inside the magnificent Oseberg ship, please go here.
A Viking Woman’s Last Journey – ThorNews