Gokstad Mound. Source: Wikipedia

Constructing and deconstructing the Gokstad mound

Norwegian archeologists are revisiting the old mounds ind which Viking Ships were buried. It appears, these mounds were carefully created as part of the burial traditions.

The Gokstad ship is one of two famous Viking ships currently exhibited at Bygdøy in Oslo. Discovered by local peasants in 1880, the ship was excavated together with smaller boats, sacrificed animals and other artefacts. However, the mound itself received very little attention.

The process of constructing these mounds, however, seem to have played a an important role in the funerary rituals.  This is the result of a careful investigation of the mound itself. First, the location in the landscape was of paramount importance. Next to other mounds or apart? Located with a view over water – whether a lake, a river, or open sea? Or near an ancient road, easy to see from both far away and close up?

After having decided on these important questions, the construction itself would commence by removing the topsoil and digging into the lower ground, creating a large trench. As the soil here is moist blue clay, it seems to have been quite heavy work, tells Rebecca Cannel.

This deep trench was then filled with muddy water and blue clay. Before being buried, the ship with the dead person and all his goods and gifts, would have seemed to float on water in a shallow basin or pool. At this point, people would still have had access to the ship across gangplanks. Soon after, the ship would have been buried in blue clay and finally covered with a layer of soil and peat.

Investigations at the Gokstad mound in Norway thus demonstrate that the building of this mound—in terms of its phases and material expressions—formed an integral part of the overall burial rite, writes Rebecca Cannel and her co-authors.

Recent results of the excavation at Gjellestad seems to confirm this conclusion. There, archaeologists may have found a kind of plateau from where the burial could be witnessed before the final cover up of the ship inside the mound.


Constructing and deconstructing the Gokstad mound
By: Rebecca J.S. Cannell,  Jan Bill, and Richard Macphail
In: Antiquity (2000) Vol 94, Issue 377, pp. 1278-1295

Researchers have examined the burial mound where the Gokstad Ship was found. What they found surprised them
By Lasse Biørnstad
Science Norway 15.09.2020


Integrated microstratigraphic investigations of coastal archaeological soils and sediments in Norway: The Gokstad ship burial mound and its environs including the Viking harbour settlement of Heimdaljordet, Vestfold
BY Richard Macphail, Jan Bill, Rebecca Cannell, Johan Linderholm, and Christian Løchsen Rødsrud
In: Quaternary International (2013) Volume 315, pp. 131-146



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