Surprising Viking Boat Burial Found in Scotland

The Vikings cut a boat-shaped depression into the earth before they entombed the ship.

Perhaps because of their penchant for plundering, the Vikings developed elaborate funerary rituals. In an ancient act of conspicuous consumption, Norsemen would sometimes drag an entire ship ashore to use like a monumental coffin, surrounding the deceased with grave goods like metal weapons, jewelry, and textiles. Recently, archaeologists reported the first discovery of a rich Viking boat burial on the UK mainland. Such ships have previously been unearthed across Scandinavia and on UK islands.

It's an important find, Oliver Harris, an archaeologist at the University of Leicester, tells mental_floss. “We know very little about the nature and depth of Viking occupation of huge parts of Scotland.”

The burial, which is described in the February issue of the journal Antiquity, was uncovered in 2011 in a low-lying mound near Sworlde Bay on western Scotland’s Ardnamurchan peninsula.

“It’s a very nice harbor, it’s easy to land in, and it’s got wide flat areas that would have been good for farming,” Harris describes. So far, no Norse settlements have been found nearby, but Swordle Bay was occupied for at least 5000 years before the Vikings arrived. Other monuments at the site include a large Neolithic chamber tomb, which may explain the location of the boat burial. “Vikings are known for wanting to bury their dead close to or inside of prehistoric burial monuments as a way of connecting themselves to the ancestral dead in different places,” Harris says.

A sword and some remnants of textiles were recovered from the grave.

The boat burial dates back to the early 10th century CE, a period when the Vikings were starting to settle in Scotland, particularly in the islands in the north. Most of the vessel’s wood has rotted away; all that’s left of the 16-foot rowboat are more than 200 metal rivets that were once used to keep the planks in place.

The body of the deceased didn’t fare so well, either. Archaeologists only found two adult teeth—but those skeletal remains were enough to conduct an isotopic analysis, which revealed that this person had a diet that was occasionally rich in fish, typical of Viking Age Scandinavia.

The only human remains discovered at the site were two molars from the same person.

“Our best guess is that this is someone who grew up in Scandinavia and then traveled about in the Viking world, perhaps visiting the Scottish island, perhaps visiting Dublin, which at this time was a large Viking settlement,” Harris says.

The archaeologists also think this person was of quite high status, as they found a rich array of grave goods, including a sword, an axe, a spear, a shield, a drinking horn mount, a sickle, a large iron ladle, a hammer, and a pair of tongs.

The team can’t say for certain whether the deceased was a man or a woman, though the weapons suggest that this person was a warrior. But not all of the grave goods were related to warcraft; many of the objects were used in daily activities like farming, cooking, eating, and crafting. “There’s a whole range of different aspects of identity that are presented in the grave,” Harris says.

Archaeologists also uncovered a broad-bladed axe, a shield boss, a ringed pin, a pair of tongs, and a hammer at the site.

That this is the first Viking burial discovered on the UK mainland “reminds us that there are probably others that we haven’t found yet,” Harris says. The discovery also shows “how our emphasis on what counts as the mainland is slightly a product of a modern way of looking at a map of Britain.”

In other words, the distinction between the craggy coasts of mainland Britain and its surrounding islands might have been blurrier in the past. Harris imagines that Ardnamurchan, connected to the rest of Britain by a small strip of land, would have had an island-like quality for someone sailing up and down the Irish Sea a thousand years ago. If that’s true, this might be the first of many such finds, which could reveal more about Viking culture in the region that the centuries have concealed.

All images courtesy of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project

Blue Water Ventures International
Gold Artifacts Discovered in 19th-Century Shipwreck That Was the ‘Titanic of Its Time’
Blue Water Ventures International
Blue Water Ventures International

On June 14, 1838, the steamship Pulaski was sailing off the coast of North Carolina, headed for Baltimore, when one of its boilers exploded, killing numerous passengers and causing colossal damage to the ship. It sank in less than an hour, taking two-thirds of its passengers with it. In January 2018, divers finally found the wreckage, and their latest expedition has brought back numerous new treasures, according to The Charlotte Observer, including a gold pocket watch that stopped just a few minutes after the boiler reportedly blew up.

The Pulaski disaster, which the Observer refers to as “the Titanic of its time,” was notable not just for its high death toll, but for whom it was carrying when it went down. The luxury steamship’s wealthy passengers included former New York Congressman William Rochester and prominent Savannah banker and businessman Gazaway Bugg Lamar, then one of the richest men in the region. At the time, the North Carolina Standard called the sinking “the most painful catastrophe that has ever occurred upon the American coast.”

An engraving showing the 'Pulaski' exploding
An 1848 illustration of the Pulaski explosion
Charles Ellms, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Divers from Blue Water Ventures International and Endurance Exploration Group (which owns the rights to the site) have located a number of artifacts that support the belief that the wreck they found is, in fact, what’s left of the Pulaski.

While they have yet to find the engraved ship’s bell (the main object used to authenticate a wreck), divers identified a few artifacts engraved with the name Pulaski, as well as numerous coins that were all produced prior to 1838. The 150 gold and silver coins discovered thus far are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars today. They’ve also discovered silverware, keys, thimbles, and the ship's anchor.

A close-up of the gold pocket watch
Blue Water Ventures International

And in their most recent expedition, the divers found a unique gold watch that further supports the claim that this ship is the Pulaski. The hands of the engraved solid gold pocket watch on a gold chain—a piece only the wealthiest of men could afford—are stopped at 11:05, just five minutes after the boiler reportedly exploded.

The excavation of the remains of the ship will hopefully illuminate more of its story. Already, it has changed what we know about the ship’s final night: The wreck was discovered 40 miles off the North Carolina coast, a bit farther than the 30 miles estimated in initial newspaper reports of the disaster.

The investigators hope to eventually find evidence that will allow them to pinpoint why the deadly explosion occurred. While such explosions weren’t rare for steamships at the time, the crew may have pushed the ship beyond its limits in an attempt to reach its destination faster, causing the boiler to burst. Expeditions to the wreckage are ongoing.

[h/t The Charlotte Observer]

Evening Standard, Getty Images
$2.5 Million in World War II-Era Cash Discovered Beneath Winston Churchill's Former Tailor's Shop
Evening Standard, Getty Images
Evening Standard, Getty Images

A valuable secret has been hiding beneath the floorboards of a sporting goods store in the UK since World War II. As the BBC reports, about £30,000 in roughly 80-year-old British bank notes was unearthed by a renovation project at the Cotswold Outdoor store in Brighton. Adjusting for inflation, their value would be equal to roughly $2.5 million today.

Owner Russ Davis came across the hidden treasure while tearing out decades-worth of carpet and tiles beneath the property. What he initially assumed was a block of wood turned out to be a wad of cash caked in dirt. Each bundle held about £1000 worth of £1 and £5 notes, with about 30 bundles in total.

The bills are badly damaged, but one surviving design element holds an important clue to their history. Each note is printed in blue, the color of the emergency wartime currency first issued by the Bank of England in 1940.

At the time the money was buried, the property was home to the famous British furrier and couturier Bradley Gowns. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, were reportedly regular customers.

The reason the fortune was stowed beneath the building in the first place remains a mystery. Davis imagines that it might have come from a bank robbery, while Howard Bradley, heir to the Bradley Gowns family business, suspects it might have been stashed there as a getaway fund in anticipation of a Nazi invasion, as he told the New York Post.

The hoard will remain in the possession of the Sussex police as more details on the story emerge.

[h/t BBC]


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