Aerial radar turns up a Viking ship in a farmer’s field

Ground-penetrating radar recently revealed a Viking Age ship hidden beneath the topsoil of a farm near the former town of Edøy in western Norway. The ship would have held the body of an ancient Norse leader along with weapons, loot, and other items. Nearby, the remains of postholes mark the ghostly outlines of two longhouses. The find could offer a wealth of information about ancient shipbuilding and Norse burial rites.

A forgotten grave

The outline of the ship shows up clearly in the radar images, circled by the remains of a ditch that once surrounded a burial mound. “This is a very common trait for grave mounds,” archaeologist Dag-Øyvind Solem, of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), told Ars. “In addition to having a potentially symbolic meaning, it is thought that [ditches] have the very practical function of making the mounds seem bigger than they really were.”

Farmers’ plows destroyed the burial mound centuries ago, and soil eventually filled in the surrounding ditch. But that looser soil holds more moisture than the adjacent ground and reflects radar differently. In radar images, the result is an accidentally perfect logo for Viking Age archaeology: the hull of a ship in a circle. The largest Norse ship burial ever found—the Gjellestad ship—stood out in a 2018 radar survey with the same distinctive outline.

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