Thursday, March 09, 2006

Viking Period Boat Grave

This morning, after dropping off the kids at school, I went to the post terminal and collected the small iron finds from the 9th century boat grave at Skamby, Östergötland. They'd been sent down from the conservators of Stiftelsen Föremålsvård ("The Object Care Foundation") in Kiruna, extreme northern Sweden.

Kiruna is an interesting place. The town grew up alongside a huge iron mine. Now they've realised that the town is also sitting on a big mutha of an ore lode, so they're moving. Yes. They're moving the town to get at the ore.

Anyway, I've spent most of the day listening to the excellent smart web radio site Pandora and classifying the iron bits. There were few surprises. Many of the bits are just spongy lumps of rust and sand or even reddish pebbles that I could discard immediately. Not sure the lumps are artefactual either. Most of the certain artefacts are the sorry remains of clench nails from the boat. The best new finds are four more hoof spikes, recognisable but not as well preserved as the one I showed you earlier.

So now the artefacts list for the boat grave is final (until someone in 2030 takes a look at the rust lumps with new methods and finds something fun in them too). Here's an excerpt from the report draft.
The boat burial

The central depression had clearly come into being when a perishable roof over the grave cut containing the boat had collapsed. The grave cut was filled with stones from the superstructure, slumped inward. They showed no sign of any disturbance since the collapse.

Preservation conditions in the grave cut were very poor as the underlying moraine is clayey and nearly impermeable to water. Rain water had alternately accumulated here and evaporated as the seasons went by. No unburnt bone and little iron was preserved in the grave. Judging from rust stains, preserved clench nails and the section drawings, however, the boat had been c. 5 m long and c. 1.7 m wide. Preservation conditions did not allow us to discern any detailed pattern to the rust stains and preserved clench nails. The upper part of the grave fill was indistinguishable from the surrounding culture layer, meaning that we could not document the upper edge of the grave cut, only its edge where it cut into the natural.

Just SW of the mid-ship was a cluster of 23 well-preserved amber gaming pieces, some located on top of collapsed stones. The gaming set had thus probably originally been placed on top of the grave’s roof. Beneath the gaming piece cluster, a group of iron rivets and nails was found on the bottom of the cut. They may represent a box or a game board, although they formed no observable pattern and there was no sign of the L-shaped mounts typical for Viking Period game boards. Small curved fragments of iron rods here may be from rivets, nails or a simple strap buckle. A little spherical stone was also found here.

Other artefact finds attributable to the burial are few and modest, belonging to two functional spheres.

Personal items are a red glass paste bead and a small slate pendant whetstone, both found beneath the gaming piece cluster. There is also part of a small iron knife, found in a superficial part of the grave fill mid-ship. This is possibly a residual piece re-deposited from the culture layer.

A highly incomplete set of horse gear was found in the SW half of the grave cut, resting on its floor. There is a very finely wrought hook from one of the shafts of a sleigh or small wagon, five hoof spikes to keep the horse from slipping when you ride or drive a sleigh in wintertime, and two iron rings of identical and rather small size, one of them with a straight iron bar looped onto it. The rings look a bit like pieces of a bridle bit, but the rings are far smaller than normal bridle rings of the time.

In the fill of the grave cut were also a few small pieces of residual material from the underlying settlement deposit: burnt daub, pottery, burnt bone, herbivore teeth, vitrified clay, knapped quartz, a single piece of burnt flint, and rust-stained sandy lumps.
For more details about the excavations, see preliminary reports here and here.

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