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Sinking Viking Ship? Volume 51 Number 1, January/February 1998
by Tom Bjornstad

[image] Mound at the Stein in Hole farm in the Ringerike district of southern Norway may hold the burial ship of Halfdan the Black. (Ole M. Hakvaag) [LARGER IMAGE]

Subsurface radar and coring may have located a Viking ship buried in a mound in southern Norway's Ringerike district. The investigations, by county archaeologist Inger Liv Gøytil Lund and colleagues from the University of Oslo, Oldsaksamlingnen, were prompted by concerns that the mound was sinking; measurements show that the central part has subsided 3.75 inches during the past six years. The mound, on a farm known as Stein in Hole, is 184 by 157 feet and is now 16.4 feet at its highest.

This past September ground-penetrating radar revealed what may be the contours of a large ship or stones around the remains of a ship. In October five cores were extracted; one in the center of the mound revealed a ten-inch-thick layer of wood. If the wood is from a buried vessel, the sinking could be the result of the ship's timbers collapsing. Christian Keller of the University of Oslo says the flatland location of the Ringerike mound is similar to that of the Gokstad and Oseberg burial mounds to the south, both of which held ships.

The Ringerike mound may hold the burial of Halfdan the Black, who, according to Scandinavian sagas, was the father of Norway's first king, Harold Fairhair. The Heimskringla, a history of the kings of Norway written by Snorri Sturlason (1179-1241), relates that ca. 860-870 Halfdan and his retinue left a feast in Hadeland and started across the frozen water of Lake Rand. The ice broke, and Halfdan and many with him drowned. His body was divided into four parts; the head was laid in a mound at Stein in Ringerike and the three other parts in mounds in other districts. Another account, the Aagrip, written probably 50 years before the Heimskringla, says that Halfdan's entire body was buried at Stein in Ringerike.

Results from initial tests indicate that the mound dates from between A.D. 800 and 900, consistent with the supposed date of Halfdan's death. Gøytil Lund believes that a ship is buried there and hopes to conduct another survey of the mound with deeper penetrating radar.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America