This summer, a small group of archaeologists and metal detector enthusiasts conducted a study on the large burial mound known as Herlaugshaugen, located on the island of Leka in the northern Trøndelag region of Norway. The project was commissioned by the National Antiquities Council of Norway and carried out in collaboration with the regional government, with the aim of dating the mound and investigating whether it contained the remains of a ship burial.

Initial inquiries yielded a significant find: large nails that confirmed the presence of a naval burial inside the mound. The team’s excitement grew upon learning the radiocarbon datings, which dated the construction of Herlaugshaugen to around 700 AD, i.e., during the Merovingian period preceding the Viking Era.

This discovery significantly pushes back the tradition of ship burials in the region, previously believed to have begun only in the Viking Age.

Experts assert that during this time, constructing a large ship was not undertaken without a compelling reason. This reveals that the inhabitants of Leka possessed advanced maritime knowledge many centuries earlier than estimated, demonstrating their ability to develop oceanic vessels.

All signs point to their involvement in long-distance maritime trade, leveraging their location on a significant river route.

Beyond the ship, the burial mound itself is striking for its substantial dimensions. With a diameter of over 60 meters, Herlaugshaugen is one of the largest in the country. Its size, coupled with sumptuous objects recovered in previous finds, indicates the privileged status of those buried at its summit. This wealth is hardly explainable solely by local agriculture, suggesting long-distance commercial activities.

Experts draw parallels with other contemporary maritime cultures. Funerary sites like Vendel and Valsgärde in Sweden, or Sutton Hoo in England, share characteristics with Herlaugshaugen and indicate the existence of a ruling elite with connections across Scandinavia and the Atlantic much earlier than previously thought.

Research is ongoing to unravel the extent of these networks and the role of the ancient inhabitants of Leka in them.

This discovery positions Norway as an active part of the North Sea’s commercial network from very early times. In light of these findings, experts reconsider the origin and development of Viking navigation, which had its genesis much earlier than imagined. Herlaugshaugen has rewritten a significant part of European maritime history and opens new avenues of research into the early Scandinavian societies.

Sources | NTNU

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