Historic excavation now underway

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UPDATED: A full-scale excavation of a Viking ship found within a settlement from Viking times is now underway at Gjellestad near Halden in Southern Norway. It’s the first time such an extensive archaelogical dig has been undertaken for 115 years, and it’s already yielding some important discoveries.

The Gjellestad ship, shown here as buried in what once was a thriving Viking settlement not far from Halden in Southern Norway. One of the Viking longhouses is in the background at left. ILLUSTRATION: Screenshot from gjellestadstory.no

Not since the famed Oseberg and Gokstad ships were found and excavated near Tønsberg and Sandefjord respectively has the government funded such a project. Just over NOK 15 million was earmarked for the excavation in the revised state budget approved last month. It’s expected to take around five months.

By Friday, archaeologists had carefully dug through around 25 centimeters of soil over a 350-square-meter field, reports news bureau NTB. After just two weeks of work, they’ve also found “hundreds” of unspecified items “of varying quality,” according to excavation leader Camilla Cecilie Wenn from Norway’s Kulturhistorisk museum (Museum of Cultural History).

Among the most eagerly anticipated treasures is a Viking ship, at least the keel of which remains intact. It was found in a burial mound at the site that’s believed to have also included five longhouses (where residents lived, socialized and kept livestock) and a total of eight burial sites.

Burial mounds at Gjellestad, where a full-scale excavation began in late June after state budget funding was assured. ILLUSTRATION: Screenshot from gjellestadstory.no

The buried ship and contours of the community were found in October 2018, and preliminary examinations have confirmed that much of the wood has rotted away. That’s why officials decided that is was important to launch the excavation before it was too late.

The Gjellestad ship is around the same size as the Gokstad and Oseberg ships, which have been on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo since they were found in 1880 and 1904 respectively, and later excavated. It dates from the early Viking period, around 733AD.

An overview of the ancient Viking settlement at Gjellestad, with the Oslo Fjord in the background. ILLUSTRATION: Screenshot from gjellestadstory.no

The local Viken County Council has also granted funding to enable archaeologists to recreate the Gjellestad settlement digitally. They worked with researchers from Østfold University College (Høyskolen i Østfold), the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) and Nordic Media Lab to show what the Viking settlement looked like in its time.

Archaeologist Sigrid Mannsåker Gundersen said the project “demonstrates the potential that 3D visualization has for displaying information about cultural heritage sites and artifacts that are not accessible or visible ot the human eye.”

The digitalization billed as bringing Gjellestad to life can be found here (external link).

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund