The Viking Ship Grave

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Our main attraction, the Viking ship grave, also called the Ladby Ship, was found in 1935 along with 11 ordinary graves in the immediate vicinity. They also included grave goods.

Archaeological studies have shown, that the ship was dragged onto land around the year 925 AD. The dead chieftain, presumably the owner of the ship, was buried in it along with his horses, dogs, valuable belongings and gifts, then the whole ship was covered with turf to create a barrow or burial mound. Later, however, the grave was plundered. Archaeologists could clearly see that the grave had been opened before, though it's hard to say during what period. Perhaps a rival clan thus demonstrated their superior power by doing this dastardly deed.

The Ship

Of the ship itself, only the imprint and a few wooden traces remain, though the iron rivets and spikes, about 2000 in number, clearly mark the lines of the missing planks.

It's almost 22 meters long and 3 meters wide; it was built for 30-32 rowers and carried sail. There's nothing left of the sail, but 7 shroud rings amidships along the remains of the railing prove that the ship had a sail. We estimate the size of the sail at 60 m.2.

The fore stem (the prow) was shaped like a dragon's head with a main or iron curls, and the aft stem was a dragon's tail. How impressive it was, or fearsome, with its dragon's head and tail, can be read of in Old Norse tales.

Near the fore stem you can see the ship's very well preserved anchor with its long anchor chain and remains of ropes. On board the ship you'll also see the remains of horses and dogs that accompanied their master on his last voyage.

Before it became a shipgrave, the ship must have been ideal for both offensive and defensive maneuvers.

The Grave Goods

As already mentioned, there were many sacrificed animals and grave goods in the burial ship. Most notable for visitors are the horse and dog skeletons in the forward half of the ship. The horses looked like the Icelandic horses of today. One of them stood out, since it had harness, bridle, saddle, etc. in place. The dog skeletons lie under the horses. Judging by their teeth, they seem to be dogs of varying size. 

600 objects or bits of objects were found during the excavation. Among the most notable finds are a silver belt buckle, fragments of a silver plate and a bronze platter, a gilded dog leash fitting along with remains of the chieftain's clothing that had gold thread sewn in. Other finds include spurs and stirrups, a shield boss, and axe and 45 arrowheads of iron. There were surely other weapons in the grave, especially a sword, since a belt buckle for a sword belt has been found. Other weapons typical to rich Viking burials must have been removed or destroyed when the ship was plundered. It gives cause for reflection that the deceased had a game board in his grave.

Kerteminde Fjord

The burial mound lies near Kerteminde Fjord. The Vikings' loading harbour lay only 300 meters east of the mound; the Viking village was located further inland, presumably in a field called Ladby Old Commons (Ladby Gammel Tofte). In the late Viking period, the village was moved to its present location, about 1 km. from the fjord. The loading harbour was presumably moved to the place where the fishing port of Kerteminde grew up in the early Middle Ages.

A rowing ship with sail

The ship in the burial mound is a narrow rowing ship that also had a mast and sail. This seems to be a common trait of many ships from the Viking period. A similar ship from Hedeby (Haithabu in Slesvig, northern Germany) is dated to the mid-9th century AD, and two of the ships from Skuldelev (at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde), also narrow rowing ships with sails, are from the 11th century AD. Along with the Ladby Ship, they indicate that this type of rowing ship was equipped with sails during this period.

The History of the Find

On February 28, 2010, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the finding of the Ladby Ship. Pharmacist and amateur archaeologist Poul Helweg Mikkelsen from Odense and historian Svend Larsen from Funen's Museum discovered, on Feb.28, 1935, that they were excavating a Viking ship grave.

In November, 1934, Helweg Mikkelsen was in the process of excavating some skeletons from a farm field in Ladby, on Nymark farm. The owner, Erik Eriksen, was plowing nearby and ran into some big stones at the base of a worn-down burial mound. The pharmacist studied the situation and said he thought they were looking at a row of stones that originally edged the burial mound. He investigated more colsely, and found several mysterious iron spearheads, that later turned out to be decorations from the ship's dragon tail. On December 20, Helweg Mikkelsen returned with reinforcements, Larsen from Funen's Museum. They found, among other things, iron rivets that they presumed came from a wooden burial chamber or coffin. They continued on December 23, found more rivets but had to give up the project as Christmas, and winter, were upon them.

Helweg Mikkelsen and Larsen renewed their efforts on February 28, 1935. Helweg Mikkelsen noted that the earth between the rows of rivets was darker than that outside the dig area, and Larsen remarked that the rows of rivets looked like they were arranged in the form of a ship. Then the two excavators could both see that it must be a ship they were bringing to light, in all likelihood a Viking ship. After this moment, events picked up speed: the National Museum and the press were alerted and the excavation continued under the leadership of the National Museum's conservator and archaeologist, Gustav Rosenberg. When they finished the dig they had a Viking ship grave and more than 600 objects or fragments of objects.





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