Excavations of the burial ground at one of the large medieval farms at Vinjeøra in Hemne municipality in Trøndelag in connection with the construction of the E39 road have unearthed a rare find, a Viking-Age mortuary.
The building appears to have been five metres long and three and a half metres wide. According to archaeologists, they featured poles or posts in four corners, and a planked roof. Bar some bricks, the walls and the ceiling are long gone.
“This is a very rare and interesting find”, Raymond Sauvage, archaeologist at NTNU Science Museum told national broadcaster NRK.
They made the find during excavations connected with the development of the new E39 at Vinjeøra.
Vinjeøra used to be a Viking-era settlement. Its fields contain the remains of up to seven burial mounds, largely invisible to the naked eye due to years of farming. From the air, though, traces of the burial mounds are seen. One of them has the contours of a house.
“We know that people were buried in boats. Now we understand that some also got a house with them in the grave,” Sauvage said.
While boats and coffins were also found at Vinjeøra, the find sheds a light on Viking-Age burial customs, implying greater variation.
“Some were even cremated. Together, we get a very interesting picture. We hope this can give us a deeper insight into the Viking Age in Scandinavia”, Sauvage said.
So far, about 15 houses of the dead have been discovered in Norway. Although similar finds have been uncovered elsewhere in Scandinavia. in Sweden and Denmark, little is known about this phenomenon. One suggestion is that they had some symbolic value, similar to ship burials, where the boat is regarded as symbolising the journey to the realm of death.
“Maybe they built a house for the dead, so that they could stay at the farm and protect it”, Sauvage ventured.
Marianne Hem Eriksen of the Cultural History Museum in Oslo suggested that houses of the dead like this one were a place of rituals that accompanied the transition from biological death to social death.
“It may have been have been the places for corpses, where you could say goodbye to the dead, wash and dress the body, or store dead bodies until the time was right for burial,” Eriksen said.
During the Viking Age (793-1066 AD) Scandinavian Norsemen explored Europe by its seas and rivers for trade, raids, colonisation and conquest, settling from Greenland and Newfoundland in the New World to Italy and the Byzantine Empire in the south and Russia to the east.