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Archaeological Excavations in Trondheim

The buzz about the female in the Birka warrior grave has barely settled down. It is already time to move on. This week’s word on the street is the boat burial in Trondheim, Norway. The story is all over the Internet. Any science news site will give you the lowdown.

Perhaps it seems unexpected, this grave find. But actually it is a another addition to an impressive list of archaeological results in and around Trondheim in the past years. Many of these excavations have been conducted by teams of the NIKU (Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research).

St Clemens Church & Olaf the Saint

In 2015, work started by a NIKU team in Trondheim’s city centre. The first artefacts were dated from the late medieval to the early modern period from the site at the Torvet, or market square. Shortly after, though, came a first, tentative announcement of uncovered church remains in the Søndre gate. The first C–14 results dated the church between 1015 and 1200. See the wonderful 3D images of the Trondheim excavations, like the one below.

This date is relevant when it comes to king Olaf II Haraldsson. Better known as Olaf the Saint, he died in 1030 and was canonised a year later. The Heimskringla describes how his remains were reburied at St Clement’s church shortly after his death. The researchers are therefore keen to find out if there is any link between these remains and St Clement’s church. Hopefully, they will try to uncover more of the church to see if they can also find the altar. In any case, the find has received much local media attention, as well as online media coverage.

Sverre’s Saga & The Body in the Well

Another story that received a lot of attention online, is the excavation at Sverresborg in 2016. The NIKU team on site, set out to see if the events in the literary sagas had a connection to any real events. Rather amazingly, there was indeed a skeleton at the bottom of an old well which corroborates with the story in Sverre’s Saga. King Sverre Sigurdsson was attacked in the castle in 1197 and one of his own (dead) men was thrown into the well after which it was filled with rocks.

A Bronze Buckle & A Boat Burial

Then, in the course of 2017, NIKU researchers revealed on their blog a beautiful bronze buckle. This was also found in 2016 at the excavations in the market square. Due to its unusual design the team asked for a second opinion and the buckle was eventually dated around 900 CE. Perhaps a small object in itself, it could be a first answer to a larger question: was there local activity in the area before Olaf Tryggvason established Nidaros in 997? This discovery does not seem to have any news traces across the Internet.

And now, after this summer’s find of boat burials in Iceland (see Race Against Time) a boat burial has been found in the market square of Trondheim. That is to say, its outline. The actual wood and most of the boat has gone, except for a few dilapidated nails. Two human bones were also found within the outline suggesting this was indeed a grave. The bones will be DNA-tested to verify this assumption. A piece of a spoon and part of a key are also found. They have been dated in context of the burial between the seventh and tenth century. However, it is not yet clear if these were indeed part of the grave, or deposits from a later date. For more details, see the article by Livescience.

In line with the background of the buckle, the researchers are considering the possibility that the boat in the burial is an early Viking Age type called Åfjord boats. If this can be confirmed, this might be a crucial find to further support the idea that Nidaros already existed in early medieval times, well before 997.

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