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Stone ships on Viking burial sites

Through the ages, erratic stones that were transported from the north by the glaciers during the glacial periods, have been used for various purposes. In Denmark, boat-shaped stone grave monuments were made from them in the Viking age. These 'stone ships' probably symbolize the idea that man was brought across the sea to the afterlife (the underworld) after his death. We often find such 'stone ships' in Denmark. Below, two sites are examined in more detail.

Viking cemetery of Lindholm Høje
Image 1. Boat-shaped stone grave monuments at the Viking cemetery of Lindholm Høje.

Lindholm Høje 

The Viking cemetery of Lindholm Høje is located near the city of Aalborg, on the north side of the Limfjord. It is the largest Viking cemetery in Denmark; there are almost 700 graves from the period from 500 to 1100. After that time, a sand drift caused the cemetery to become covered with a large layer of sand. As a result, the graves were well preserved. In most boat-shaped stone grave monuments, cremation graves with grave goods have been found.

Viking cemetery of Lindholm Høje
Image 2. Boat-shaped stone grave monuments at the Viking cemetery of Lindholm Høje.

Viking cemetery Højstrup 

The Viking cemetery Højstrup in Tømmerby dates from the period 800 to 1050. It is located near the Limfjord in North Jutland. In the Viking Age, the water of the Limfjord was at a higher level, up to the edge of the burial field. Freed from the ice masses from the last glacial period (Weichselian), the land was able to rise more and more, pushing back the water of the fjord. Not all graves here are surrounded by a stone ship; there are also separate low burial mounds. In addition to cremation graves, there are inhumation graves. In one of those graves, a woman's skeleton was found. It was buried in a wagon. The grave goods included an iron knife with silver around the handle, four glass beads, parts of a bronze bracelet and some pieces of gold. Just like in many other places where large boulders have been used for grave monuments, many boulders have been smashed to pieces on this location. What we find here now is therefore incomplete.

stone grave monuments at Højstrup Viking Cemetery
Image 3. Boat-shaped stone grave monuments at Højstrup Viking Cemetery

 Text and pictures: Jan Weertz

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