Ship burial

A ship burial or boat grave is a burial in which a ship or boat is used either as a container for the dead and the grave goods, or as a part of the grave goods itself. If the ship is very small, it is called a boat grave. This style of burial was used among the Germanic peoples, particularly by Viking Age Norsemen. According to the Boxer Codex, ship burials were also practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

A unique eyewitness account of a 10th-century ship burial among the Volga Vikings is given by Arab traveller Ibn Fadlan.[1]

Sutton Hoo ship-burial model
Model of the Sutton Hoo ship's structure as it might have appeared, with chamber area outlined

Viking Age ship burials



British Isles

Norse burial in the UK


Northern Europe

Eastern Europe

See also

Media related to Ship burials at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North (Penguin Classics 2012, ISBN 9780140455076), Introduction by Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, pp. xxiii–xxiv.
  2. ^ The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde
  3. ^ Gokstadhaugen – Artificial Mound in Norway
  4. ^ Osebergskipet – The Oseberg Ship, Norway Archived 2007-02-11 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy Archived 2011-10-06 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Anundshög, Stoneship
  7. ^ Larsson, Gunilla (2007). Ship and society: maritime ideology in Late Iron Age Sweden. Uppsala Universitet, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History. p. 415. ISBN 9789150619157.
  8. ^ Incorporated, Walter De Gruyter (2002). Naualia – Ãstfold. Walter de Gruyter. p. 595. ISBN 9783110903515.
  9. ^ Strömberg, Märta (1961). Untersuchungen zur jüngeren Eisenzeit in Schonen: Textband. Mit einem Beitrag von J. Lepiksaar. R. Habelt.
  10. ^ Mikroficheupplaga av Tillväxten. Kungl. Vitterhets, historie och antikvitets akademien. 1946. p. xcix.
  11. ^ Vikings on Mann
  12. ^ "Viking boat burial site discovered in Scottish Highlands". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 2011-10-19.
  13. ^ The Scar Viking Boat Burial
Charles Green (archaeologist)

Charles Green (1901–1972) was an English archaeologist noted for his excavations in East Anglia, and his work on the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. His "signal achievements" were his East Anglian excavations, including four years spent by Caister-on-Sea and Burgh Castle, and several weeks in 1961 as Director of excavations at Walsingham Priory. Green additionally brought his "long experience of boat-handling" to bear in writing his 1963 book, Sutton Hoo: The Excavation of a Royal Ship-Burial, a major work that combined a popular account of the Anglo-Saxon burial with Green's contributions about ship-construction and seafaring.

Green began his career in archaeology as an assistant at the Salford Royal Museum, and in 1932 was named curator of The Museum of Gloucester. Much of East Anglian work was carried out in the 1950s and 1960s on behalf of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments at the Ministry of Works. Green was also a member of the National Executive of the Council for British Archaeology, a one time President of the Norfolk Research Committee, and, at his death, the President of the Great Yarmouth Archaeological Society and Vice-President of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society.

Charles Phillips (archaeologist)

Charles William Phillips (24 April 1901 – 23 September 1985) was a British archaeologist best known for leading the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo burial ship, an intact collection of Anglo-Saxon grave-goods, possibly that of the 7th-century East Anglian king Raedwald. He was awarded the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1967 for his contributions to the topography and mapping of Early Britain.

Eorpwald of East Anglia

Eorpwald; also Erpenwald or Earpwald, (reigned from c. 624, assassinated c. 627 or 632), succeeded his father Rædwald as ruler of the independent Kingdom of the East Angles. Eorpwald was a member of the East Anglian dynasty known as the Wuffingas, named after the semi-historical king Wuffa.

Little is known of Eorpwald's life or of his short reign, as little documentary evidence about the East Anglian kingdom has survived. The primary source for Eorpwald is the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written by Bede in the 8th century. Soon after becoming king, Eorpwald received Christian teaching and was baptised in 627 or 632. Soon after his conversion he was killed by Ricberht, a pagan noble, who may have succeeded him and ruled for three years. The motive for Eorpwald's assassination was probably political as well as religious. He was the first early English king to suffer death as a consequence of his Christian faith and was subsequently venerated by the Church as a saint and martyr.

In 1939, a magnificent ship-burial was discovered under a large mound at Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk. Although Rædwald is usually considered to have been buried with the ship (or commemorated by it), another possibility is Eorpwald. Alternatively, he might also have had his own ship-burial nearby.

Gokstad ship

The Gokstad ship is a 9th-century Viking ship found in a burial mound at Gokstad in Sandar, Sandefjord, Vestfold, Norway. It is currently on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway.It is the largest preserved Viking ship in Norway.


Nabbelund is a village in Böda socken, in the Borgholm Municipality of Öland, Sweden. Located on the western shore of the Grankullaviken bay, just south of the lighthouse Långe Erik and north of the village Grankullavik, it was formerly an important shipping port for timber.

Norse funeral

Norse funerals, or the burial customs of Viking Age North Germanic Norsemen (early medieval Scandinavians), are known both from archaeology and from historical accounts such as the Icelandic sagas and Old Norse poetry.

Throughout Scandinavia, there are many remaining tumuli in honour of Viking kings and chieftains, in addition to runestones and other memorials. Some of the most notable of them are at the Borre mound cemetery, in Norway, at Birka in Sweden and Lindholm Høje, and Jelling in Denmark.

A prominent tradition is that of the ship burial, where the deceased was laid in a boat, or a stone ship, and given grave offerings in accordance with his earthly status and profession, sometimes including sacrificed slaves. Afterwards, piles of stone and soil were usually laid on top of the remains in order to create a tumulus. Additional practices included sacrifice or cremation, but the most common was to bury the departed with goods that denoted their social status.

Oseberg Ship

The Oseberg ship (Norwegian: Osebergskipet) is a well-preserved Viking ship discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway. This ship is commonly acknowledged to be among the finer artifacts to have survived from the Viking Era. The ship and some of its contents are displayed at the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy on the western side of Oslo, Norway.

Port an Eilean Mhòir boat burial

The Port an Eilean Mhòir ship burial is a Viking boat burial site in Ardnamurchan, Scotland, the most westerly point on the island of Great Britain. Dated to the 10th century, the burial consists of a Viking boat about 5 metres (16 ft) long by 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) wide in which a man was laid to rest with his shield, sword and spear as well as other grave goods.In 1924 nails, rivets and other finds were discovered by T. C. Lethbridge at Cul na Croise (English: Gorten Bay) in Ardnamurchan, which were characterised at the time as having come from a ship burial; the exact location of this site is lost and so the nature of the finds cannot be determined with certainty. A similar case was the mainland burial site at Huna, in Caithness, discovered in 1935, although this was better documented and is accepted as a ship burial. Nine other Viking ship burials, or possible burials, have been found on Scottish islands, including six in the Hebrides and another three in the Northern Isles.The discovery was announced by archaeologists from the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project, directed by the Universities of Manchester and Leicester, CFA Archaeology and Archaeology Scotland on 18 October 2011. Students and academics have for several years investigated archaeological sites on the Ardnamurchan peninsula and have previously made a number of discoveries, including an Iron Age fort and a Neolithic chambered cairn. The project aims to examine social change on the peninsula from 6,000 years ago to the 18th- and 19th-century Highland Clearances. Its work has been supported by the Ardnamurchan Estate, which owns a large part of the peninsula.The site is located on the north coast of Ardnamurchan at Port an Eilean Mhòir between Achateny and Ockle. The archaeologists had initially thought that the site of the burial was merely a mound of rocks cleared from fields in recent times. On further investigation it was realised that it was a boat burial.


Rendlesham is a village and civil parish near Woodbridge, Suffolk, United Kingdom. It was a royal centre of authority for the king of the East Angles, of the Wuffinga line; the proximity of the Sutton Hoo ship burial may indicate a connection between Sutton Hoo and the East Anglian royal house. Swithhelm, son of Seaxbald, who reigned from 660 to around 664, was baptised at Rendlesham by Saint Cedd with King Aethelwald of East Anglia acting as his godfather. He died around the time of the great plague of 664 and may have been buried at the palace of Rendlesham.

Its name is recorded in Old English about 730 AD as Rendlæsham, which may mean "Homestead belonging to [a man named] Rendel", or it may come from a theorized Old English word *rendel = "little shore".

It was also the location of Rendlesham Hall, a large manor house demolished in 1949.More recently Rendlesham was the site of the Rendlesham Forest incident, a series of reported sightings of unexplained pulsing lights off the coast of Orford Ness in December 1980.

During the summer of 2012 certain scenes of the movie Fast & Furious 6 were filmed on the old RAF Bentwaters base.

Rupert Bruce-Mitford

Rupert Leo Scott Bruce-Mitford, FBA, FSA (surname sometimes Mitford) (14 June 1914 – 10 March 1994) was a British archaeologist and scholar, best known for his multi-volume publication on the Sutton Hoo ship burial. He was also a noted academic as the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge University from 1978 to 1979, in addition to appointments at All Souls College, Oxford and Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Bruce-Mitford worked for the British Museum in the Department of British and Mediaeval Antiquities from 1938, and, following the bequest of the Sutton Hoo Treasure to the nation, was charged with leading the project to study and publish the finds. This he did through four decades at the museum. He also became President of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Apart from military service in World War II he worked at the British Museum continuously until 1977, including two keeperships, and finally as a research keeper. Bruce-Mitford also held the titles secretary, and later vice-president, of the Society of Antiquaries, and president of the Society for Medieval Archaeology. He was also responsible for translating Danish archaeologist P. V. Glob's book The Bog People (1965) into English.

Snape, Suffolk

Snape is a small village in the English county of Suffolk, on the River Alde close to Aldeburgh. It has about 600 inhabitants, measured at 611 at the 2011 Census. Snape is now best known for Snape Maltings, no longer in commercial use, but converted into a tourist centre together with a concert hall that hosts the major part of the annual Aldeburgh Festival.

In Anglo-Saxon England, Snape was the site of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial.

J. K. Rowling named the character of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books after the village.

Snape Anglo-Saxon Cemetery

The Snape Anglo-Saxon Cemetery is a place of burial dated to the 6th century CE located on Snape Common, near to the town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, Eastern England. Dating to the early part of the Anglo-Saxon Era of English history, it contains a variety of different forms of burial, with inhumation and cremation burials being found in roughly equal proportions. The site is also known for the inclusion of a high status ship burial. A number of these burials were included within burial mounds.

The first recorded excavation of the site was conducted by antiquarians in 1827, with a later, more thorough investigation taking place in 1862 under the control of landowner Septimus Davidson. Artefacts from the earliest excavations soon disappeared, although important finds uncovered from the 1862 excavation included a glass claw beaker and the Snape Ring, now housed in The British Museum, London.

During the 20th century, the heathland that the cemetery was on was given over to farmland, with a road and house being constructed atop the site. Today, the burial mounds themselves are not accessible to the public, although the artefacts uncovered by the excavation are on display at the Aldeburgh Moot Hall Museum in the nearby coastal town of Aldeburgh.

Sutton Hoo

Sutton Hoo, at Sutton near Woodbridge, Suffolk, is the site of two 6th- and early 7th-century cemeteries. One cemetery contained an undisturbed ship-burial, including a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artefacts of outstanding art-historical and archaeological significance, most of which are now in the British Museum in London. The site is in the care of the National Trust.

Sutton Hoo is of primary importance to early medieval historians because it sheds light on a period of English history that is on the margin between myth, legend, and historical documentation. Use of the site culminated at a time when Rædwald, the ruler of the East Angles, held senior power among the English people and played a dynamic if ambiguous part in the establishment of Christian rulership in England; it is generally thought most likely that he is the person buried in the ship. The site has been vital in understanding the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia and the whole early Anglo-Saxon period.

The ship-burial, probably dating from the early 7th century and excavated in 1939, is one of the most magnificent archaeological finds in England for its size and completeness, far-reaching connections, the quality and beauty of its contents, and the profound interest of the burial ritual itself. The initial excavation was privately sponsored by the landowner. When the significance of the find became apparent, national experts took over. Subsequent archaeological campaigns, particularly in the late 1960s and late 1980s, have explored the wider site and many other individual burials. The most significant artefacts from the ship-burial, displayed in the British Museum, are those found in the burial chamber, including a suite of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium. The ship-burial has, from the time of its discovery, prompted comparisons with the world described in the heroic Old English poem Beowulf, which is set in southern Sweden. It is in that region, especially at Vendel, that close archaeological parallels to the ship-burial are found, both in its general form and in details of the military equipment contained in the burial.

Although it is the ship-burial that commands the greatest attention from tourists, two separate cemeteries also have rich historical meaning because of their position in relation to the Deben estuary and the North Sea, and their relation to other sites in the immediate neighborhood. Of the two grave fields found at Sutton Hoo, one (the "Sutton Hoo cemetery") had long been known to exist because it consists of a group of approximately 20 earthen burial mounds that rise slightly above the horizon of the hill-spur when viewed from the opposite bank. The other, called here the "new" burial ground, is situated on a second hill-spur close to the present Exhibition Hall, about 500 m upstream of the first. It was discovered and partially explored in 2000 during preliminary work for the construction of the hall. This site also had burials under mounds but was not known because these mounds had long since been flattened by agricultural activity. There is a visitor centre with many original and replica artefacts and a reconstruction of the ship-burial chamber. The burial field can be toured in the summer months and at weekends and school holidays year-round.

Sutton Hoo helmet

The Sutton Hoo helmet is a decorated Anglo-Saxon helmet which was discovered during the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. It was buried around 625 and is widely believed to have been the helmet of King Rædwald of East Anglia, and its elaborate decoration may have given it a secondary function akin to a crown. The helmet is "the most iconic object" from "one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries ever made," and one of the most important Anglo-Saxon artefacts ever found. Its visage features eyebrows, nose, and moustache, creating the image of a man joined by a dragon's head to become a soaring dragon with outstretched wings. It has become a symbol of the Dark Ages and also "of Archaeology in general." It was excavated as hundreds of rusted fragments, and was first displayed following an initial reconstruction in 1945–46, and then in its present form after a second reconstruction in 1970–71.

The helmet and the other finds from Sutton Hoo were determined by a treasure trove inquest to be the property of Edith Pretty, who owned the site of the ship-burial. She donated all the objects to the British Museum, where they were conserved and put on display. The helmet was on view in Room 41 in 2018.

Sutton Hoo purse-lid

The Sutton Hoo purse-lid is one of the major objects excavated from the Anglo-Saxon royal burial-ground at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. The site contains a collection of burial mounds, of which much the most significant is the undisturbed ship burial in Mound 1 containing very rich grave goods including the purse-lid. The person buried in Mound 1 is usually thought to have been Raedwald, King of East Anglia, who died around 624. The purse-lid is considered to be "one of the most remarkable creations of the early medieval period." About seven and a half inches long, it is decorated with beautiful ornament in gold and garnet cloisonné enamel, and was undoubtedly a symbol of great wealth and status. In 2017 the purse-lid was on display at the British Museum.

The Dig (novel)

The Dig is a novel by John Preston, published May 2007, set in the context of the 1939 Anglo-Saxon ship burial excavation at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England. The novel has been widely reviewed as ‘an account of the excavation at Sutton Hoo in 1939’. The sleevenote advertises it as 'a brilliantly realized account of the most famous archaeological dig in Britain in modern times.' However the account in the book differs in various ways from the real events of the Sutton Hoo excavations.

A radio serial drama based upon Preston's fictionalized account was broadcast on UK BBC Radio 4 commencing 15 September 2008.


Valsgärde or Vallsgärde is a farm on the Fyris river, about three kilometres north of Gamla Uppsala, the ancient centre of the Swedish kings and of the pagan faith in Sweden. The present farm dates from the 16th century. The farm's notability derives from the presence of a burial site from the Swedish Vendel Age (part of the Iron age (c. 550–793) and the Viking Age); it was used for more than 300 years. The first ship burial is from the 6th century and the last graves are from the 11th century.


Vendel is a parish in the Swedish province of Uppland.

The village overlooks a long inland stretch of water, Vendelsjön, near which the Vendel river has its confluence with the river Fyris. The church was established in 1310. Vendel is the site of an ancient royal estate, part of Uppsala öd, a network of royal estates meant to provide income for the medieval Swedish kings.

Whiting Bay

Whiting Bay (Scottish Gaelic: Eadar Dhà Rubha) is a village located on the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland. The name Whiting Bay is thought to originate from "Viking" Bay. It is approximately 3 miles south of the village of Lamlash. Whiting Bay is the third largest village on the island (after Lamlash and Brodick) and was once the site of the longest pier in Scotland. Like all villages on Arran, tourism is important to the village.

The spectacular Glenashdale Falls with a nearby Iron Age fort and a prehistoric burial site the "Giants' Graves" are an easy walk from the village.

To the north of the village at Kings Cross Point between Lamlash and Whiting Bay is another Iron Age fort known locally as the "Viking Fort". According to local legend, this is the site where Robert the Bruce mistook farmers' fires on the mainland as the signal to launch his campaign. This site was also the location of a Viking ship burial excavated in the earlier 20th century.

Information about the history of Whiting Bay and of other sites on the Isle of Arran is available through the Arran Heritage Museum

Whiting Bay has a population of 680 people according to the 2011 UK Census (2011 Census)

Ship burial customs in Germanic paganism
Ship burials
Stone ships
See also
History of the Germanic peoples
Pagan society
(until about
Early Middle Ages)

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