19 March 2016

The Viking Burial Ship from Ladby, Denmark

The Ladby ship of Denmark is the only ship burial mound found to date in Denmark where the deceased had been aboard before grave-robbers plundered the site. This article from Medieval Histories provides insight into this important archaeological discovery.

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17. MARCH 2016

The Ladby ship


Curiously enough, Vikings in Denmark were buried in so-called ships-settings, stone-ships created in the landscape to mark out the their graves. Only one viking has ever been found in his ship: the Viking from Ladby.

The Ladby ship in new light


Around 925 AD, the “king” of Ladby was buried in his ship, which measured 21.5 meters in its length and was 3 meters wide. A burial mound was raised above the ship. His grave was furnished with all his fine possessions, including 11 horses and 3 or 4 dogs. In the bow of the ship lies the original anchor and anchor chain.

Unfortunately, the grave was plundered or desecrated back in the Viking times, so the deceased was removed and most of the grave goods destroyed. Nevertheless, some very precious items were preserved, for instance a very delicate metal fitting to a dog harnes. The Jelling style of this piece has helped to date the burial to c. 925 – 50. Renewed explorations of the finds resulted in a number of fragments of the gold-embroidered clothes of the deceased as well as his belt-buckles and strap-fittings. Other finds are an axe, a shield boos, a quire of 45 lanceolate arrows and perhaps part of a sword-hilt. To this should be added three sets of riding-gear consisting of bridles, cheek-pieces, strap-buckles and stirrup irons. The grave also contained tableware: a partially gilded silver-plate, a bronze dish, two buckets and a set of finely decorated knives. To this should be added a curious small gold-mount, fragments of painted wood and the fragments of a gaming board.

Dog leash from the Ladby ship


Another fabled item is a ring with six Thor’s hammers, which was found in a ditch very close to the mound. It is speculated that the grave-robbers or perhaps grave-desecrators dropped the item while leaving the place. The plundering of the grave is by some believed to have been a public and willful desecration of the grave of a petty king at a time, when the Jelling Dynasty was trying to conquer all Denmark.

The Ship and the Mound

Currently a reconstruction of the Ship from Ladby is taking place. Launch will be in 2016. © Østfyns Museer

The museum consists of two buildings. One holds the museum with a reconstruction of the grave and an exhibition of the finds. The other is simply a concrete dome built on top of the grave. It is thus possible to enter the mound and explore the ship in situ.
Inside the burial mound, you can see the imprint of the ship, the approximately 2000 rivets that held its planks together, and the shroud rings for the rigging of the mast. In the bow, the original anchor with its chain and the 11 horse skeletons can be seen. The stem is decorated with the “dragon’s mane”, in the form of iron curls. (The originals are on display in the exhibition building.)

In 2012, the ship the old florescent lights were taken down, a new ventilation system was installed, and the walls were painted in a dark color to signal that this is a burial chamber. The idea is that the ship, the unique authentic artifact, which still lies where it was placed as a ship grave for the Ladby king more than 1000 years ago, should be the central part of the museum.
So let your eyes get used to the darkness and allow yourself the time to see all the fascinating details of the ship.


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