Rare Viking “death house” discovered in Denmark

Construction of a new highway in Hårup, southwest Denmark, has unearthed farms and houses from the Middle Ages, including a rare Viking dødehus or “death house” dated to 950 C.E., packed with grave goods that reveal a lot about the three people buried within it. The death house was a common form of Viking tomb, but the Hårup death house has a very unusual design. It appears to have been inspired by early stave churches of Western Europe, with large wooden posts holding up heavy roof beams. Inside, archaeologists found other international influences. A ceramic vase came from the Baltic and two silver coins hail from the region now known as Afghanistan. These discoveries are testimony to how far Vikings traveled and how extensive their trade networks were.

The tomb itself is fairly roomy at 13 x 43 feet and was initially the resting place of a wealthy couple. Later, a third grave was added for another man. Though little remains of the bodies themselves, a few strands of the woman’s black hair stood the test of time, as did the two keys she wore around her neck. The larger of these keys would have symbolized that she was the lady of a great house, and the other unlocked an unusual shrine. She was buried in a small wooden wagon, an honor also reserved only for noblewomen. At the woman’s feet was the shrine, full of golden thread (probably used in fabric), fur, glass beads, and fine wool. Her husband was also buried in high style, with a massive Dane Axe, popular among high status men and seriously destructive on the battlefield. The third man, possibly the couple’s heir, was buried with a slightly smaller Dane Axe.

The Silkeborg Museum made a 3D rendering of the dødehus site, which gives you an idea of the size of the excavation.

First discovered in 2012, the grave has now been thoroughly analyzed, and many items from the excavation are on display in Denmark’s Silkeborg Museum—including a recreation of the woman’s grave, which you can see in our gallery above. Kirsten Nelleman Nielsen, leader of the excavation, said she could only speculate about who the people might have been. “It could be the gentleman and the lady of the local area and maybe their successor. They’ve at least been honoured in a special way, so they must have been important.” But she’s certain that the couple were both of the same status, because they were buried together, with equal sumptuousness: “It’s very special that the man and woman’s graves are marked by the same tomb or palisade. It’s unusual that we’re able to establish that the man and woman were equals with such certainty.”

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Read the original at Ars Technica.