A Viking sword was found in the backyard of the Grønningsæters family home in Møre og Romsdal, one of Norway’s nineteen states.
Heidi Vike Grønningsaeters father-in-law had been digging in their garden’s potato field. Two rusted fragments of something were discovered in the soil.
He’s wife said “It was my husband who found it. He came into the kitchen and said ‘I think this is a part of an old Viking sword. I didn’t think so, I thought it just looked like an old rusty part of a plow”
Grønningsaeter lives in Møre og Romsdal, a county in Western Norway’s far north. The family couldn’t agree on what the rusty bits were, so they kept them in their garage. They stayed there for approximately two years until it came up in discussion one day.
Grønningsaeter was discussing the Viking era with a friend when she suddenly recalled the artifacts in the garage. She posted a picture to the Facebook page for “Archaeology in Møre and Romsdal” to answer the query.
Bjørn Ringstad, the page’s administrator, saw the photo and realized immediately that Grønningsaeter’s spouse was correct. This was unmistakably a Viking sword. “You can see it on the hilt,” Ringstad says.
The sword has since been transported to NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, for conservation and additional study after Ringstad promptly got in touch with Grønningsaeter.
And there may be more to come, as there may be a Viking grave where there is a Viking sword. “We believe that when there is a sword, then there is a grave nearby. It’s highly likely that we may find more items,” Ringstad says.
All of it, even the idea of an archeological dig in her garden, excite Heidi Grønningsaeter. “I’m really excited about what’s next, if they find anything else. I can hardly believe it myself, this is all very special, fun, and exciting.” she says.
According to the shape of the remaining portion of the hilt, the sword appears to date from the early Viking Age, Vegard Vike says. Vike is Head Engineer of Archaeological Conservation at the Museum of cultural history in Oslo. Vike, a specialist in Viking Age weapons, attempts to date the item. He thinks the sword may have been made between 775 and 925 according to the fragments of the hilt. Vike thinks the sword’s missing pieces could still be in the backyard.
According to the news of Science Norway, a typology of Viking swords by Jan Petersen, published in 1919, is still considered the go-to place for knowledge about these weapons. “To date, around 3000 Viking swords have been found in Norway – this is a doubling of Viking swords since Petersens dissertation was published,” Vike writes. “so around 10-15 such swords found each year.”
Norway is the only nation that can claim to have as many Viking swords still in tact. The majority of them, including those that are accidental finds like the most recent garden find, come from Viking burials.
The sword most likely came from a grave, according to Kjetil Loftsgarden, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oslo. Loftsgarden is also the editor of the scientific journal Viking. “You don’t just lose a sword”, he writed.
Other weapons and equipment, such as a knife, spear, axe, and shield, may be discovered in a grave alongside a sword.
According to Loftsgarden, there was a lot of variance in burial traditions throughout the Viking Age. Some were buried in flat graves, while others were in mounds.
“These are traces of complex rituals, and it is difficult to find the reason for why some dead were cremated and others not. We find these variations within the same region, and even within the same burial field” he writes.
“Many of the remains of these graves have been damaged or destroyed by agricultural activities and modern construction during the past 200 years. And this is most likely what happened at some time in the potato field in Grønningsæter’s garden.”
So, who could have owned the sword?
Although several swords and traces of swords have been discovered across Norway, Loftsgarden believes that only the upper echelons of each region owned a sword.
The nicer the sword, the greater the owner’s social standing. Loftsgarden further points out that only a small portion of the populace was interred with artifacts like jewelry, weapons, or tools.
“Most people who lived during the Viking Age left no traces. As is so often the case, the poor of society are missing in our sources,” he comments.