Norway to excavate Viking ship burial for first time in 100 years

Norway's government has agreed to fund the first excavation of a Viking ship burial for over 100 years, launching a race to pull the vessel out of the ground before it is destroyed by fungus.

Norway to excavate Viking ship burial for first time in 100 years
The country's government announced on Monday that it was providing 15.6m kroner (€1.4m) to excavate the Gjellestad Viking Ship, which was discovered during georadar studies in 2018, and from which part of the keel was pulled up last year in a test study. 
“For the first time in 100 years, we will now excavate a Viking ship. We are very excited about the result,” Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway's Minister for Climate and Environment told state broadcaster NRK. “It is urgent that we get this ship out of the ground.” 
The announcement follows a warning in January from Jan Bill, curator of the Viking Ship Collection at the Museum of Cultural History, that the structure had suffered fungus attacks since air got into the burial mound. 
“When we did that trial last year, we only found preserved wood at the very, very deepest level, the lowest part of the keel,” he told The Local. “Everything above that had rotted away, and as we looked at that keel we could see that there was soft rot in it, so it was actively decaying as we looked at it.” 
Bill said that the researchers hoped that parts of the ship furthest from a drainage ditch which had been dug above the vessel would be better preserved. 
The ship is roughly the same size as the Oseberg, which is on display in the Oslo Museum of Cultural History. Photo: Oslo Museum of Cultural History. 
He said that even if the vessel was less well preserved that the team hoped, it could still provide important new information on Viking ship burials, as the Tune, Gokstad, and Oseberg ships, which were excavated in 1868, 1880 and 1904, respectively, were not carried out to modern standards. 
“It's important because it's more than 100 years ago that we excavated a ship burial like this,” he said. “With the technology we have now and the equipment we have today, this gives us a tremendous opportunity to understand why these ship burials took place.” 
“These were very early excavations so there's a lot of information that we really don't have because of the way it was done at the time.” 
He said that as well as the keel of the boat, there were also signs of burial goods and other matter inside the ship. 
“We know that when we excavate we will be able to investigate some of those objects,” he said. 
“I think the most exciting thing about this find is perhaps the date: we know for sure that it's not earlier than the middle of the 8th century, and it could be considerably later.” 
The trial dig in 2019 found that part of the keel was well preserved. Photo: Museum of Cultural History
He said the keel appeared to be much less massive than the Oseberg ships, which come from the 9th and early 10th century. 
If the Gjellestad Ship turns out to be 100 years older, it might indicate something about the evolution of ship design, he said. 
If Norway's parliament votes through the funding, the team, which is being led by the museum's Christian Løchsen Rødsrud, intends to start excavating in June. 
The team has had to adapt its procedures to take into account social distancing and hygiene measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

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How a Viking king inspired one of our best-known modern technologies

A Swede and American tell the story of how they hatched the idea for the moniker 'Bluetooth' over beers.

A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth
A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

At the end of the 1990s, Sven Mattisson, a Swedish engineer working at telecom group Ericsson, and Jim Kardach, an American employed by Intel, were among those developing the revolutionary technology.

In 1998, at the dawn of the “wireless” era, the two men were part of an international consortium that created a universal standard for the technology first developed by Ericsson in 1994.

But prior to that, they had struggled to pitch their wireless products. Intel had its Biz-RF wireless programme, Ericsson had MC-Link, while Nokia had its Low Power RF. Kardach, Mattisson and others presented their ideas at a seminar in Toronto in late 1997.

“Jim and I said that people did not appreciate what we presented,” Mattisson, now 65 and winding down his career at Ericsson, recalled in a recent interview with AFP.

The engineer, who had travelled all the way to Canada from Sweden for the one-hour pitch, decided to hang out with Kardach for the evening before flying home.

“We received a lukewarm reception of our confusing proposal, and it was at this time I realised we needed a codename for the project which everyone could use,” Kardach explained in a long account on his webpage.

‘Chauvinistic story’

To drown their sorrows, the two men headed for a local Toronto bar and ended up talking about history, one of Kardach’s passions. “We had some beers… and Jim is interested in history so he asked me about Vikings, so we talked at length about that,” said Mattisson, admitting that his recollection of that historic night is now somewhat foggy.

Kardach said all he knew about Vikings was that they ran “around with horned helmets raiding and looting places, and that they were crazy chiefs.”

Mattisson recommended Kardach read a well-known Swedish historical novel about the Vikings, entitled “The Long Ships”.

Set in the 10th century – “a chauvinistic story” about a boy taken hostage by Vikings, says Mattisson – one name in the book caught Kardach’s attention: that of the king of Denmark, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

A Bluetooth adapter from 2004. Photo: Stefan Gustavsson/SvD/TT


An important historic figure in Scandinavia in the 10th century, the king of Denmark’s nickname is said to refer to a dead tooth, or, as other tales have it, to his liking for blueberries or even a simple translation error.

During his reign, Denmark turned its back on its pagan beliefs and Norse gods, gradually converting to Christianity.

But he is best known for having united Norway and Denmark in a union that lasted until 1814.

A king who unified Scandinavian rivals – the parallel delighted those seeking to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

And the reference to the king goes beyond the name: the Bluetooth logo, which at first glance resembles a geometric squiggle, is in fact a superimposition of the runes for the letters “H” and “B”, the king’s initials.

Low-cost and with low power consumption, Bluetooth was finally launched in May 1998, using technology allowing computer devices to communicate with each other in short range without fixed cables.

The first consumer device equipped with the technology hit the market in 1999, and its name, which was initially meant to be temporary until something better was devised, became permanent.