Salme Ships: Burials for Elite Viking Warriors Away From Home

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Salme Ships: Burials for Elite Viking Warriors Away From Home

Every cut into the Earth reveals a mystery dating back to years or centuries ago. The year was 2008. They were building an electronic cable through a small village of Salme on the small island of Saaremee, Estonia. All of a sudden, the work came to a halt and there was a call for the archaeologists. 

The archaeologists worked on the site for roughly 4 years until the excavation finished. Two Viking ships revealed themselves from the surface leaving us in awe and loads of mysteries. 

After researching with the remains of the ships, the archaeologists came to the conclusion that the ships were 100 years older than the Oseberg ship found in Norway. Many believed that Oseberg was the oldest Viking ship to be discovered. But this time, the archaeologists prefer to believe that Oseberg is the oldest Viking ship ever excavated in best preserved. The Salme ships carried not only the dead warriors but also the weapons and the sacrificial animals as well. 

At first, the bones from the burials made the archaeologists believe it belonged to the soldiers in World War II. But they quickly realized that it dated back to the Viking Age. 

The first Salme ship excavation

The archaeologists first brought the smaller ship over the surface. When they started their work, they found out the remains of the swords, boat rivets, fragments of weapons, and skeletons of human and animals. 75 gaming pieces from the burial turned out to be made from the bones of the whale.

The decoration of the weapons suggested that they belonged to the beginning of the Viking Age. 

Sadly, most of the ship rotted away because of the destructive power of time and soil. But the archaeologists could make out that the ship was made by overlapping planks and secured by the rivets. This was the common type of Viking shipbuilding. The ship was about 12m (~38ft). Due to the small size of the rivets, about 3-4cm (1-1.5inches), the plank would have been very thin. Accordingly, this Salme I Ship focused on the lightweight and the speed which suggests it was a military Viking ship.

Salme Viking ship was excavated

The Salme ship burial

The archaeologists also excavated remains of seven individuals inside the burial. All of them were males and they had a perfect physique. They were around their 30s years old when dead. Dental study and bone examination revealed that these people experienced good health and only one person suffered from tooth decay. 

Unlike many Viking excavations, this Salme I Ship didn't have any remains outside the ship. All seven Viking individuals were buried within. Instead of lying down like the typical resting-in-peace position, these Vikings were found in the sitting position. 

Animal bones found along the ship burial showed the cutting marks. Archaeologists believed that these animals were the sacrificial parts for the funeral. Many goshawks were found beheaded. However, no horses or dogs were found. This was quite uncommon in the Viking funeral. But looking at the context, these people were buried away from their home. So they had to resort to what they had brought with them on their voyage. 

The second Salme burial 

It was in 2010 that the archaeologists extended their excavation around the farm in Salme. Quickly, they found out the remains of the sword hilts, the boat rivets, and the contours of the Salme II ship. The Salme II Ship laid about 15-20cm (6-8 in) below the surface. The size of the contours and of the rivets suggested that this ship was larger than the one previously excavated. 

Archaeologists working with the Viking remains of Viking warriors buried within the Salme Viking ship

The archaeologists working on the Viking skeletons buried within the Salme Viking ship

The ship carried two human skeletons in a very good preserved condition. Beside them were the shields and fragments of weapons. Skeleton of a dog was found within the Salme II burial ship. 

The two individuals inside the Salme burial ship might have met a tragic end. The archaeologists found out that one individual had the humerus chopped into three pieces and the other had two deadly injuries in front of the skull by axe or sword. 

As they carried out their excavation, it turned out to be a mass grave. There were up to 33 individuals were found inside the burial. What came in a large number were the gaming pieces inside the Salme burial. Up to 1,000 gaming pieces were excavated from the Salme II ship Many of them were created from the whale bone.

The Viking sword in the upright position

The Viking sword was found in the upright position around the Salme Viking burial site 

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