Viking ship that 'served as a coffin for a king and queen 1,000 years ago' will be 'urgently' excavated to save its oak hull from being ravaged by a fungus

  • Norwegian government has allocated  $1.5 million to the project
  • It is hoped the excavation can begin in June if funding is approved in time  
  • Scientists are concerned  a devastating fungus is destroying the oak of he hull  
  • It will be the first Viking ship to be unearthed in more than 100 years 
A Viking ship buried in Norway for more than 1,000 years is set to be excavated — the first project of its kind in more than a century. 
The undertaking is being called 'urgent' by archaeologists as the ship's wooden hull, believed to be made of oak, is being ravaged by a fungus. 
It is believed the ship may have been the burial place of a powerful king, queen or chieftain. 
Ground-penetrating radar discovered the 65ft-long hull at Gjellestad, just outside Halden in the south of the country in 2018 and archaeologists have been pushing for funding and permission to salvage the relic ever since.  
Now, the Norwegian government has allocated 15.6 million Norwegian kroner ($1.5 million) of taxpayer money to ensure the survival of the ship. 
Work to pull the ship from the ground could start in June but archaeologists must wait for the findings to formally clear government and pass through all the red-tape.
A Viking ship buried in Norway for more than 1,000 years is set to be excavated — the first project of its kind in more than a century. Pictured, a digital recreation of what the ship may have looked like before it was buried
A Viking ship buried in Norway for more than 1,000 years is set to be excavated — the first project of its kind in more than a century. Pictured, a digital recreation of what the ship may have looked like before it was buried 
Pictured, ground-penetrating radar image showing the shape and size of the Viking ship. Researchers  likely measures up to 65ft long and
Pictured, ground-penetrating radar image showing the shape and size of the Viking ship. Researchers say it likely measures up to 65ft long and excavations could begin in June 
The ship is less than two feet below the surface and is thought to have been buried between the 8th and 9th centuries, according to analysis of tree rings, known as dendrochronology.
Knut Paasche, head of Digital Archaeology at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), is leading the project. 
Speaking to National Geographic in 2018, he said it is possible the ship was the final resting place of a powerful king or queen and functioned as an elaborate coffin. 
Despite a preponderance of Viking culture throughout Norway, only three Viking-era ships have ever been excavated, in 1868, 1880 and 1904.
This will be the first time a ship has been excavated with a fully-staffed and equipped archaeological team adhering to modern protocols and guidelines. 
'We only know of three well-preserved Viking ship burials in Norway, and these were excavated a long time ago,' Dr Paasche said.
The ship was buried (pictured, a visual representation of the burial, more than 100 years ago and on-board would have been a powerful king, queen or chieftain
The ship was buried (pictured, a visual representation of the burial, more than 100 years ago and on-board would have been a powerful king, queen or chieftain 
Ground-penetrating radar discovered the 65ft long hull (pictured) at Gjellestad, just outside Halden in the south of the country in 2018 and archaeologists have been pushing for funding and permission to salvage the relic ever since
Ground-penetrating radar discovered the 65ft long hull (pictured) at Gjellestad, just outside Halden in the south of the country in 2018 and archaeologists have been pushing for funding and permission to salvage the relic ever since
Radar analysis also revealed the presence of at least three longhouses up to 150ft long, but it is unknown if these are as old as the ship. 'The ship burial does not exist in isolation, but forms part of a cemetery which is clearly designed to display power and influence,' says NIKU archaeologist Lars Gustavsen
Radar analysis also revealed the presence of at least three longhouses up to 150ft long, but it is unknown if these are as old as the ship. 'The ship burial does not exist in isolation, but forms part of a cemetery which is clearly designed to display power and influence,' says NIKU archaeologist Lars Gustavsen
Pictured, an aerial view of the  Gjellestad archaeoligal site. The burial mound was one of several in the region, some several times larger than the one containing the ship, measuring up to 90ft across. Radar analysis also revealed the presence of at least three longhouses up to 150ft long, but it is unknown if these are as old as the ship
Pictured, an aerial view of the  Gjellestad archaeoligal site. The burial mound was one of several in the region, some several times larger than the one containing the ship, measuring up to 90ft across. Radar analysis also revealed the presence of at least three longhouses up to 150ft long, but it is unknown if these are as old as the ship
'This new ship will certainly be of great historical significance and it will add to our knowledge as it can be investigated with modern means of archaeology.'
The ship would have been dragged ashore by hand from the nearby Oslo fjord and the ritualistic burial then performed, it is believed. 
Dr Paasche adds: 'In the context of other, earlier ship discoveries near the Oslofjord, both the shape of the ship and its placement indicate the Viking Age. 
'It is a pleasure to have this confirmed through dendrochronological dating.'    
Preliminary non-invasive investigations seem to indicate the ship may have once had masts and oars and it could have been entombed alongside some valuable grave goods. 
The burial mound was one of several such features found in the region and some of them are several times larger than the one containing the ship.
Radar analysis also revealed the presence of at least three longhouses at the archaeological site, with some of them believed to be up to 150ft long.
However, archaeologists are unsure if these are as old as the ship. 
'The ship burial does not exist in isolation, but forms part of a cemetery which is clearly designed to display power and influence,' explains NIKU archaeologist Lars Gustavsen.
The project is being pursued rapidly in Norway as there is concern the fungal infection could destroy the priceless relic. 
In 2019, an exploratory dig found the keel to be intact, but there is concern the rest of the ship will be poorly preserved. 
The burial mound is close to a drainage ditch which creates damp patches of earth which will likely increase the rate of decomposition.   

How the ship will be excavated and preserved   

 Archaeologists hope to excavate the ship in June, assuming no complications due to delayed funding or the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Time is of the essence as it is thought the oak hull is being ravaged by a fungal infection. 
The relic sits approximately 20inches below the surface and the first part of the project will involve removing the topsoil. 
Archaeologists will sift through this to check for any fragments or goods buried alongside the boat. 
 Christian Løchsen Rødsrud, an archaeologist at the Museum of Cultural History in Norway, told LiveScience that the next step involves erecting a tent to protect the ship from the elements. 
Archaeologists will then begin the painstaking process of removing the dirt that filled the ship since its burial.
Every layer of wood will be analysed and scanned in detail.  
Some elements of the ship wil likely already be lost or beyong salvaging, and the only evidence of their existence will be via imprints on the ground. 
3D scans will immortalise these and allow researchers to study ad recreate them at a later date.   
Løchsen Rødsrud told Live Science: 'The wooden remains of the ship will have to be kept wet during excavation.'
They will then be treated with polyethylene glycol, a tried and tested method which gives rotting objects strength and stops further degradation.
In 2019, an exploratory dig found the keel to be intact, but there is concern the rest of the ship will be poorly preserved. Pictured, a piece of wood from the 2019 preliminary dig
In 2019, an exploratory dig found the keel to be intact, but there is concern the rest of the ship will be poorly preserved. Pictured, a piece of wood from the 2019 preliminary dig
The relic sits approximately 20inches below the surface and the first part of the project will involve removing the topsoil. The previous dig found at least some of the ship is intact and they hope to urgently renew excavations to preserve the ship which i under attack from a fungus
The relic sits approximately 20inches below the surface and the first part of the project will involve removing the topsoil. The previous dig found at least some of the ship is intact and they hope to urgently renew excavations to preserve the ship which i under attack from a fungus  
Pictured, the site of the Viking ship which will be excavated later this year
Pictured, the site of the Viking ship which will be excavated later this year 
A team of researchers at Østfold University College produced a stunning 3D visualisation of the ship and its burial ground. 
'It was very challenging to build a comprehensive visual representation of the findings at Gjellestad based on the data the archaeologists currently have available,' explains project manager and Dr Joakim Karlsen. 
This project involved collaboration with the archaeologists unearthing the ship and is deemed an accurate visualisation.   
There was little disagreement over the details and the choices made along the way, as the archaeologists were good at explaining why the ship, houses and site had to look the way they do in the final rendering,' Dr Karlsen told medievalists.net.  
It is hoped the online project will give visitors a lifelike view of the site and what it may have looked like more than 1,000 years ago. 
The visualisation will be added to, refined and improved as the project progresses, with new data from the excavation being fed back into the simulation. 
'It will be very exciting to follow the process as it moves forward. We hope we will have the opportunity to update this visualisation as new data and insights become available,' says Dy Karlsen. 
'This project demonstrates the potential that 3D visualisation has for displaying information about cultural heritage sites and artefacts that are not accessible or visible to the eye. 
'We can now capture this information and display it using new techniques and methods in digital archaeology.'
Since the discovery of the ship in 2018, researchers have also found another Viking ship in Norway, this time at the north of the country, on the island of Edoeya - 70 miles west of Trondheim.
The ship is thought to be about 56ft long with a 43ft long keel and parts of the fore and aft sterns have been destroyed.
It was first discovered in September 2019 and archaeologists say there are no current plans to dig it out of the ground.   
The ship is an 'unusual and exciting' find, according to Knut Paasche, who also led this project.    

WHO WERE THE VIKINGS?

The Viking age in European history was from about 700 to 1100 AD.
During this period many Vikings left their homelands in Scandinavia and travelled by longboat to other countries, like Britain and Ireland.
When the people of Britain first saw the Viking longboats they came down to the shore to welcome them. 
However, the Vikings fought the local people, stealing from churches and burning buildings to the ground.
The people of Britain called the invaders 'Danes', but they came from Norway and Sweden as well as Denmark.
The name 'Viking' comes from a language called 'Old Norse' and means ‘a pirate raid’.
The first Viking raid recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was around 787 AD.
It was the start of a fierce struggle between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings.

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