Boat Burials, Essays
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Ardnamurchan Viking Ship

In 2011, archaeologists find the fifth Viking boat burial in Britain. It is the first one, however, that is still intact.  The excavations are part of a larger project. The researchers study the long history of the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. There is a natural harbour with good farmland. It might have made an excellent stop-over for Vikings sailing down to the Isle of Man, Ireland or England. But, people have already lived around here as early as Neolithic times.1

Viking Age Relevance

The burial lies to the peninsula’s north, close to a Neolithic cairn. This might be significant, especially since the discovery of a Viking bead in that cairn.2  The mound of the burial is low, most likely a natural mound into which the shape of the boat was dug. The boat is not large, about 5 m long and 1,5 m wide and filled with stones. It also contains the remains of an individual and an array of rich grave goods.3 

After analysing the burial, the scholars describe the individual as a warrior of high status who died in the early tenth century. Close to the body are a sword, an axe, a spear and a shield. But there are also working tools and jewellery. More recent studies show that the warrior‘s attire does not necessarily mean the individual is a male. At the moment, no DNA-evidence is available to reach any further conclusions. The study of the teeth shows that “Results indicate that the individual consumed a largely terrestrial diet up to the age of 15, with a period of increased marine protein consumption between the ages of 3 and 5 (…).” The isotopes rule out a large area as a place of birth. But still, this individual‘s cradle could have stood anywhere from eastern Ireland, to northeastern Scotland or Norway and Sweden.4


The grave goods of this boat burial were part of the British Museum’s exhibition on The Vikings: Life and Legend (2014). No further information is available when or where the (parts of) the burial might be on display again.


For quick and recent status updates about the Ardnamurchan boat burial, please see A Viking Boat on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. All significant updates on new discoveries and insights will be updated in this article, too.


  1. O.J.T. Harris, H. Cobb, C.E. Batey, J. Montgomery, J. Beaumont, H. Gray P., Murtagh and P. Richardson, ‘Assembling places and persons: a tenth–century Viking boat burial from Swordle Bay on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, western Scotland’. Antiquity Volume 91.355 (2017), pp. 199 [pp. 191–206]. (doi:10.15184/aqy.2016.222)
    Swordle.’ Heritage Ardnamurchan. Last Accessed 30 March 2019.  ↩
  2. Shane McLeod, ‘Ardnamurchan.’ Viking Burials in Scotland. Last Accessed 30 March 2019.  ↩
  3. O.J.T. Harris, H. Cobb, C.E. Batey et al (2017), pp. 191–196.
    Maev Kennedy, ‘Viking chieftain’s burial ship excavated in Scotland after 1,000 years.’ The Guardian Published 19 October 2011. Last Accessed 30 March 2019.  ↩
  4. O.J.T. Harris, H. Cobb, C.E. Batey et al (2017), pp. 191–196, 199.
    Viking Boat Burial.’ Ardnamurchan Transitions Project. Last Accessed 30 March 2019.  ↩

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