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Archaeologists digging near the Swedish village of Gamla Uppsala have unearthed two rare boat burials from the Viking Age. Inside one of them, which was found intact, were the remains of a man, a horse and a dog, as well as several weapons and a comb.

Though boat burials date back to the Iron Age, and were common in the Viking period, only around 10 have been discovered in Sweden, mainly in the Uppland and Västmanland provinces, according to the archaeological service Arkeologerna (The Archaeologists), which announced the new finds.

As most people in the Viking era were cremated when they died, experts think boat burials were likely reserved for those of higher social status. The bodies of such prominent individuals were placed in a ship or boat, surrounded by grave goods such as jewelry, weapons, animals or even slaves. The boats were then buried, a funeral ritual that according to Norse mythology was thought to aid the dead person’s journey to the afterlife.

The two newly discovered graves, which experts have dated to between the 9th and 11th centuries, were first discovered in the fall of 2018, after a church’s planned renovations led to an archaeological inspection of the site. After a break during the cold weather, excavations started up again in June 2019.

Experts from Arkeologerna, which is part of Sweden’s National Historical Museums agency, expected the dig at Gamla Uppsala to be a routine one, CNN reported. Instead, they were shocked to uncover the two boats, including one fully intact, with a man’s remains in the stern and those of a horse and dog in the bow. They also found weapons, including a sword, spear and shield, and an ornate comb in the intact grave. The second boat was damaged, probably during construction on the site in the 16th century.

The last time such a grave was excavated in the region, which is located almost 50 miles north of Stockholm, was almost 50 years ago, according to archaeologist Anton Seiler, who works with Arkeologerna. “It is extremely exciting for us since boat burials are so rarely excavated,” he said in the statement. “We can now use modern science and methods that will generate new results, hypotheses and answers.”

The boat burials found in Gamla Uppsala join a string of Viking-related finds in recent years, including the revelation that a high-ranking warrior found in a 10th century Swedish grave was actually female; an eight-year-old girl’s astonishing retrieval of a pre-Viking-era sword from a Swedish lake; and the use of ground-penetrating radar to reveal another possible boat burial in Norway, to name just a few. 

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