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Mortuary Chamber Grave in Vinjeøra

Excavation of the Mortuary Chamber

A Viking Age Mortuary Chamber Grave in Vinjeøra in in Hemne , Norway

An excavation undertaken in preparation for road construction associated with expansion of the E39 highway in Vinjeøra in Hemne,Trøndelag, Norway has revealed a Viking Age burial mound with a wooden mortuary chamber.

The wooden structure measured five by three meters. It had corner posts, and the walls were made of standing planks, in a building style similar to that used in early stave churches.

(click on image to enlarge)

The burial mound itself no longer survives, but the ring ditch that once surrounded the mound has been filled in, rather than ploughed away, and is therefore still visible. No grave survives within the chamber, probably also due to ploughing.

"We can see that the house once stood in the middle of a burial mound. That's how we know that there probably was a grave inside the house," said Sauvage, who is project manager for the dig.

"The ditch forms a circular depression that tells us where the burial mound was situated, which means that we also can see that the mortuary house was placed right in the middle of the mound," he said.

Mortuary chambers are not common in Norway, and only 15 are known in the entire country.

Sauvage said: "Early research has often interpreted these houses as purely functional. They've been seen as a morgue, where the Vikings stored corpses, such as when they were waiting for the ground to thaw in the spring."

However, this would not explain why the mortuary chamber was buried within the mound, and why graves have been found within other similar structures. Now, most researchers believe that these houses played more of a symbolic role than a practical one.

"They can be compared to boat graves—a custom that was practiced at the same time as mortuary houses—where the boat has been interpreted as a vessel that will carry the deceased to the land of the dead," Sauvage said.