3. The Insular Finds from Trøndelag – An Overview

Many of the finest pieces of Insular Viking-Age metalwork have been found buried in Norwegian ground, as the pagan funeral custom of furnished inhumation or cremation continued until the middle of the 10th century at least. An updated catalogue of the Insular material in Trøndelag shows that there are 86 Insular objects at 68 confirmed or likely burial sites, most of which lie close to the Trondheimsfjord (Figure 2, Table 1). The descriptions and results presented in this article stem from the author's graduate research completed at the University of Trondheim in 2013 (Heen-Pettersen 2013). The Insular material is described by broad artefact type in Table 2, highlighting notable concentrations, while some previous and current theories are presented concerning their use and meaning in contemporary Norse societies. Individual site names are given in the format of farm followed by township, for example Skei, Steinkjer.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Distribution of burials in Trøndelag containing Insular artefacts. Map by Aina Heen-Pettersen
Table 2: Distribution of the various find categories in male and female burials from Trøndelag
Mounts (26 burials) Drinking horn (7 burials) Weighing equipment (12 burials) Ring brooches (4 burials) Ringed pins (7 burials)
Female 70% (18) 58% (4) 16% (2) 100% (4) 0% (0)
Male 15% (4) 14% (1) 58% (7) 0% (0) 29% (2)
Uncertain 15% (4) 28% (2) 24% (3) 0% (0) 71% (5)
Bronze vessels (6 burials) Bronze ladles (4 burials) Yew buckets (3 burials) Swords (5 burials) Other (6 burials)
Female 50% (3) 50% (2) 67% (2) 0% (0) 50% (3)
Male 17% (1) 25% (1) 0% (0) 40% (2) 33% (2)
Uncertain 33% (2) 25% (1) 33% (1) 60% (3) 17% (1)

A wide variety of grave types contained such material, including barrows, boat burials, cairns, coffined burials and cists, in addition to simple dug graves. The majority of the Insular artefacts have, however, been found in barrows, many as a result of the numerous excavations of this burial type during the latter half of the 19th century. Most of the Insular artefacts from mid-Norway excavated during this period were purchased by the archaeological museums of Oslo and Trondheim, but some finds were sold abroad. A number of artefacts from Viking-Age burials in Trøndelag are therefore owned by museums outside Norway, including the British Museum. However, as a consequence of the discovery of the complete Viking ship burial at Oseberg in 1904, the law was changed the following year to protect all archaeological finds. The farmer who owned the land on which the Oseberg burial was discovered wanted to sell the finds to the highest bidder, and, according to rumour at the time, the potential buyer was said to be English (Fagerland 2008, 297). With the new law enforced, archaeological remains dating from before AD 1537 were given automatic protection and would now formally be owned by the Norwegian state. Insular artefacts found in Trøndelag after 1905 have therefore been officially administered, recorded and stored with the Archaeological Museum in Trondheim, today called Vitenskapsmuseet (Museum of Natural History and Archaeology).


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