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Archaeologists unearth Viking boat burial in Scottish Highlands

By Bryony Jones, CNN
October 19, 2011 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
UK archaeologists have discovered a Viking boat burial at Ardnamurchan in the Scottish Highlands. UK archaeologists have discovered a Viking boat burial at Ardnamurchan in the Scottish Highlands.
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Archaeologists unearth Viking boat burial
Archaeologists unearth Viking boat burial
Archaeologists unearth Viking boat burial
Archaeologists unearth Viking boat burial
Archaeologists unearth Viking boat burial
Archaeologists unearth Viking boat burial
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Viking boat burial found at Ardnamurchan in the Scottish Highlands
  • Experts say Viking of high status was laid to rest inside boat, with belongings around him
  • Ornate sword, shield, spear and pin found alongside body in five-meter-long grave
  • Discovery hailed as "one of the most important Norse graves in Britain"

London (CNN) -- British archaeologists have discovered the 1,000-year-old boat burial of a Viking warrior in the Scottish Highlands.

The man was laid to rest inside his boat, surrounded by valuable items including an ornately-decorated sword, a shield, a spear and an ax -- all of which suggest he was of high status.

Experts say the find -- the first fully intact grave of its kind on the UK mainland -- may be part of one of the country's most significant Viking sites.

"A Viking boat burial is an incredible discovery," said project co-director and archaeologist Dr Hannah Cobb, from the University of Manchester.

"But in addition to that, the artifacts and preservation make this one of the most important Norse graves ever excavated in Britain."

Archaeologists from several universities have spent the past six years carrying out digs at a number sites on the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula, on Scotland's west coast.

It's the find of a lifetime, the sort of thing I dreamed of excavating as a boy.
Dr Oliver Harris, archaeologist

They are aiming to trace the whole history of the area, from the first traces of human habitation 6,000 years ago to the present.

Previous excavations nearby have uncovered a Neolithic tomb, a Bronze Age monument, and a 19th century site linked to the Highland Clearances.

But Dr Oliver Harris of the University of Leicester, one of the project's leaders, said the boat burial was "the best of the bunch."

"It's absolutely fantastic -- the find of a lifetime," he told CNN. "It is very rich, very old, the sort of thing I dreamed of excavating as a boy."

Other grave goods found with the Viking included a knife, flints, a bronze ring pin from Ireland, a whetstone from Norway, and items of pottery from the Hebrides.

Viking boat burial found

The team also excavated hundreds of metal rivets, which would have held together the Viking's boat -- the wood of which had rotted away over the centuries.

Harris said the objects gave tantalizing clues to the identity of the man buried at Ardnamurchan.

"Of course, we will never know his name, or anything like that, but we can tell he was an important figure, a man of very high status, and somebody with international connections, links to lots of different places, but also to the local area," he said.

The archaeologist said he and the rest of the team planned to return to the site again next summer to carry out further investigations.

"This was just one burial, but it is part of a much larger story," he said. "There are many more questions to answer. We want to find out if there are others, or if people were living in settlements nearby, so we will be back there next year."

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