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SEK 24,211 pledged of SEK 220,000 goal
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SEK 24,211 pledged of SEK 220,000 goal
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About this project

BJ 750 and (in front) Bj 749. Photo: Jonathan Olsson, SHM
BJ 750 and (in front) Bj 749. Photo: Jonathan Olsson, SHM

The research team  

We are a small team of archaeologists and researchers from the Swedish History Museum, The National Historical Museums and the University of Stockholm who is conducting excavations of two graves at Birka. The site is one of the world’s most famous from the Viking age and located some 30 kilometers west of Stockholm, Sweden. Birka is also listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and draws around 50.000 visitors each year.  

The team at work in 2013. Photo: SHM
The team at work in 2013. Photo: SHM

 The Chamber grave complex Bj 750 and Bj 749 at Birka

The complex was originally excavated in 1879 by Hjalmar Stolpe and the chamber grave, Bj 750, is considered to be one of the most exclusive and richly equipped graves that we know of today from Birka. And yet it is striking how little we actually know about this mindblowing grave, the woman, man and – possibly – child buried in its chamber and the purpose of the strange rituals that we know today has taken place within the frames of the adjacent Bj 749. 

Gold broderies from textiles found within Bj 750 in 1879. Photo: Ola Myrin, SHMM
Gold broderies from textiles found within Bj 750 in 1879. Photo: Ola Myrin, SHMM

 

The reason for this is that the earlier excavation was undertaken with the standards of late 19th century. Even though Stolpe made a detailed drawing of his discoveries within the chamber, he paid little or no attention to things that are essential for archaeologist today in understanding complex and aristocratic graves like Bj 750 and what roles they played within the Viking age society at Birka. 

Gaming pieces of glass from Bj 750. Photo: Per Hansson
Gaming pieces of glass from Bj 750. Photo: Per Hansson

By backing our project you´ll help us solving some of the riddles of the chamber grave that still puzzles us and by that, become a part of creating new knowledge of the aristocratic burial customs on one of the most renowned Vikings age sites in the world. The main goal is of course to undertake a full re-excavation of the big grave, but we have to take it step-by-step and gradually increasing our understanding of the complex. Therefore this Kickstarter campaign is exclusively directed to funding of two very important steps along the way, see further below. 

The project so far - rituals of life and death 

So far we have done two excavations within the project, in 2013 and 2014. The results from both have been published in report series from The National Historical Museums, FoU rapport 12 and 16 and are accessible online.

The buried weapons discovered in 2014. Photo: Ola Myrin, SHMM
The buried weapons discovered in 2014. Photo: Ola Myrin, SHMM

Our excavations revealed how limited the previous excavation conducted by Stolpe in many ways were. While digging through the sooty and extremely find-loaded layers of Bj 749 we encountered not only a unique deposition of weapons and the scattered remains of uncremated human bones, belonging to four individuals but also that the grave had undergone a re-arrangement in which it became literally and physically attached to the mound of Bj 750. In this process the circumference of Bj 749 was extended and increased. The ritual depositions of weapons and human remains seem to have taken place within this new extension. The transformation of Bj 749 may be described as a ritual scene or platform in front of the chamber grave. 

Overview of Bj 749, taken from the top of Bj 750. Photo: Gunnar Andersson, SHM
Overview of Bj 749, taken from the top of Bj 750. Photo: Gunnar Andersson, SHM

Why we need your help 

Our excavations have provided us with new and vital information, but also with more questions. We have encountered a specific ritual area in front of the chamber grave. But is it unique or are there others close by the chamber grave? And what about the sooty soil that is so rich in finds and bones? Does it represent a selected deposition or shall we view this as waste products from the Black Earth settlement some 50 meters away? What was its purpose? The next step is to find out if this assemblage of sooty soil, finds and bones is unique – related to the chamber grave – or if similar contexts occur close to other large mounds in the vicinity. 

The sooty soil in front of Bj 750, in which the weapons were found. Photo: Gunnar Andersson, SHM
The sooty soil in front of Bj 750, in which the weapons were found. Photo: Gunnar Andersson, SHM

To take the investigation further we want to find out what it looks like on the opposite side of the mound. Have something similar taken place there, are there more ritual depositions to be found in connection to the chamber grave? Both these steps are crucial for us in reaching a better understanding on the chamber grave complex and thus of the aristocratic burial customs on Birka.

What your contribution will cover 

A successful Kickstarter campaign will enable us to do approximately 8 days of fieldwork. If the grants allow us to do more fieldwork we will extend the investigation. We will open one or two smaller trenches reaching over the south and north sides of mound of Bj 750 and cover the areas close by. The purpose of this is to find out how the mound was constructed in those parts and– of course – to look for other ritual depositions. At this stage we are not intending to break into the chamber. Integrated in the investigation we will map the topsoil-type in the vicinity of Bj 750, with the help of a thin and nondestructive soil sampler in order to investigate where the sooty and bone rich settlement-soil used to build the grave Bj 749 came from. Are similar soil deposits used in construction of other graves?

Burial mounds at Birka. Photo: Jonathan Olsson, SHM
Burial mounds at Birka. Photo: Jonathan Olsson, SHM

The funding will cover costs for personnel and accommodation during fieldwork, as well as post excavation work such as report writing, analysis and mapping. The report will be published in English in the report series from The National Historical Museums and also made available on internet.

Selected rewards 

 

Risks and challenges

There is always a risk connected to every project that involves archaeological fieldwork. We cannot predict in detail what will turn up. One thing we learned is that this particular complex of graves is still full of surprises, even though they have been excavated before. If we should find another weapon deposition, we might have to reduce the planned fieldwork due to conservation costs. The best-case scenario will be an extended investigation which results in new knowledge and insights into Viking Age funerary practices - and you will be the first to know.

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Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge SEK 100 or more About $12

    Postcard

    At donations of SEK 100 (app.11 USD, 10 €) or more you will receive a specially designed Thank you-postcard with motif of the weapon deposit discovered during the excavation in 2013. The Thank you-postcard is included in all rewards above SEK 250

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    Pledge SEK 250 or more About $29

    Set of Postcards

    For this donation SEK 250 or more (app.26 USD, 25 €) or more you will receive a set of 5 postcards with different motifs of Bj 750/Bj 749

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    Pledge SEK 500 or more About $58

    The King

    Donations of SEK 500 or more (app. 53 USD, 50 €) will be rewarded with a replica of the “King” (gaming piece in glass) from Bj 750. The original was discovered, together with several semi-circular gaming pieces and remains of a gaming board during Hjalmar Stolpes excavation of the chamber grave in 1879

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    Pledge SEK 750 or more About $86

    Coffee Table Book

    Backing the campaign with SEK 750 or more (app. 79 USD, 75 €) and you will be rewarded with a signed copy of the coffee table book “We call them Vikings”. The book is an anthology with texts and essays written by a number of Scandinavia’s most reputed specialist in the Viking age.

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge SEK 1,000 or more About $115

    The King + Books

    Donations of SEK 1000 or more (app. 105 USD, 100 €) will be rewarded with the “King” (gaming piece) plus to make a choice between any of the coffee table books “We call them Vikings” or “Just one more thing” in which 12 experts tell fascinating tales about 32 fabulous objects in the Swedish History Museum. The book is richly illustrated with high class photos.

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    Pledge SEK 5,000 or more About $576

    Thor-hammer Pendant + more

    At the level of SEK 5000 or more (app. 526 USD, 500 €) you will receive a replica of the famous Thor hammer pendant in silver from Bj 750. The original is on display at the Swedish History Museum and was discovered during Hjalmar Stolpes excavation of the chamber grave in 1879.

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    Pledge SEK 10,000 or more About $1,151

    The King + Thor-hammer + Guided tour

    Donate SEK 10000 or more (app. 1053 USD, 1000 €) and you will be rewarded with the “King” (gaming piece) and the Thor hammer pendant in silver plus a guided tour of the Viking exhibition at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

    The guided tour in the Swedish History Museum is restricted to 6 persons at the time and must be booked four weeks in advance.

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    Pledge SEK 25,000 or more About $2,879

    Lots of Stuff + Hidden treasures

    At this level, SEK 25000 or more (app. 2630 USD, 2500 €), you will be rewarded with the “King”, the Thor hammer pendant plus a replica of the glass beaker from Bj 750. Also you will have a chance to meet archaeologist and project leader Gunnar Andersson and marvel at other fantastic finds from Birka and elsewhere on an exclusive tour of the Viking exhibition plus the opportunity to see “hidden treasures” during an exclusive look behind the scene in the storage rooms at the Swedish History Museum.

    The tours in the Swedish History Museum are restricted to 6 persons at the time and must be booked four weeks in advance.

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    Pledge SEK 50,000 or more About $5,757

    Lots of Stuff + a Big opportunity!

    For backing the campaign with the highest donation of SEK 50000 or more (app. 5263 USD, 5000 €), you will get receive all the above rewards (for SEK 25000) plus “We call them Vikings” or “Just one more thing” and a boat trip to Birka with a guided tour of the site and the museum at Birka and an opportunity to participate in the excavation.

    Note: The boat trip to Birka can only be booked until the end of September 2017 or from beginning of May 2018.

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Funding period

- (36 days)