The Riddles of the Chamber Grave
The Riddles of the Chamber Grave
Help us solve the mysteries of a Viking age Chamber grave at The World Heritage Site Birka, west of Stockholm, Sweden.
Help us solve the mysteries of a Viking age Chamber grave at The World Heritage Site Birka, west of Stockholm, Sweden. Read more
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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