Lefty Viking sword found in grave in Norway

Archaeologists have discovered a Viking grave in Vinjeøra, Norway, containing a full complement of weaponry: an axe, a spearhead, a shield and a sword. It dates to the 9th or 10th century. The farm being excavated was known to have a burial mound and other Viking graves, so an archaeological team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) University Museum surveyed it in connection with the expansion of the E39 highway.

The discovery of the warrior’s grave was not entirely unexpected, therefore. He was buried in a ring ditch surrounding one of the burial mounds, a location of honor due it its proximity to the important person, likely an ancestor, interred in the mound. The graves of another three warriors were also found in the ring ditch, but this one had an unusual feature: the sword was buried on the deceased’s left side.

The sword was normally placed on the right side of the body in weapon graves like this. This custom is actually a little strange, because as a warrior you want to fasten your sword on your left side to be able to pull it out with your right hand.

“Why the swords are almost always placed on the right side is a bit mysterious. One theory is that the underworlds you go to after death are the mirror image of the upper world,” says [NTNU archaeologist Raymond] Sauvage.

But what does it mean when the sword is on the left side – which you would initially think was the logical side?

“Maybe he was left-handed, and they took that into account for the afterlife? It’s hard to say,” says Sauvage

One more grave discovered in the same ring ditch contained an intriguing surprise. The deceased was cremated, but the nature of the grave goods — a brooch, beads, a pair of scissors — indicate she was a woman. What was unusual about this burial is the weight of the bone ash. It totals about two kilos (4.4 pounds), which is the average amount generated by a cremated human body. Most Viking graves contain far fewer cinerary remains, about 250 grams (half a pound). All of her was buried, or at least most of her as there were a few bird bones in the mix.