Discoveries of items from the Viking Age are coming thick and fast these days, but there has been genuine wonder surrounding a sword dug up just last week in someone’s garden in Setesdal, Southern Norway.

Oddbjørn Holum Heiland was digging in his garden at the homestead where he and his wife Anne are extending their residence, a place dating back to 1740.

Suddenly the blade of a sword appeared. Rather than tamper with it, he Googled its specifications, realized it was probably Viking, and decided to leave well alone until he had phoned the Agder County Office on Monday morning.

This was when Joakim Wintervoll came into the picture. The county archaeologist quickly dropped whatever he was doing – having breakfast, as he tells The Viking Herald – and joined his colleague from the Cultural Heritage Museum in Oslo, Jo-Simon Frøshaug, to hurry over to Setesdal to see the object for themselves.

What Joakim saw is not only the highlight of his career so far – it might have links with another discovery in the same area a century ago, as this affable archaeologist reveals to The Viking Herald.

The Viking Herald: When did you first hear about the sword find, and what was your first reaction?

Joakim Wintervoll: At first, I thought, 'Is this for real?' I got a text from a colleague early Monday morning about someone having sent him a message about the find of a sword. At that point, I hadn't even eaten breakfast yet and knew nothing about the circumstances, but I texted back to my colleague that I would call the finder back when I got into the office.

After getting in touch with the finder over the phone, he was adamant that it was a sword. 'Ok, can you send me a picture of it?' I asked him, and he did almost immediately. From the picture, it was clearly a sword and many other objects I could identify as historical artifacts. That was when it sunk that this was a big deal.

Observers examine the newly discovered Viking artifact, a window into Norway's past. Photo: Joakim Wintervoll

The Viking Herald: Can you tell me a little about the location – is Setesdal rich in Viking finds?

JW: Setesdalen, as a whole, has many Viking finds. The most recent discovery of a sword was in 2011 when there was an archaeological excavation in conjunction with a road expansion that got the name Langeidsverdet. That was dated to around the transition from the Viking era to the Norwegian medieval era, in the middle of the 11th century.

At the homestead itself, there were no know cultural heritage sites, but that is most likely because archaeologists haven't had the opportunity to make any surveys there yet.

Interestingly, about 250 meters southeast of the homestead on a neighboring farm, a similar Viking grave was unearthed by locals in 1930. The finds were delivered to the museum in Oslo by mail, so it is a bit unclear where the exact find-site was, but the finds from the 1930 grave were very similar to the one found last week.

The sword is almost identical in the handle, and there are glass beads and a spear. There was also a part of horse gear found, the bridle for the horse’s mouth. Whether these two graves are connected is a bit too early to say, but it is interesting that they are relatively close and have almost identical finds in them.

The Viking Herald: Can you describe the scene when you got to the homestead?

JW: I drove up to the homestead on Tuesday morning from Kristiansand, where the county has its main office. It is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive. The house they were renovating was missing the wall that they wanted to expand, and the area around it looked like a general building site.

Soon afterward, the couple came, and then my colleague from the Cultural Heritage Museum in Oslo, Jo-Simon Frøshaug. Together we went into the half-renovated house, and the finder brought out the items on a wooden board he had on site. That is where most of the pictures are taken from.

The Viking Herald: What was your initial assessment when you saw the sword?

JW: It was broken into at least two pieces, but I was surprised at how well the metal held together. It was heavy, indicating that much of its iron was still intact. Most archaeologists never get to see or touch a sword in their career, so I did feel quite lucky.

When I compared the sword handle to my hand, I saw that it would be impossible for me to take a comfortable grip around it (for the record, I did not try! I just hovered over the handle with my hand).

Granted, I am a big and tall Norwegian man in the modern sense, but it was fascinating to compare and see the difference in size between me and my ancestors.

The carefully crafted handle of this Viking sword provides an intriguing look into 9th-10th century craftsmanship. Photo: Joakim Wintervoll

The Viking Herald: Upon further analysis, although there is obviously more to find out, how much do we know about the sword, its age, and its characteristics?

JW: This early in the process, we think it is from the Viking period around the ninth to tenth centuries, based on the shape of the handle. The conservationist at the Cultural Heritage Museum in Oslo will give the final verdict when they have had some time to analyze it closer.

The Viking Herald: What is the next stage in the process?

JW: The excavation of what is left of the grave starts this week. We don’t have high hopes to find anything more, but we want to take scientific samples from the grave, and maybe there might be something the finder missed.

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