Georadar penetrating into the burial mound of Salhushaugen has hit upon the shape of a ship 20 meters long. This forms part of a collection around what was the later powerbase for Viking king Harald Fairhair.

The Salhushaugen burial mound

The same mound had been dug just over a century ago by Haakon Shetelig, famed for having found the Oseberg, one of the three most famous vessels of Viking-era archaeology.

As Shetelig only hit upon spades and arrowheads, Salhushaugen was long believed to be empty. Now we know that Shetelig was actually looking in the right place – he simply didn't have the right equipment.

Georadar allows experts to scan the soil, and then target specific points for digging once results have been analyzed. 

Until now, the Oseberg had been considered the oldest sailing ship discovered from the Viking Age.

The ship graves show that it was here that the first Viking kings lived, a hundred years before Harald Fairhair made it his royal seat in the 870s.

Kristoffer Hillesland was in charge of the georadar surveys (pictured is Grønhaug). Photo: Archaeological museum / University of Stavanger

Changing history

"This is a spectacular discovery," says Håkon Reiersen of the Museum of Archaeology at the nearby University of Stavanger.

"This confirms that Avaldsnes was an important royal seat right at the beginning of the Viking Age. The first Viking kings are buried here, with great fanfare. You can say in many ways that the Viking Age in Norway started here."

The traditions and customs of the Viking kings at Avaldsnes were later adopted by royal dynasties in Eastern Norway and Denmark; monarchs were often buried in ships together with significant valuables, which were then covered by large masses of earth.

The Archaeological Museum at Stavanger has linked up with the City of Karmøy to explore the royal tombs at Avaldsnes as part of a larger research project called Maktens havn.

The three burial mounds found on Karmøy, Storhaug, Grønhaug, and now Salhushaugen date back to the late 700s, when the first Viking expeditions across the North Sea took place.

After closer examination of the ship at Storhaug, PhD student and maritime archaeologist at Stavanger Massimiliano Ditta, found that it also had a sail:

"We already know that the ship was built in 770, and is around 50 years older than the Oseberg. This makes this the oldest sailing ship we know of in Scandinavia now. This was a sailing ship the Vikings used when they were going on voyages."

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Massimiliano Ditta with the boat part found in 1974. Photo: Archaeological museum / University of Stavanger

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