All across the former realm of the Norse, generations of farmers, gardeners, and archaeologists have been discovering strange things in the ground, from the Oseberg ship in 1903 to the Gjermundbu helmet in 1943 and beyond. 

But a combination of factors has meant that the last year has been a record one for the sheer volume of finds. 

First, the knock-on effect of climate change has meant that the melting landscape regularly gives up its secrets from 1,000 years ago. 

This, in turn, allows the now globally renowned crew at Secrets of the Ice to engage in their particular type of glacial archaeology. 

Secondly, the immense rise in popularity of Viking history and culture, thanks to the hit TV series, has inspired a new generation of metal detectorists, the fraternity growing with news of each discovery. 

Thankfully, most are aware of the protocol if anything bleeps: Leave everything as undisturbed as possible, establish the coordinates, photograph what you can, and contact the relevant authorities as quickly as possible. 

Thirdly, thanks to institutions such as the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, with its regular schedule of hands-on attractions, the Scandinavian public has gained a deeper awareness of their Viking heritage.

Initiatives like the Saga Farmann voyage, a journey to Istanbul on a Viking ship replica, have furthered this interest, making people more conscious of potential ancestral relics, be they coins, swords, or jewelry.

Thirty years ago, a piece of seemingly junk metal in the ground might have been ignored – now the finder's first thought might be one of potential treasure. 

So, without further ado, here are the top Viking discoveries of 2023. 

Dating back to the Viking period, the recently discovered Setesdal sword features a well-preserved iron blade and a skillfully made handle, characteristic of 9th-10th century craftsmanship. Photo: Joakim Wintervoll

1) The Setesdal sword, Norway 

This discovery had all the perfect elements, from the site – someone's garden attached to a family residence dating to 1740 – to the find itself, a near-intact Viking sword. Then there was the protocol and the drama, finder Oddbjørn Holum Heiland deciding to leave well alone for the weekend and call the County Office on Monday morning. When it came, it was enough to make County Archaeologist Joakim Wintervoll cancel breakfast, ask himself, "Is this for real?" and head over to Setesdal, a valley rich in Viking finds. 

A metal detectorist from Norway, found a piece of Viking silver weighing 15 grams in Bøverbru, suggesting its use as a form of payment or trade during the Viking era. Photo: Jørgen Strande 

2) Silver bracelet, Bøverbru, Norway 

The wonderful thing about this discovery is the sheer delight of the metal detectorist Jørgen Strande when he hit upon it. The find site, a farm at Bøverbru, is in Innlandet County, whose busy archaeological team dovetails with the crew at Secrets of the Ice. Strande was born and raised nearby, due to become a father in March, so this silver bracelet carried extra significance. Strande hopes to return to the same farm next year... 

A 900-year-old arrow, found by the Secrets of the Ice team in Norway, is made of wood and is in remarkable condition, despite the absence of its arrowhead. Photo: Secrets of the Ice

3) Arrow on the ice, Lendbreen, Norway 

Secrets of the Ice dedicated this summer to exploring Lendbreen, a mountain pass in Innlandet County, Norway. This pass, used by farmers, hunters, merchants, and their animals 1,000 years ago, lies in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's highest peak. The rapidly melting ice at this site demands quick action from the Secrets team to uncover artifacts before they are lost. On this occasion, it was a random hiker who made a significant discovery: a 900-year-old arrow. The arrow, with its wooden shaft, was not embedded in the ice but rather found lying on the surface. 

Unearthed by metal detectorist Per Erik Engebretsen in Grue, the Viking bowl brooch, adorned with elaborate knotwork, reflects the 9th-century fashion of Viking women. Photo: Per Erik Engebretsen

4) Bowl brooch jewelry, Grue, Norway 

Innlandet County, where Norway borders Sweden, was again the setting for a pristine discovery by a metal detectorist, Per Erik Engebretsen. Having previously discovered several items in this location, where burial mounds once stood, Engebretsen unearthed an intact bowl brooch. Such brooches were worn by Viking women both for decoration and to secure the rest of their clothing. This experienced researcher then did the right thing and contacted the authorities immediately. 

In Norway, a metal detectorist discovered a 1,500-year-old treasure consisting of nine gold pendants with horse symbols, ten gold pearls, and three gold rings, weighing over 100 grams in total. Photo: Anniken Celine Berger / NTB / Arkeologisk museum

5) Gold find of the century, Rennesøy, Norway 

While the treasure in question, consisting of nine coin-like gold pendants, ten gold pearls, and three gold rings, is hugely impressive, it slightly predates the Viking era. Initial opinions suggest it belongs to the so-called Migration Period, around 500 CE. Still, when tipped towards the camera, the trove discovered by Sola resident Erlend Bore, who had only recently invested in a metal detector, gives the impression that he has hit the jackpot. 

Recent 3D technology research has identified Ravnunge-Tue as the runemaster behind the iconic Jelling Runestone, commissioned by Harald Bluetooth. Photo: Roberto Fortuna / National Museum of Denmark (CC BY-SA 3.0)

6) The runestone master, Jelling, Denmark 

Not all discoveries involve hours of scouring farmers' fields in the rain. The study of runestones, which convey messages in the mysterious alphabet the Norse used to proclaim achievements and honor relatives, can be just as painstaking - and rewarding. One significant example of such a discovery occurred when a team led by Lisbeth Imer at the National Museum of Denmark analyzed the chisel grooves on the Jelling Stone, Denmark's most revered national treasure, to identify its specific carver. 

The recent archaeological findings in Gothenburg's Burgårdsparken, including Viking era graves with burnt bones, suggest the site was an ancient place of sacrifice, dating back to 700-1000 CE. Photo: Daan Kloeg / Shutterstock

7) Viking graves, Gothenburg, Sweden 

Right in the heart of Sweden's second city, close to the country's national sports stadium, archaeologists working in June found two graves of burnt bones, which later turned out to date from the Viking era. The discovery was the first of its kind in Gothenburg itself and may change the common perception of the urban history of the area. 

In Innlandet County, Norway, a Byzantine gold coin from the late 10th to early 11th century was found, possibly linked to the 11th-century ruler Harald Hardrada. Photo: Martine Kaspersen / Innlandet County Municipality

8) Gold coin, Vestre Slidre, Norway 

The discovery of a gold coin from Byzantium by a metal detectorist in Vestre Slidre, Innlandet County, raises many questions about its origins, most notably whether it was part of the huge haul brought back from Constantinople by Harald Hardrada in the 1040s. In near pristine condition, the item features two inscriptions, one in Latin and one in Greek, and would have been struck either side of the turn of the tenth and 11th centuries. The experts at Innlandet County will continue to investigate the site later in 2024. 

A landowner in Salo, near Turku, Finland, discovered a 1,000-year-old sword from the Crusader era, potentially altering our understanding of Christianity's spread across the Baltic region. Photo: R. Saarinen

9) Sword, Salo, Finland 

Viking discoveries aren't very common in Finland, so the news of a sword unearthed by a landowner in Salo, near Turku, was especially welcome. Dating back 1,000 years, it might be the first of many finds to come, as the site by a medieval stone church could contain many more graves. It is believed that the weapon was brought back from the Holy Land by a soldier who had participated in the Crusades. 

Georadar technology revealed a 20-meter-long Viking ship buried in the Salhushaugen mound on Karmøy, near Avaldsnes, Norway, offering new insights into the early Viking Age royal burials. Photo: Archaeological museum / University of Stavanger

10) Viking ship, Karmøy, Norway 

Georadar technology enabled archaeologists to uncover evidence of a ship dating back to the earliest days of the Viking era, the late 700s, when the first expeditions were embarking across the North Sea. These burial mounds had been investigated over a century ago by Haakon Shetelig, the renowned archaeologist known for his work on the Oseberg site, but he lacked the equipment to probe deeper. Further work is scheduled for 2024, and the potential findings may alter perceptions of Avaldsnes as a royal seat and center of power. 

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