Norway's largest ship cemetery has just been discovered at the bottom of Heddalsvatnet, an inland lake west of Oslo, with more finds at Nordsjø lake further south. 

Both locations are on the Telemark Canal, a conduit for the transport of goods for more than 1,000 years. 

Given the long history of waterborne trade here and the size of the find, a more detailed investigation later this year should reveal Viking relics among the many vessels.

The expert research team of NORSJØ 2022, involved in mapping the lakes over the last two years, expressed their astonishment at the extent of their discovery. 

"We have located more than 75 wrecks in Heddalsvatnet and five in Norsjø," said project manager Thor Olav Sperre. "This is the largest ship cemetery that has ever been located in Norway!"

Of the 75 wrecks, two large sailing ships measure more than 30 meters long. Fifty of the wrecks are barges that were used in connection with the industrial legacy of Notodden, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Near the northern tip of Heddalsvatnet, Notodden is Norway's largest freshwater port. It is thought that Heddalsvatnet became a freshwater lake sometime in the Bronze Age after being separated from the ocean around 1,500 BCE.

The research vessel at work. Photo: NORSJØ 2022

A deeper dive

The vessels will be more closely examined by remote-controlled underwater craft later this year. Wrecks in freshwater are very well preserved and can hopefully cast new light on Norway's maritime history.

Professor Fredrik Søreide from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), one of several prominent institutions involved in the NORSJØ 2022 project, said: "We used the world's best mapping technology from Kongsberg Maritime and EIVA," referring to the Danish engineering company responsible for advanced maritime surveying. 

"Heddalsvatnet is mapped according to a resolution down to the nearest centimeter. Even if we had expected to find some wreckage, the result has exceeded all expectations."

The Norwegian Maritime Museum, and its renowned archaeologist Pål Nymoen in particular, have also played an important role in NORSJØ 2022. 

"We look forward with great excitement to the next phase of this project, which starts this year," said a museum spokesman. 

"Then we will dive into the discoveries with a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to investigate and
document the most exciting shipwrecks."

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Rendered image of two shipwrecks at Heddalsvatnet. Photo: NORSJØ 2022

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