Vendel: new paper on the disturbance of the famous boat-grave cemetery in central Sweden

Klevnäs, A. 2015. Abandon Ship! Digging out the Dead from the Vendel Boat-Graves. Norwegian Archaeological Review, 48(1), 1-20.


The boat-grave cemetery at Vendel, Uppland, is one of the iconic sites of first-millennium Sweden. The high-status grave-goods and weaponry have been widely displayed and studied since their discovery over 130 years ago. Yet it is rarely mentioned that the burial ground had been almost completely ransacked long before archaeologists stepped in. The celebrated finds are only a fraction of the wealth that was originally buried at the site.

This is the first evaluation of the evidence of disturbance from Vendel since the excavations in the late 19th century. The ancient re-opening of the graves is reconstructed through the letters and diaries of the excavator, Hjalmar Stolpe, as well as the various preliminary and final reports. Evidence is presented that the main parts of the burials, notably the human bones, were systematically dug out of nearly every grave and removed from the site. The reopening probably took place during the Christianization period, before or during the construction of the nearby church in the 13th century. This is an example of the widespread reworking of monuments at this time, specifically highlighting the significance accorded to buried human remains.