13 ship’s burials have been found in Northwest Europe. Two of these, known as Grønhaug (Green Mound) and Storhaug (Great Mound) are situated by Avaldsnes.
Grønhaug lies on the outskirts of Blood Heights, where according to Snorri, the battle between Håkon the Good and the sons of Eirik Bloodaxe took place in 953. Dendrochronological studies carried out in 2009 show that the burial took place between 790 - 795.
When Grønhaug was opened in 1902, they found a very elaborate ship of oak, 15m long and 3m wide, on which a prince, clad in red, was laid out on duvets of down.
Grønhaug had been desecrated a very long time ago. Someone had removed parts of the skeleton, but the remaining bones revealed that he was once a large, strong man. The remaining objects, such as tapestries and English glass, indicated that the burial must have been very rich. A wax candle – a Christian symbol – was placed in the burial after the break-in.
It is believed that this was a ritual grave robbing organised by the royal estate at Avaldsnes, but what was the motive for this break-in? Was it an attempt by a new dynasty to show their power over the former rulers? Or was the robbing intended to Christianise a deceased ancestor post mortem?
The sagas relate that Olav Tryggvason opened several graves at Avaldsnes around the end of the 10th century. Could it have been he who opened this ship's burial?
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