MHG11310 - Viking Burial - Balnakeil Bay

Summary

A Viking burial of a young male aged between 8-12 years of age, was uncovered in an eroding sand dune, by Mr & Mrs Powell, in 1991. The burial had a considerable number of grave goods.

Type and Period (1)

  • BURIAL (CULTURE 800; CULTURE 1300; , Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

A burial of a viking male, discovered in an eroded dune blow-out in 1991 by Mr and Mrs Powell. The burial consisted of a single individual equipped with a wide range of grave goods, although the legs and feet had been lost in sand collapse. Rapid excavation by archaeologists from Highland Regional Council uncovered a single male, accompanied by a possible spear, a sword (with fragments of scabbard); bronze and iron objects; an antler comb and some 14 bone gaming pieces. All material was removed to the Royal Museum of Scotland for conservation.

The skeletal remains were described as the remains of a young person, most likely male, between the age of eight and thirteen years of age. He was between 4ft 9in and 5ft in height (1.48 m to 1.52m). The right clavicle, humerus and ulna (ie right arm) seemed to be enlarged in comparison to those on the left side. This assymetrical development was also seen in the skull, where the left eye orbit was higher than the right one. In addition, there were traces of a non-specific infection on some of the bones which had caused pitting on both humeri and the interior of the skull. The grave goods comprised of: a sword, shield and spear; items associated with clothing such as a ringed-pin or brooch, beads and a possible strap end as well as 14 gaming pieces which were most likely originally in a leather bag as well as two amber beads and one blue and white glass bead. There was also a possible needle case and antler comb associated with the burial as well as miscellaneous iron nails and other indeterminate iron objects. The sword had been placed beneath the body, whereas the spear and shield appear to have been placed on top. <1>

The site was photographed before and during excavation, showing the location and context of the site within the sand dune as well as general shots of the area. <2> <3> <4> <5> <6> <7> <8> <9> <10> <11> <12> <13> <14> <15> <16> <17> <18> <19>

Most of the artefacts were photographed by members of the Highland Regional Council before being sent to the National Museum of Scotland for further examination. <20> <21> <22> <23> <24> <25> <26> <27> <28> <29> <30> <31> <32> <33> <34> <35>

Several artefacts were photographed by the National Museum of Scotland during work undertaken on their evaluation and conservation. <36> <37> <38>

The site was reported in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland by J Powell in 1991. Discovered in recent eroded dune blow-out by the Powells and reported to Highland Region. The burial consisted of a single individual equipped with a wide range of grave goods, although the legs and feet had been lost in sand collapse. Rapid excavation uncovered a single male, accompanied by a possible spear, a sword (with fragments of scabbard); bronze and iron objects; an antler comb and some 14 bone gaming pieces. All material removed to Royal Museum of Scotland for conservation. Sponsor: Highland Regional Council. <39>

The site was the subject of a reconstruction drawing by Alan Braby in 1993. <40>

The artefacts were analysed and the findings published in 2012 by the National Museums of Scotland, where the finds had been allocated. Radiocarbon dates provided a date of 1265+- 35 BP and 1350+-35 BP. These were combined as 1308+- 25 BP. A combined calibrated date for the burial would indicate a date sometime between AD 680-860 although on typological grounds the finds assemblage would suggest a later date. <41> <42>

DNA sample from this burial was obained and it was included in 'A summary round-up list of Scottish archaeological human remains that have been sampled/analysed for DNA as of January 2019', available online through DES. <43>

Sources/Archives (43)

Map

Location

Grid reference Centred NC 3865 7068 (6m by 6m) (Buffered by site type)
Map sheet NC37SE
Geographical Area SUTHERLAND
Civil Parish DURNESS

Finds (5)

  • SWORD (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)
  • COMB (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)
  • GAMING PIECE (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)
  • SPEARHEAD (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (2)

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