You Never Know What You’ll Find when You Turn Over the Rocks

In the case of Goran Olsen, a Norwegian hiking in Haukeli, on the border of Telemark and Hordaland, an outdoorsman’s paradise in a country that has plenty of them, what was under the rocks was this sword.

Norwegian viking sword find

CNN reports that he:

…stumbled across a 1,200-year-old Viking sword while walking an ancient route.

The find, which dates from approximately 750 A.D. and is in exceptionally good condition, was announced by Hordaland County Council.

County Conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd described the discovery as “quite extraordinary.”

“It’s quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking age that are so well-preserved … it might be used today if you sharpened the edge,” he told CNN.

Outdoorsman Goran Olsen made the unusual find when he stopped for a rest in Haukeli, an area known for fishing and hunting about 150 miles (250 kms) west of capital, Oslo.

The rusted weapon was lying under some rocks on a well-known path across a high mountain plateau, which runs between western and eastern Norway.

via Hiker finds 1,200-year-old Viking sword under rocks –

This story seems almost too good to be true. How many hikers, hunters, and outdoors lovers must have trod that Viking path? The Viking roads, which traveled the mountains the hard way, from crest to crest, are well known to (and widely enjoyed by) today’s Norwegians. Mr Ekerhovd thought that the sword was so well-preserved because the area alternates with being snow-covered for six months and rather dry for the rest of the year. He could only speculate on the sword’s provenance. Did it belong to a fallen traveler, taken by accident, disease or weather? Or was it somehow uprooted from a Viking burial site (they didn’t all go out to sea in flaming ships, or the museums of Norway would be missing many of their most fascinating artifacts)? It’s unlikely anyone will ever know.

Which is almost as unlikely as finding the sword in the first place.

Norwegian viking sword find 2

The sword, which was found without a handle, is just over 30 inches long (77 centimeters) and made of wrought iron. From its type, archaeologists estimate it to be from around 750 A.D. — making it approximately 1,265 years old — but warn that this is not an exact date.

Swords like this were status symbols in Viking times because of the high cost of extracting iron, Ekerhovd said, and it’s likely this blade would have belonged to a wealthy individual.

Haukeli is nearly at (just west of) the geographic center of a triangle with vertices at Bergen, Oslo, and Stavanger. In the Medieval Warm Period the Viking chiefs saw their greatest power both at home and abroad.

The sword is not what you usually think of when the term “Viking sword” is bandied about. It has a straight back and a curved point. This implies a single edge, unlike the classic double-edged Viking weapon. Indeed, Norwegian archaeologists seem to think it was a Western weapon, perhaps acquired by capture or trade, and, either way, a marker of a significant chieftain.

The best Viking swords were made of crucible steel, something that the great seafarers may have gotten from Central Asia, as it wasn’t invented in Europe until the 18th Century, and required technology capable of heating metal to 3,000ºF (about 1,700C). This is a more typical Iron Age weapon.

Next spring, there may be an archaeological expedition to the site to seek any other artifacts, or even a gravesite that is speculated to have been the source of the sword. In the meantime, the authorities have a good relationship with the metal-detector hobbyists in the area, so they expect to be notified of any finds the detectors turn up over the winter. In the meantime, the new sword will probably go to the Bergen Museum to be conserved properly, and be further studied by experts!

Thanks to the user that tipped us off about this find! And here’s a thought: how many more Viking Age swords, spears and other weapons are still out there to be found?

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14 thoughts on “You Never Know What You’ll Find when You Turn Over the Rocks

  1. Martin S

    Its amazing how much history we have under our feet here. Where i live on the west coast between Bergen and Stavanger i’ve got multiple early iron age farms around me that dotted all around the end of the small fjord i live by. one was discovered recently, and dug up just a few years ago when they improved an intersection.

    Just last week i was looking at the remnants of an early iron-age sword found not far from that again at some point, that is on display outside the entrance to the local library.

    People have lived here for 3500 years and more. My grandad did detailed genealogy back to the 1300s or 1400s, when the black death makes records rather spotty and he lost the trail. And since he was going off of church books he would have run out by 1000 AD anyways.

    I might be related, distantly, to whoever dropped this sword. But so might the majority of Norways population.

    1. RobRoySimmons

      That’s how far the maternal side of the family traced back in time thru England back to Norway. Though if I remember correctly they mentioned at the point the records faded out that their occupation was still a bit of free booting piracy.

    2. Hognose Post author

      It is quite remarkable but using statistics, as far back as 1999 a scientist (Yale statistician Joseph Chang) demonstrated that humans were most probably descended from a single female ancestor. (Female because they’re using mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the maternal line). That ancestor lived some 3,400 years ago, Chang calculated. Other scientists like a team at USC have developed this, since.

      One of the most interesting findings is that most Ashkenazi Jews (European-descended, approximately; over 2/3 of the world’s Jews) are very closely related for such a large population; some studies suggest that they descend from four women who lived about 1,000 years ago. To put things in persepective agriculture began settling humans down in single places 10,000 years ago, but the Roman Empire was already over 1,000 years ago.

      Here’s a few good sites on this stuff:
      (lots of good stuff on human, animal and plant genetics. I could spend days reading this).
      commenter turned me on to that one
      Moribund now, but great archives. Razib Khan is a scientist working in he field, he was on an interesting paper I read on cat genetics that demonstrates cat domestication was (as has always been expected) roughly contemporaneous with agriculture, whilst dog domestication is known to have come millennia earlier.
      Where Razib tends to post now. Among Unz’s other bloggers, Steve Sailer tends to have interesting insights on human biodiversity, but he is not a scientist.
      “Ancestry matters”

      And here’s a completely unrelated, but fascinating, paper on studies of the early history of one of my old biodefense nemeses, Yersinia Pestis. The early version did not travel by flea! It evolved the ability to colonize fleas prior to the Black Death screwing up all those European ancestry records in the 14th Century.

      1. DSM

        I’ll have to take a look at these. Some of the theories of the Toba supereruption place human ancestors down to a few thousand people so I’m curious to see if that theory is represented in their studies.

  2. DSM

    We talked about it in the comments of a different story some time back but during my tour in England I used to watch the show Time Team. When you talk about history under your feet they would dig up people’s back yards, gardens in their terminology, and find all sorts of fascinating history. My wife got tired of watching a bunch of British hippies dig holes and pull up broken pottery shards but the connection to a real person having had used it hundreds, if not thousands, of years past was awesome to think about. Speaking of, they did a dig up in York and found shoes, tools and even a lock of hair from that city’s Viking past. The Romano-British era digs were always the most intriguing to me if for nothing else than seeing a long forgotten but beautifully preserved mosaic floor from a two thousand year old villa turned cow pasture. And gee whiz, they brought the concept across the pond with Time Team America. I’ve caught a few of their episodes on PBS and just as fascinating.

    On a slightly different note I think this sword illustrates another point of forgotten knowledge. The PX here has a small side shop that sells swords and silly stuff for wall décor I guess. OK, so I can buy a sword there today but a thousand years ago some fellow, most likely fellows, dug up the ore, smelted it, recovered the bloom, reheated it and pounded it out to make this sword. All without pneumatic or electric tools, temperature gauges and any other modern convenience made to improve success. That’s a single point of technology. Taken on the grander scale those folks back in the day obviously knew a helluva lot more than what many give them credit for. They had to be, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

    1. KenWats

      Re: DSM’s last two sentences.
      I had the exact same thought. 1700C. No refractory brick, nothing high tech- I’m not even sure what the heck you’d burn (that would be available to some poor chump in the Dark Ages) to reach 1700C. How would you even know when you hit 1700C? Color of the metal, I guess. Heck, do you even have any assurance that this batch of ore is anything at all like the last one you tried? Human beings as a species have been able to learn more as time goes on, but human beings as individuals are probably not much smarter (or dumber) now than they were then.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Have to be charcoal with a bellows driving air, I think. Or maybe natural coal where it was available.

        I’ve seen credible argument that human intelligence (in individuals) in the general population is past its peak and in a period of decline, due to removal of eugenic pressures.

        1. Mr. AR-10

          Have a look at this when you get the chance,

          “The Vikings were among the fiercest warriors of all time. Yet only a select few carried the ultimate weapon of their era: the feared Ulfberht sword. Fashioned using a process that would remain unknown to the Vikings’ rivals for centuries, the Ulfberht was a revolutionary high-tech tool as well as a work of art. ”

          Probably one of the best Nova eps I have seen, very interesting.

          That’s an assault sword btw.

        2. Mike_C

          >due to removal of eugenic pressures.
          The heck with removing pressures, we seem to be subsidizing the production of low-IQ (or at least poor self and impulse control) persons, at least in the developed West.

          On the other hand, I seem to recall a Singaporean campaign to encourage women with PhDs to have more children. My cynical take on that was: even if the program was successful in raising doctoral-level fecundity, it’d not so much select for intelligence as bad eyesight, inability to catch a ball, inability to talk to girls without stammering, and general doofiness. Seeing as I work with a crowd where for a given gathering there are usually more STEM graduate degrees than individuals present, this was not well received :-)

  3. ToastieTheCoastie

    A friend from the Upper Peninsula Michigan supposedly found a Viking axe head in the woods, although the folks at the university said it was just a trade axe. It really doesn’t seem far fetched that the Norsemen could have reached Lake Superior though.

  4. Karl Gross

    “…And here’s a thought: how many more Viking Age swords, spears and other weapons are still out there to be found?”


    Next question?

  5. Karl Gross

    “…And here’s a thought: how many more Viking Age swords, spears and other weapons are still out there to be found?”

    Three swords, 126 spears or identifiable parts thereof, a couple hundred wedge shaped rocks that used to be strapped to sticks, and six pots that were used to cook up poison in.

    Next question?


    The OP says the blade was made of iron. I have a handmade Japanese knife that consists of a thin sliver of very, very hard carbon steel sandwiched between two layers of iron. It’s the sharpest thing I’ve ever owned, but it will actually rust as I use it, and it needs a good wipedown after every use and regular oiling.

    This leaves me amazed that the thing hasn’t rusted away to nothing during the centuries it lay there. A fantastic find.

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