The Salme Ship Burials: Two Eighth-Century Mass Graves on Saaremaa Island, Estonia

On Friday, 10th November 2023, a new book published by the Archaeological Research Collection of Tallinn University was presented in the Cog hall of the Estonian Maritime Museum.

books cover

The book presents the two ship burials discovered in 2008 and then in 2010 from Salme, Saaremaa island, Estonia, together with artefacts dating them to the (Pre-)Viking Age. The discovery was astounding, as no Viking ship has ever been found with so many burials: the remains of seven warriors were uncovered in the Salme I ship and as many as 34 in the Salme II ship. A rich assortment of items had been placed in their graves, including elaborate armaments, such as swords and shields, everyday utensils, such as knives, whetstones, and combs, as well as playing pieces and dice, mostly of whalebone, for the Scandinavian game called Hnefatafl, and much more. The grave contributions also included dogs and hunting hawks, not to mention the animal parts brought along as provisions. Ship burials as such and likewise most of the finds recovered at Salme are not characteristic of Saaremaa at the time, nor of the wider Estonian area. Rather, they indicate the origin of the warriors buried here – from Scandinavia, probably Central Sweden.

The Salme burial complex has provided invaluable research data on the physical condition, genetic origin, and causes of death of these people, as well as material for the study of Viking burial customs, social background, and shipbuilding. This book, authored by a team of nine specialists, gives an overview of the fieldwork conducted at Salme, the find material, and dating issues. The catalogue contains detailed lists of finds and plates of drawings and photos. Together, the striking finds and excavated structures constitute an excellent source of information for reconstructing a dramatic event that occurred in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea in the eighth century AD.

The new book has arrived or is about to go on sale in several bookstores in Estonia and the Tallinn University Information Center e-store.