This Norwegian funerary warship was the grave of two women, one aged about 75 and the other 50. The women’s identities still present a mystery. They died in A D 834 and had a magnificent burial, judging by the treasures they left behind. Possibly Queen Åsa, the grandmother of Harald I (A.D. 860–940), the first king of united Norway, or maybe a sorceress.
Reading this discovery of the Norwegian Oseberg oak longship in a farm near Tønsberg, Norway, reminded me of the historical novel “The Dig” by John Preston and the subsequent film of the same name.
On farmland in Sutton Hoo overlooking the river Debden in the UK, the landowner Edith Petty wanted to discover what were the mysterious barrows on her land. Ipswich museum introduced the landowner to Basil Brown, a Suffolk labourer, insurance agent and self taught astronomer and archeologist. His finds did not sit nicely with men from the British Museum and Cambridge University who muscled in to take over. Brown’s discovery caused history books to be rewritten, but his name was only recently associated with the discovery. But although his crucial contribution is now acknowledged, there is much that remains uncertain about the ship burial. Who was it honouring? The lead candidate is Raedwald, a powerful regional leader who died around 624, and who was part of a dynasty that claimed descent from the Norse god Woden. He was the first English king to convert to Christianity, while also being cannily careful not to upset the pagan gods.
The book, The Dig is a gripping and interesting read.
John Preston is also the author of A Very English Scandal, about the disgraced British politician Jeremy Thorpe. After discovering that his aunt, Peggy Piggott, an archaeologist, prehistorian, and finds specialist, had been one of the key participants in the actual dig, Preston wrote the book The Dig, as a novelised account.
The film received five BAFTA awards. It is available on Netflix and in DVD form.