Salme boat remains – a unique arheozoological finding


Until finding the first Salme boat in 2008, no traces of boat burials had been found in Estonia. The first Salme boat dates back to the end of the 7th – to the beginning of the 8th century, and since no such material has been found in Estonia before, the only parallels in the arheozoological material can be found in the similar findings from the neighbouring countries.

The first Salme boat holds a large amount of animal bones: more than 700 distinguishable bone fragments. Species-wise, the boat holds bovine bones (328 all together), and the bones of sheep, goats and pigs (the joint number of sheep and goat bones adds up to 326); and also the bones of the Northern Goshawk and the Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The animals were placed into the boat in bigger or smaller pieces, and not as a whole.

From nearly all the Vendel era and Viking Age boat burials in Sweden, horse and dog bones have always been found in the boats. The first Salme boats completely lacks both – and it is the dog bones that usually form a very regular element in the boat burials’ findings. This is also one of the main differences that separates the boat complex found in Salme from all the other boat burials researched in everywhere else. In addition, it is also quite surprising that the remains found in Estonia nearly don’t contain any bones from the head area (except for a skull of a billy and a fang of a sow).

Although there have been many findings from the Vendel and Viking era in the Scandinavian countries, the Salme boat burial is not just a new dot on the distribution map, but a completely unique finding that stands out both by the number of people laid to rest in those boats and by the unique content of the boats in the general.

In the autumn of 2008, more objects and bones were found a couple of dozens of meters away. During the excavation of 2010, another vessel was found in the said spot – a vessel significantly bigger than the first Salme boat, and also filled with human bones, objects and animal bones. The second Salme boat has so far revealed the bones of at least two dogs, but no horse bones as yet.

Both of the excavations were undertaken by a joint team of the University of Tallinn and the University of Tartu and were follow by further investigations at Salme in 2011 and 2012.


Copywriter: Marion Jõepera

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