The Grave Goods at Vang

Burials took place at this site over a period of several hundred years approaching the 11th century A.D. In retrospect, many have wondered what actually happened. They understood that the more than 800 mounds had to contain graves. But it was unclear how old they were, and why they were so plentiful. A theory arose that established the Vang [pronounced with a sharp v and a-sound like in “after”]  site as a graveyard for fallen fighters from the skirmish between Harald Fairhair and his local rivals during the battle of Oppdal Forest [pronounced OOP-dahl], sometime in the late 800s.

During the 1800s, people excavated many of the graves. There was great desire during this time period to build the nation’s prehistory, and the Trondheim Science Museum procured findings from the Vang site, adding them to their collection. Archaeological investigations of the mounds have since shown that the site was not connected to Harald Fairhair’s campaign. The mounds contain the remains of buried women and men from the village. Burials began much earlier, but the vast majority are from the Viking Age.

What we know less about, are the rituals which much have been part of the burial, and why artefacts were placed alongside the dead. It might have been part of a vision concerning what a person would need in the afterlife. Because they believed in an afterlife, after all? Perhaps the burials were mostly for the living, a way of confirming the standing of the dead and his family, in plain sight. We can imagine a rite of passage, in which several ritualistic scenes were played out.

The objects with which the dead were buried can tell us about many aspects of life, but hardly all. Men were given weapons and various tools, while women were given clothing accessories and tools connected to typical female tasks. This is a result of gender roles from our time being applied in the interpretation of grave material. But then we discover female graves with complete weapon sets, defying ingrained perceptions.

The Vang grave goods are consistently high quality findings. They reflect wealth and power. The sword blades were some of the very best available at the time. Remarkable amounts of jewellery and ornaments originating from the British Isles have also been found. These were prestigious goods. How did these wind up in Oppdal? Did people from Oppdal partake in the voyages to England and Ireland during the Viking Age? Are they a result of looting, or was it trade? Or perhaps the jewellery belonged to women who came to Oppdal during the Viking Age, consensual or not?

The wealth displayed by the grave findings indicates a village with ample resources. It is an important crossroads with good soil and abundant fishing and hunting grounds. Elk and reindeer hunting must have played a crucial role in its prosperity.