2 Viking Swords Buried Upright May Have Been a Guide to Odin and Valhalla Discovered By Road Crew

Swedish archeologists have unearthed two Viking swords from a burial mound in which they had been buried vertically, as if resting on their points.

As well as marking the rare discovery of a sword, the vertical placement reflects a deliberate symbolism that has the archeologists ruminating over what it means, and suggestions include honoring the god Odin, or even keeping the dead person from rising as a “draugr,” an undead warrior.

Ahead of a highway construction is Västmanland in Sweden, the archeologists discovered a Viking Age cemetery of about 100 cremated graves stretching over one acre of ground. Most of the burials date from 600 – 1000 CE, encompassing the entirety of the Viking Age, in a period known technically as the Late Iron Age, (most historians have now disowned the term “Dark Age”).

“The placement of the swords reflects an action with a lot of symbolism,” Anton Seiler, Fredrik Larsson, and Katarina Appelgren, archeologists at Arkeologerna, an archeology firm in Sweden, told Live Science in an email. “When you find swords in graves—which you don’t do very often—they often lie beside the buried individual, as a faithful companion on the voyage to the next world.”

The graves were about 19 feet wide, and the whole of the cemetery was built atop an older burial mound, a very uncommon occurrence. Both swords were about 35 inches long, and have been broken in several places due to the weight of the earth and the ravages of time.

It’s possible that traces of a leather scabbard, or decorations around the hilt and pommel of the sword could be revealed through the conservation process that will take place, and could inform more about the overall wealth of the individual.

A variety of other grave goods were found, including the ashes from animal sacrifices, a set of bear claws, glass beads, game board pieces made from whale bone, as well as some iron nails, silverwork, and pottery pieces.

But why were the swords pointing down? It’s possible that it was to consecrate the path of the dead warrior to Odin’s hall of Valhalla, where half of all warriors who died in battle went to enjoy a rip-roaring afterlife.

It’s also possible that it was to prevent the rising of the dead man into the service of evil, and that the sword had impaled the ashes of its former owner.

“We do not think that applies to these graves, as the swords were such precious objects,” the team added in their email. “Instead, knives or arrowheads could have been used, which would have been significantly cheaper.”

Lastly, there’s the possibility that the pommel of the sword would have rested just above the level of the earth, allowing visitors to the grave to reach out and touch some part of the one interred below.

The team has not radiocarbon dated the graves. It’s likely the grave, the sword, and the human remains date to around the same period, and more details such as whether the warrior was a male or female, and what they might have looked like, can also be made available.