'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.'
Lewis Carroll: The Walrus and the Carpenter

06 mars 2005


Rolvsøy is a parish in Fredrikstad municipality, close to the estuary of the river Glomma, in Østfold, SE Norway. From here stem a number of important Viking Age burials, including the Tune ship burial from the farm Haugen close to the river, as well as the timbered chamber grave from the same farm, both burials dated to c. AD 900 (1, 2). Settlement in Rolvsøy is largely concentrated in the low-lying areas close to the river Glomma, facing the neihbouring parishes of Tune in the E, and Borge in the SE. A number of loose-finds from the Middle Neolithic and onwards indicate that the clayey soil areas close to the river Glomma were settled by a farming population at a rather early date, although presumably not as early as the sandy soil on the ‘Ra’ moraine further N (9).

It has been pointed out that Østfold, and in particular the area around the estuary of the river Glomma, is the ‘classic region’ for Roman period burials in Norway. Hardly anywhere else are the finds from this period as plentiful as they are here. In particular with regard to Roman period imports is this area, i. e. the old parishes of Tune, Rolvsøy, Glemmen, Skjeberg, and Borge, all of them bordering on the river Glomma, in a class of its own (3). Although large-scale excavations have been carried out in the this area over the years (Store-Dal, Skjeberg (4, 5), Gunnarstorp, Skjeberg (6), Hunn, Borge (7), Grålum-Store Tune, Tune (8, 9, 10), Opstad, Tune (11, 12), Ula-Glemmen, Glemmen (13)), so far, most of the finds from Rolvsøy are due to random circumstances.

From an extensive burial field centering on the farms Hauge and Rå, stems a cut glass from Rådalen (Lund-Hansen no 198, type Eggers 228), the only one of its kind known from E Norway (14, 15, 16). The big cemetery of Ula in Glemmen parish is located in the close vicinity of Rådalen (13). From the Hauge-Rå cemetery stem three women’s graves from the Late Roman period (14). The Rådal beaker, as well as grave finds from the cemeteries of Hunn and Store-Dal, reveals close connections between Zeeland and the Danish Isles and the lower Glomma region in the Roman period (14, 16). From the Migration period we have the remains of a richly furnished inhumation burial from the Rostad farm; the large stone cist was plundered long before it was (re-)discovered in 1880, but the remaining artefacts - a gold disc and gold clasps - indicate a very rich burial indeed.

Grave finds from the Late Iron Age are comparatively few in Østfold (17, 18). However, a number of princely graves from Rolvsøy stand out. A ship burial was found at the farm Rostad as early as 1751, in a huge mound (2, 19). All the finds are long lost, and information about the vessel and its equipment is sparse. However, a contemporary description clearly implies a burial similar to the ship burials from Tune, Gokstad, and Oseberg (2).

In 1867, the ship denoted the ’Tune ship’ (at the time, Rolvsøy was part of Tune municipality) was excavated on the neighbouring farm of Haugen by O. Rygh (2, 19). The mound, called ’Båthaugen’, was most likely the second biggest grave mound known from Norway, some 80 m across, i. e. almost twice as wide as the Oseberg mound and at least one and a half times as wide as the Gokstad mound (20). At least two other huge mounds are known to have existed on the Haugen farm in earlier times; both of them, however, were destroyed without any information about their contents being available (20).

The c. 20 m long and 4,35 m wide oak ship was found in a natural layer of clay in the ground. It had been placed parallel to the river, and with the forestem pointing in a SE direction. Most of the vessel’s hull was encapsulated in the clay. The inside of the hull had been lined with moss and juniper before being covered with clay. In the rear of the ship a timbered chamber had been erected; a four-walled structure built of standing oak planks, with corner posts rammed into the clay outside the vessel on both sides (stave construction). The chamber’s roof was flat, unlike the chambers from Oseberg and Gokstad (2).

The Tune ship has been dendro dated to c. AD 900 (1). Although much of the grave-goods are lost, the information we do have indicate that a male person was put to rest in the ship, as a sword, a spear, a possible armour and a shield-boss was found inside. Bones said to belong to at least two horses were also found, as well as two glass beads, textiles, carved wooden figures, a piece of a wooden ski, a wooden shuffle, an oak bucket, and, perhaps, an iron anchor (2, 19).

The third of the ship graves from Rolvsøy was discovered at the Valle farm in 1894. But in this case the term ’ship’ is perhaps an overstatement. The burial was found by incidence during digging-works for a new house. According to the finder, the vessel was at least 9, 10 m long, and 3 m wide (2). The find-spot was close to the river Glomma, and the vessel was probably placed in a pit dug into the clay underground. There was no visible mound at the site. The vessel was oriented NE-SW, more or less parallel to the river. A number of artefacts were found under a stone cairn in the middle of the vessel, but only some of them were preserved. The grave was that of a man’s, and the burial probably took place in c. AD 900, or perhaps somewhat earlier (2).

The preserved artefacts consist of a bronze scales with geometrical ornaments, a sword handle with Anglo-Saxon inlaid silver ornaments, an iron axe-head, a schist hone and a horse’s frostnail (2).

The timbered chamber grave from Haugen was discovered in 1864, close to the site where the ship burial was excavated three years later, but closer to the river, and in a huge mound. The chamber was dug into the clay underground. It was built of horizontal logs, four of them in each wall. The chamber was square, with each side wall measuring c. 3,75 m. It was c. 50 cm high, with a flat roof made of logs. The chamber floor was covered with juniper (2). The chamber grave from Haugen is rare, but not unique in the Norwegian Viking Age material, but the majority of Viking Age chamber graves are known from Denmark and Sweden, not least from Haithabu and Birka, where this grave type is rather common (21, 22).

The discovery of the grave regrettably was not duly noted by archaeologists until 1867, when O. Rygh was shown the site where the chamber had been found three years earlier. Most of the finds were gone by then, but Rygh was able to collect some items, as well as gathering information about the finds. Any reconstruction of the grave must necessarily be based on his report (2).

The chamber contained a bronze scales together with some weights of bronze and iron, several textiles including a silk ribbon and a woven ribbon, whose motif is probably that of a ship burial (20), the remains of down quilts and pillows, harness fittings, an iron horse-bit, a strap end that perhaps belong to the harness, a bronze ring-pin, two drinking horns, a bronze cauldron, two soap stone vessels, two or three oak buckets, and bones belonging to at least two hounds. A. W. Brøgger dates the grave to c. AD 900 (2).

Brøgger argued that the princely graves from Rolvsøy belonged to outside invaders, mainly because he did not know of any older, comparable finds from the area (2). E. Johansen has, however, pointed out that there are several extensive burial fields not yet excavated in the area, and that settlement in Rolvsøy was probably much denser than Brøgger thought (20).

The part of Glomma where the graves from Haugen and Rostad were found close to the riverside, is called Visterflo. Visterflo and the lower Glomma river below the Sarpsborg and Solli cataracts was filled by sea water in the Viking Age, with only a thin top layer of sweet water (23). The natural harbour facilities in Visterflo would have been excellent, with two possible routes to the Oslofjord, either N or S of Rolvsøy (23). It has been suggested that the Visterflo harbour, and the princely graves in Rolvsøy, should actually be interpreted as belonging to the Tune central place complex with its supposed centre N of the river Glomma (24, 25).

A distance of only 5 km separates Haugen from the Tune farm. It seems reasonable to view the Viking Age burials from Rolvsøy as expressing one aspect of the central place complex Tune. While Brøgger may have been right to point out that there is no real structural continuity between the princely graves from c. AD 900 and older finds from Rolvsøy, there are several indicators for such a continuity if we look at other sites within short distance from Rolvsøy. Apart from several richly furnished graves from Tune-Grålum itself and the Tune runic stone (9, 10, 26), one might think of two old finds of gold bracteates from Fredrikstad from the Migration Period, a Merovingian Period stamp for a ‘guldgubbe’ from Borge church, a Viking Age treasure find from c. AD 1050 from Sarpsborg, as well as the medieval stone church at Tune, known from written sources as one of two minster churches on the E side of the Oslofjord.

(1) N. Bonde, A. E. Christensen, Dendrochronological dating of the Viking Age ship burials at Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune, Norway, Antiquity 67, 1993, 575-583. (2) A. W. Brøgger, Rolvsøyætten. Et arkeologisk bidrag til vikingetidens historie, Bergens Museums Aarbok 1920-21. Hist.-antikv. Række nr. 1, 1922, 1-42. (3) B. Hougen, Trekk av østnorsk romertid, Universitetets Oldsaksamlings skrifter, II, 1929, Oslo. (4) J. Petersen, Gravplassen fra Store-Dal i Skjeberg, Oslo, 1916. (5) E. Sprockhoff, Store Dal, Bonner Jahrbücher 158, 295-329. (6) V. Wangen, Gravfeltet på Gunnarstorp. Et monument over dødsriter og kultutøvelse. Unpublished Magisterarbeit, Oslo, 1999. (7) H. G. Resi, Gravplassen Hunn i Østfold, Oslo, 1986. (8) D. Monrad-Krohn, Utgravningsrapport. Grålum-Store Tune, Østfold, 1969-71, unpublished excavation report, Oslo museum. (9) E. Johansen, Før byen ble by, Sarpsborg før 1839, Sarpsborg, 1976, 13-115. (10) W. Slomann, En ny romersk bronsekjel fra Østfold, Universitetets Oldsaksamlings årbok 1958-59, 13-44. (11) T. Løken, Gravminner i Østfold og Vestfold. Et forsøk på en typologisk-kronologisk analyse og en religionshistorisk tolkning. Unpublished Magisterarbeid, Oslo, 1974. (12) Nye funn fra gammelt gravfelt. Kan gård og gravplass gå tilbake til eldre bronsealder? Viking XLI, 1977, 133-165. (13) K. Vibe-Müller, Gravfeltene på Ula, Glemmen, Østfold. Keltisk jernalder, romertid og folkevandringstid, Oslo, 1987. (14) E. Johansen, E. Straume, Rådalsglasset - glemt og gjenfunnet, Mindre Alv (Fredrikstad) 1982/83, 104-123. (15) E. Straume, Gläser mit Facettenschliff aus skandinavischen Gräbern des 4. und 5. Jahrhunderts n. Chr., Oslo, 1987. (16) U. Lund Hansen, Römischer Import in Norden. Warenaustasch zwischen dem Römischen Reich und dem freien Germanien während der Kaiserzeit unter besonderer Berücksichtigung Nordeuropas, Copenhagen, 1987. (17) E. S. Engelstad, Hedenskap og kristendom III. Trekk av vikingetidens kultur i Vingulmork, Universitetets Oldsaksamlings årbok II, 1929, 15-30. (18) L. Forseth, Vikingtid i Østfold og Vestfold. En kildekritisk granskning av regionale forskjeller i gravfunnene. Unpublished Magisterarbeit, Oslo. (19) H. Schetelig, Tuneskibet, Oslo, 1917. (20) E. Johansen, Billedveven fra Haugen – en arkeologisk åpenbaring i farger. Landskap, skip og mennesker på Rolvsøy i vikingtiden, Viking XLIX, 1986, 147-152. (21) M. Müller-Wille, Wikingerzeitliche Kammergräber, Mammen. Grav kunst og samfund i vikingetid, Århus, 1991, 181-187. (22) A. S. Gräslund, The burial customs. A study of the graves on Björkö, Uppsala, 1980. (23) E. Johansen, Tuneskipet og Onsøysundet – en revurdering av gamle myter, Viking LVII, 1994, 59-70. (24) A. Steinnes, Alvheim, Hist. tidsskr. (Oslo) 35, 1951, 353-404. (25) F. A. Stylegar, Maktens kulturlandskap – bidrag til den yngre jernalders kosmografi. Eksemplet Tune i Østfold, Universitetets Oldsaksamlings Skrifter, Ny rekke, nr. 21, 1998, 197-210. (26) O. Grønvik, Runene på Tunesteinen. Alfabet, språkform, budskap, Oslo, 1981.

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