Museum on the Move – Balladoole

The Balladoole Excavations

The Viking ship burial which dates from around 850 AD to 950 AD was first excavated in 1945 by Gerhard Bersu, a German Refugee working alongside a team of internees from the Island’s internment camps. Bersu noted in his Balladoole excavation field notes that a policeman arrived to the site with news that the war in Europe was over.  We cannot imagine the impact of such news for the internees at this time.

Bersu’s team was originally looking for an Iron Age Hill Fort and stumbled upon the Viking burial by accident.  It was later re-excavated by Basil Megaw in 1951 and again by JR Bruce in 1974.

Gerhard Bersu Black and white portrait

Discoveries in the Ship Burial

The excavated site contained a Viking ship measuring 11 metres long, an adult male with his belongings. The ship was buried at the highest point of Chapel Hill overlooking the sea.  The Viking ship had almost completely rotted away, but the nails that held the boat together survived.  We know that this ship wasn’t a traditional Viking long-ship, but a smaller trading vessel.

Objects for an afterlife

Buried alongside the Viking man were many basic items such as clothes, tools, and horse riding equipment. Also buried with him was a shield, although no weapon was found. The elaborately decorated horse bridle and spur fittings included bronze buckles, and slide and strap ends decorated with silvering and gilding.

A great effort had gone into the burial of the pagan Viking of Balladoole as the ship must have been dragged 350 metres uphill from the shore.  The finely furnished boat suggests that this was a man of great importance, perhaps a landowner, chieftain, or merchant.

Viking decorative bridal

Links to Early Christianity

The Viking ship burial lies within early Christian lintel graves. The positioning of the graves may indicate the relationship early Vikings had with the Manx people.

There are many theories as to why this location was chosen for the ship burial. Perhaps domination on the part of the Vikings, or possibly a sign of acceptance as two cultures merged.

The Keeill Site

Chapel Hill is also the site of an ancient keeill (chapel) from about 900 AD to 1000 AD, hence the name Chapel Hill. This site was excavated in 1918 and is presumed to be a pre-Viking site. The keeill, which is dedicated to St. Michael, is situated inside an Iron Age promontory fort, the outside banks of which can still be traced around the hill top. There is also a Bronze Age grave on the hill dating from around 1000 BC.

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