Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology

  Gnisvärd Ship Setting / Gotland

How about some sunny pics in this grey February? I swear the sun's off vacationing somewhere else in the galaxy, having some drinks in the Milky Way Bar or whatever. But at least she sent a comet mail.

So here are some photos from a ship setting on Gotland, taken on a sunny if cold May afternoon.

Bronze Age ship setting at Gnisvärd, Gotland

Ship settings are stone settings in the shape of a boat that mark grave or cremation burials. They are mostly found in the part of Scandinavia that borders the Baltic Sea (Denmark, southern Sweden, Gotland) though some have also been found in the Baltic States, Finland, Russia and Germany. Their size varies from a hundred metres (the remains of the setting at Jellinge is the largest, it may have been 300 m, though other large ones are usually under 100 m) to just a few metres.

View from the side

The larger settings date to the late Bronze and early Iron Age, while the smaller ones are from the Viking time (ca. AD 800-1150*). Ship settings should not be confused with boat burials of the Vendel time (AD 550-800, the best example is Haithabu / Hedeby) and the Viking time (fe. the famous Gokstad ship now displayed in Oslo) where real ships are used as grave and buried under an artificial hill.

View from the other side

Most ship settings consist of erratic boulders - there are plenty of those in lands once covered by glaciers and moraines - set in a boat shape in north-south direction. In some the stones are touching while in others they are a bit apart. Usually, the stones towards the bow and stem are higher than in the middle; in some large variants they can reach up to 4 metres. Some Danish settings have runic inscriptions at the bow.

Closeup of the stones at the stem

A few settings are made of standing limestone plates, and one on Bornholm / Denmark has those plates lying on the ground.

The ships can have extra stones in position of the mast; others have plates inside instead of earth and grass; some had been covered by an earthen mound.

Seen from the other stem

The urns were usually put in boxes and can be found within or without the ship setting. Some of those settings have been used for generations, as urns from several centuries demonstrate, while others demark the grave of but one man, likely a chief. Several ship settings can be found in close proximity; esp. in Gotland they tend to come in groups of 4-5 settings.

Closeup of the bow

Gotland is particularly rich in ship settings; some 350 still remain. Some scientists assume the habit may have started on Gotland and spread from there.

The settings are usually of middle size - the one at Gnisvärd is the largest with 47 metres length and 7 metres width. About hundred stones have been used to shape the ship. Stem and bow are a bit higher than the middle part (1.30 m). There is another, somewhat smaller setting about 100 metres to the south, and east of it is a Bronze Age burial field.

Another view of the Gnisvärd ship setting

The meaning of those ship settings is still disputed. One explanation is that the dead should have everything he needed in the afterworld, though personally I wonder what use a stone ship would have had (the later boat burials may make more sense in that context). What they do show is the fact that ships played an important role in the Scandinavian culture long before the Vikings sailed across half of the world.

A final view

I hope you enjoyed some stones in a typical Scandinavian pine and birch forest. It is a lovely place.

* Though that date is not undisputed, another often suggested date is 793 (attack on Lindisfarne) - 1066 (Norman conquest of England).


  More Neva Impressions

First I had to fight a nasty crud and then there was a lot of stress at my job (and half of the staff sick with the same crud), so I didn't update my blog, nor do I have time for a long, reasearch-heavy post. But since my readers seem to like St.Petersburg, here are some more photos of that town - some lovely views of the Neva river.

View over the Neva from the Peter and Paul Fortress

The Neva is only 74 km long, running from Lake Ladoga to the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea, but its water discharge puts it on place three after the Volga and the Danube. The river is navigable throughout and part of the Volga-Baltic waterway which already the Vikings used.

The water flow from Lake Ladoga to the Neva is pretty consistant all year round, so the floods that so often hit St.Petersburg are caused by the inflow of the Baltic Sea during storms. The Neva freezes from December to mid-April, in summer the temperature peaks at 17-20°C.

View from the Stock Exchange place to the Peter and Paul Fortress

The last steps in the formation of the river were the glaciers of the last Ice Age and their retreat which caused the Littorina Sea to form, 7-9 metres above present sea level. A wide strait between the delta and the future Lake Ladoga was covered by water; the former bed of the Tosna river. But the land around the lake rose faster and thus a closed reservoir developed (the race of seal particular to Lake Ladoga is a witness from that time). The rising level of the lake flooded a moraine ridge and ran into the valley at the Ivanovo rapids, the modern Neva with its tributaries Tosna and Mga formed about 2000 BC. The average decline of the river is 4.2 metres.

View from the Stock Exchange to the Palace Embankment

The development of St.Petersburg altered the hydrological network of the delta. The town was founded in 1703, and Peter the Great did not care much that he picked a low and swampy area for his much needed Baltic Sea harbour. Tons of earth had to be moved which was used to raise the city; countless timber posts had to be dug into the ground, and canals had to be built for drainage. When the work was completed, the delta of the Neva consisted of 48 canals and rivers, and a hundred islands. Some of the canals were filled in over time so that today only 42 islands remain. A tour through the canals is one of the nicest ways to explore St.Petersburg.

View towards the Eremitage

The area belonged to the realm of Veliky Novgorod, also known as Holmgård in the Norse sagas, since the 9th century; a time when the population was a mix of Slavic and Scandinavian elements, the latter ruling as the Rurikids. Several Norse kings spent a time of exile in Novgorod.

Novgorod had access to the rivers leading south via the river Volkhov / Lake Ilmen, while the route via the Neva / Lake Ladoga went further east; both made Novgorod a trade centre in the Middle Ages. The Hansa League erected their own depedance or kontor, the 'Peterhof', in 1192, thus making the place one of the earliest parts of the rising trade net.

Sunset over the palace embankment

Quarrels and outright war with the Swedes were almost a constant feature of the area. In 1240, Prince Alexander Yaroslavich won a great battle against them which earned him the name Alexander Nevksy; he still features as popular Russian hero. Later, during the Great Northern War 1700-1721, Peter the Great would integrate the lands around the Neva into the Russian Empire and found the town named after him.

White nights at the Neva, with the golden spike of the Admirality in the background
(photo taken from out of the bus)

St.Petersburg became the capital of the Russian Empire in 1712. It was renamed Leningrad after the revolution and suffered a devastating siege during WW2 which was only broken in January 1944. After the glasnost, it regained its old name St.Petersburg. But the white nights at the Neva never changed.

The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places (like Flanders and the Baltic States), with essays on Roman and Mediaeval history illustrated with lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes. You may also find the odd essay about geology or Mediaeval literature.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)