A ship to the afterlife

It’s hard to imagine the village of Gammel Lejre as anything other than a row of idyllic thatched cottages set in the gentle rolling countryside of central Zealand. But back in the Viking times, this was believed to be the foremost settlement of Denmark’s leading royal dynasty King Skjold. In fact, the village has been a continuous settlement since the Iron age.

If you take a walk down the path next to the small museum, you’ll come to a set of stones. And with a bit of imagination, you’ll see that they are laid out in a ship form. These stones are part of one of the largest viking ‘ship stones’ burial sites in Scandinavia. One of these burial ships was almost 80 metres long when it was built.

It’s believed that the Vikings buried their dead in the form of a ship because, as seafaring folk, they wanted to send their loved ones off on their final journey in a familiar mode of transport. Within the ship, they buried everyday items with their dead to prepare them for the afterlife.

Between 1944-68 a total of 55 graves were excavated in in one end of the burial ship. Nearby, archaeologists also found the remnants of the old settlements from the late iron age, as well as a Viking settlement dating back to 600-900 AD. The Vikings had a ceremonial hall on this site of an impressive 500 m2.

In spite of area’s prominence in ancient times – King Skjold is even mentioned in the epic poem Beowolf – there was little action to be seen when I took a walk out there. Two girls on horses and a dogwalker were the only signs of life. But the still of a cold wintry walk made it all the easier to conjure up images of Vikings, nobles and times gone by.

The ship stones are part of the new Skjoldungesti, a marked 28 km walking trail that takes you through the Skjoldunge national park from Kirke Hvalsø to Roskilde. Find out more about the Skjoldunge national park (Danish only).

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By polly • February 27, 2013

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Corners of Denmark


A Brit who has lived in Denmark for the past 15 years and is starting to appreciate the smaller, more low-profile sights the country has to offer.