Bronze Age graves found

3,000-year-old graves found under new E6 highway in Melhus

Bronze Age graves

Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem / NTNU
The archaeological dig at Sandbrauta south of Trondheim has uncovered this burial mound.

Steinar Brandslet
Gemini Research News

Bronze Age graves are rare in Norway. Now 3,000-year-old graves in good condition have been discovered in Trøndelag County.

Archaeologists from the NTNU University Museum made the gravesite discovery at Sandbrauta in Melhus municipality. They’re working on the site in connection with the planned construction of the new E6 highway between the towns of Melhus and Ulsberg.

Well-preserved graves
Three smaller stone chambers typical of the period lie to the side of a larger stone ring. The stone ring is part of a burial mound that contains numerous graves.

Local conditions have preserved the site remarkably well. Up to 6.5 feet of clay from a landslide covered the area. The clay settled like a lid over the graves, sealing the site and keeping it in good condition. Plows hadn’t gone deep enough to disturb anything.

Landowner Oddvar Narve Langørgen was shocked by the findings. “I had no clue that anything like this was here,” he said.

Bones and charcoal
According to the museum, the find represents an invaluable source of knowledge of the Bronze Age’s burial traditions in central Norway. “We found charcoal and burned bones in the graves,” says Project Manager Merete Moe Henriksen.

The custom seems to have been to burn the dead before they were laid in the graves. Remains may have been placed in material that decomposed over the 3,000 years.

Site mapping
“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Anne-Lise Bratsberg, who is an adviser and project manager for Nye Veier AS (New Roads Ltd), which is responsible for planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of major highways in Norway.

Museum Director Reidar Andersen praises Nye Veier and commends the cooperation between the builders and the museum. Andersen hopes that some of the discoveries from the site will be exhibited at a later date.

The survey area is being mapped using photogrammetry, so that the archaeologists end up with a detailed 3-D map.

Other exciting discoveries
Close to the burial mound, the museum found part of a rock slab with indented figures, shaped like bowl depressions and a foot. The archaeologists believe the slab may have been part of a burial chamber in the mound.

A casting mold for bronze ax heads was found on the same site. It may have been deposited as grave goods, but might also show that casting of bronze objects took place in the region. The mold may have been used to cast ax heads of the same type as were discovered at Hegra in Stjørdal municipality earlier this year. It’s conceivable that there may have been contact between Stjørdal and Melhus—25 miles apart as the crow flies—in prehistoric times.

Both the carvings on the rock and on the mold suggest that the gravesite was probably used in the late Nordic Bronze Age, between 1100 and 500 BC.

This dating makes it the oldest burial site discovered to date in Melhus municipality, and one of the oldest in central Norway. Several other interesting finds have been made nearby.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 29, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.