Lindholm Høje is a cemetery located in the Danish town of Lindholm, just two kilometers from the city of Aalborg in the North Jutland region. The cemetery is located on a hill that rises 42 meters above sea level. The hill contains almost seven hundred graves from the period 500 to 1100 AD. The many graves make it a unique cemetery from the Iron Age and Viking period in Denmark. Stones have been placed around the graves in the shape of a ship. Around the eleventh century, the graves were covered by a layer of sand and then fell into oblivion. In the 1960s the sand was removed and many stones came to light. Structures of former settlements were also found.
The formation of Lindholm Hill
In the Cretaceous Period (a geological period from 65.5 to 145.5 million years ago), chalk formations were formed along the Limfjord in Denmark. These formations are large chunks of calcareous rock that have been pushed to the surface by tectonic action of the Earth’s plates. This created hills along the northern side of the Limfjord, opposite the modern city of Aalborg, towards the east. One of these hills is Lindholm Høje which literally means the hill of Lindholm. The hill rises 42 meters above sea level and is therefore an attractive place to establish a settlement. The hill had a beautiful view over the fjord and this meant that if an enemy approached the hill he was quickly detected. In addition, the hill was ideal for arable farming and livestock farming, because the hill did not flood when it rained.
The first inhabitants in the Iron Age
The first people considered the area around 400 AD, but did not build a settlement here. Around 700 AD a village was built south of the hill until about 900 AD. has been inhabited. A second village was built around 1000 AD. built north of the hill. The villages consisted of several houses, a number of wells, a road and it was demarcated by a fence. Specific work was carried out in the smaller buildings, such as weaving and spinning. There were six families in each village, each consisting of ten to fifteen relatives. Around 1050 AD the northern village was also abandoned.
The abandoned village in the Viking period
In the Viking period, the Lindholm area, like the vast majority of Denmark, was surrounded by forests. When the first village was built, many trees were cut down to build their houses, ships and roads. This form of deforestation has taken place for more than three hundred years. The most likely theory about the village’s abandonment in the eleventh century is that deforestation left the soil with little or no nutrients. As a result, the harvests repeatedly failed and people migrated to another area. Due to deforestation, the soil was no longer held in place by tree roots. The wind caused the area to drift. The village’s wooden structures decayed over the years and the settlement on Lindholm Hill was covered by a layer of sand.
Research by Lindholm Høje
In 1952 the area was archaeologically investigated. The layer of sand on the hill (several meters thick) was removed and hundreds of graves emerged. Archaeological traces were also found in the earth that was the current ground level (surface) at the time of habitation. The traces were characterized as discolorations in the soil. When the residents put stakes in the ground to build their houses, pits were dug into which the stakes were placed. The holes in the ground became discolored because the poles rotted and other sediment filled the holes. Thanks to the research, it was discovered what the settlements around Lindholm Høje looked like.
Source: Simon Wedege Petersen, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-3.0)
Hundreds of graves
Thanks to nature, all graves on the hill were also covered with sand, which was therefore well preserved. Lindholm Høje is only one of three Iron Age/Viking period sites in the world (alongside Hedeby in Germany and Brika in Sweden) where the cemetery was used by the entire community and is therefore very large. A total of 682 graves were found, the vast majority of which are cremations. The residents buried their deceased in two ways: inhumations and cremations. In later periods the graves were marked by boulders.
The first method of burying the dead was by inhumations, in which the dead were buried in the earth. This method was common in the Iron Age; the period when the first settlement was built south of the hill. The graves with inhumations are the oldest in the Lindholm cemetery and are located at the top of the hill. Two inhumations are marked by a large stone. In one of these two graves there was a sword next to the body dating from around 600 AD. It is believed that these two graves contained individuals important to the community. When the Viking period arrived, around 800 AD, cremation became increasingly popular. It also became increasingly common in the Viking period to place personal occupations of the deceased in the graves.
The second method of burial was through cremations, where the deceased were cremated in their clothing in a pit. This method was applied by the villagers from the northern settlement (and partly by the people from the southern village). The temperature of the fire was high enough to burn the bones, but not high enough to burn everything in the grave. This meant that personal belongings made of metal, such as jewelry and weapons, were not burned. A special gift was a brooch that was a replica of a type of brooch that was exceptionally made by a craftsman in Lund (southern Sweden) in the eleventh century. Finally, after the cremations, stone circles were placed around the graves for marking.
Source: Gunnar Bach Pedersen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) Stone ships
Of the almost seven hundred graves in Lindholm, one hundred and fifty are marked with boulders from the area. The stones were placed around the grave in the shape of a ship (and sometimes in the shape of a triangle or oval). These so-called stone ships in Lindholm have a length of one meter to about fifteen meters. Due to the lack of stones, stones from older graves were used to form a new grave.
The way the residents of Lindholm marked their graves is not unique. This custom was well known in Scandinavia, Northern Germany and the Baltic States in the period 1000-1100 AD. The stone ships vary in size, but are generally several meters to several tens of meters long. The largest stone ship in the world is located in the Danish town of Jelling and is 170 meters long. Archaeologists expect that the shape of a ship shows how important the Vikings considered travel by water.
The cemetery can be visited for free. Since 1992 there has been a museum at the cemetery in which the finds are exhibited and information about the graves is presented. Admission costs and opening times can be viewed on the museum’s website. The museum is located at Vendilavej 11 in Nørresundby.
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