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In Salme, Saaremaa, archaeological research was conducted on ship burials in two phases: Salme I in 2008 and Salme II from 2010 to 2012. The discovery of the second burial ship, dating from the end of the pre-Viking Age (approximately 650-750 AD), occurred during scheduled investigations in 2010. Due to severe autumn weather, work was interrupted in 2010, leading to the unexplored part of the ship being covered with a thick layer of sandbags, boards, and soil. Archaeological investigations resumed in 2011, revealing that the ship remains had been well preserved in their makeshift protective layer. The short-term conservation efforts with sandbags proved effective, as finds and skeletons were well preserved, and the site could be uncovered in just a few hours.

The ship remains of Salme II were well-preserved in the central section where skeletons and numerous artifacts were discovered, including contour parts with 4-6 rivet rows. However, the ends of the ship were more damaged, with remains preserved only to the height of 2-3 rivet rows, likely due to natural factors like storms and ice. The original length of the ship was estimated to be around 17-17.5 meters based on the distance between the in situ end rivets. The orientation of the ship was determined to be NE-SW. The skeletons, found in layers in the central part of the ship, were accompanied by rich grave goods including swords, shields, combs, shears, spearheads, and whalebone gaming pieces. Numerous arrowheads and slashes on the skeletons indicated that a battle had taken place.

“Unlike the ship discovered in 2008, this one may have moved by sail and oars. This is suggested by the presence of a vertical keel (preserved in the form of a humus outline) … which is inevitable for controlled use of a sail, remains of a keelson and various other constructional elements.” 1

A fragment of coarse linen fragment has been interpreted as the remains of the sail which had been draped over the bodies:

“Remains of coarse fabric of linen weave may belong to the sail draped over the bodies.” 2

Preserved humus outline of the vertical keel. View from the north-east.
image: Liina Maldre

A detailed view of the textile fragment
image:Tarvi Toome


1 Peets, J. et al, (2013), “Research Results of the Salme Ship Burials in 2011 – 2012”, p 2 in “Archaeological Fieldwork in Estonia 2012”, pp 1-18, Tallinn, Muinsuskaitseamet

2 ibid pp 5-6