Islay's Viking Graves

It's the year 1878 and William Campbell of Ballinaby does a major discovery in the sandy links at Ballinaby on Islay. Joseph Anderson, Keeper of the Museum at Edinburgh at the time wrote in his notes: "Mr Campbell states that the discovery was made in consequence of the drifting of the sand showing a deposit of rust on the surface; and on digging to the depth of about 15 inches he found two skeletons a little apart with their heads towards the east." Joseph Anderson wrote a letter to William Campbell and kindly requested him to bring the findings of these two graves to Edinburgh, which he did and he presented the contents to the Edinburgh museum. Amongst the contents in the graves were swords, spears and tools which have had something to do with the beliefs these early warriors had. Joseph Anderson: "Although it seems a strange thing to us that a man should be supposed to have need of his smithy tools in the other world, this feeling was quite in accordance with the faith that foretold the need of weapons. As the Viking who was laid in the sand-hills of Islay took with him his sword and spear, his axe and shield, so he necessarily required his smithy tools to keep them in repair." Continue reading....The faith goes as follows: "The Asa faith promised a place in Odin's great hall (Valhalla) to all men wounded by arms or slain in battle. Spears supported its ceiling, it was roofed with shields, and coats of mail adorned its benches. It was the perpetual pastime of its inmates to fight and slay each other every day, to be revived again before evening, and to ride home in joyful company to Valhalla, there to be refreshed with the boar's feast, and the mead served by the Valkyriar. Not only was the Viking of the heathen time supposed to take with him to Valhalla all that was buried with him, but whatever he had hid in the earth during his lifetime."

Joseph Anderson continues in his notes: "I may remark that the island of Islay has yielded a larger number of burials of the Norse Viking time than any other district of Scotland, the island of Westray in Orkney alone excepted. We have already in the Museum a pair of tortoise brooches from Ballinaby. They were found not far from the site of these two graves, under a large standing stone — the bauta-stein of the Norse grave-mound - and presented in May 1788 by Colin Campbell, Esq., of Ballinaby, a worthy predecessor of the Ballinaby to whom we owe the presentation of these interesting relics to-night."

The notes above are an extract from one of the many PDF files made available online by the Archaeology Data Service, Department of Archaeology from the University of York. Browsing through the huge amount of files and finding interesting information is not an easy task and requires much patience, specially since the search function is very limited. If you do however dig up information it can be very rewarding and I will try to locate more Islay related documents in the weeks to come.

Tag: vikings history archaeology ballinaby

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Thursday, 21 August 2008
Very interesting indeed. Didn't know the Vikings needed weapons in their afterlife, as well as during their life. Maybe I should have brought a shield on my first visit to Islay. One from my Ancient Greek ancestors perhaps!