Viking-era toy boat recovered from well

Discovered in Norway, the 850-year-old Scandinavian relic was carved with a raised prow similar to a Viking ship.

A Viking age toy boat discovered in Norway may date back more than 850 years. (Photo: Åge Hojem/NTNU University Museum)

More than 850 years ago, on a farmstead in central Norway, someone threw a toy boat in the shape of a Viking vessel into a well. For reasons unknown, the well was later filled in, unintentionally creating a time capsule for future archaeologists to ponder.

“Maybe the water dried up, or maybe it became foul," Dr. Ulf Fransson, an archaeologist from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum said in a statement. "But when we found the old well and dug it up in the summer of 2016, we discovered an unexpected surprise: a carefully carved toy, a wooden boat with a raised prow like a proud Viking ship, and a hole in the middle where a mast could have been stepped.”

Radiocarbon analysis of the wooden toy boat dates the artifact as far back as 1153 AD, near the end of the Viking age. It was discovered during excavations on one of seven farms in the area spanning 1,500 years, from 500 BC to 1000 AD.

The dig site in central Norway where the toy boat was discovered contains more than 1,500 years of farming history. (Photo: NTNU University Museum)

“This is a ‘real’ boat," added Fransson. "You don’t have to do this much work to make a toy for a child. Whoever made it worked to make something that also looked like a boat. A realistic-looking toy boat would thus have been perceived as really cool, just like kids today think that race cars or planes are really cool.”

In addition to the toy boat, the dig team also discovered pieces of leather from perhaps as many as four leather shoes. Dating back nearly 1,000 years, these custom-fitted shoes will look thin, cold and slippery to modern eyes.

Archaeologists at the dig site say the shoes worn by farmers during the Viking age would have been 'thin, cold, and slippery.' (Photo: Åge Hojem/NTNU University Museum)

“They might have stuffed the shoes with grass, and worn thick wool socks, but they were definitely not warm or dry,” Fransson shared. “It says a little about what it was like to walk in their shoes.”

You can see the 850-year-old Scandinavian toy boat in the video below: