1,000-year-old wooden toy boat discovered in Norwegian well

You might think that the old box of mint-condition Transformers and still-packaged Star Wars figures you keep in the attic or the back of your closet are old and valuable, but they’re nothing compared to an ancient toy boat discovered by researchers in Norway last summer.

The wooden boat was discovered by Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) University Museum archaeologist Ulf Fransson and his colleagues inside of a dry well at a small farm located in the town of Ørland on Norway’s coastal tundra, according to Live Science.

The toy, which has an uplifted prow and a hole in the center that was likely used to hold a mast for a sail, is believed to be at least 1,000 years old and was similar to another boat discovered in 1900 during the placement of sewer pipes in Trondheim, the researchers said in a statement.

“This toy boat says something about the people who lived here,” explained Fransson. “First of all, it is not so very common that you find something that probably had to do with a child. But it also shows that the children at this farm could play, that they had permission to do something other than work in the fields or help around the farm.”

He and his fellow archaeologists discovered the boat during a study of several Iron Age houses conducted last summer in Ørland, along with leather from a pair of old shoes. They believe that the wooden toy could date as far back as 1153 AD, while the shoe leather could be even older – between 1015 AD and 1028 AD, according to Live Science.

Artifacts reveal much about this Middle Age Viking family

Unlike the previously discovered Trondheim boat, which was found in a city that, at the time, was established as a trading post, the newfound toy was discovered at a relatively modest farm from the Middle Ages that was located far from water. Nonetheless, somebody had the time to fashion the boat for a child, and the youngster presumably had time to play with it.

Boats, Fransson explained, were among the most technologically advanced objects of the era. “If you built a Viking ship or a knarr (a type of boat), both children and adults would have thought it was very important, it was very specialized construction,” he said. Whoever created it, he added, put a lot of effort into the toy and “worked to make something that… looked like a boat.”

A realistic looking toy boat, the archaeologist said, would have been “really cool” to a child of the Middle Ages, “just like kids today think that race cars or planes are really cool.” It was found as part of an investigation into the site of an airbase expansion project – a 120,000 square meter excavation that the museum said turned out to be the largest dig they’ve ever been a part of.

As for the leather, the researchers said that it likely came from a set of four moccasin-like shoes that were preserved because of their exposure to well water. While they initially thought that the leather was from a more recent time period, radiocarbon dating revealed that they were from the same era as Olav II, who was the king of Norway from 1015 to 1028.

“These were more of an ordinary shoe, a work shoe that they wore every day,” noted Fransson. One piece was from the heel of a larger shoe that had been worn out and repaired, while another was almost completely intact, suggesting that they people living at the site were well-off enough to be able to throw out a whole show, he added.


Image credit: Age Hojem, NTNU University