The Ladby ship is a major ship burial, of the type also represented by the boat chamber grave of Hedeby and the ship burials of Oseberg, Borre, Gokstad and Tune in South Norway, all of which date back to the 9th and 10th centuries. It is the only ship burial discovered in Denmark. It was discovered southwest of Kerteminde on the island of Funen.
The grave is situated within an otherwise unremarkable burial site from the Viking Age. Excavations revealed an abundance of grave goods consisting of both objects and animals. It has been dated to the early 10th century, based on a gilded link of bronze for a dog-harness, decorated in the Jelling style, found there.
The grave had been extensively damaged. Since only a few small human bones were found, researchers have concluded that the site is a translation, a conversion from a heathen to a Christian grave. Another interpretation is that the struggle for dominance by King Haraldr Blátönn and his heir, Sveinn Tjúguskegg, may have led to the grave's desecration. The ship was a symbol of power—easily visible to all who travelled or lived in the area—glorifying the minor king buried with it. By removing the deceased and chopping all his grave goods into hundreds of pieces within a few years of the burial, the attackers presumably gave his heirs a great blow to their family prestige.
The site was discovered on or around February 28, 1935, near Kerteminde in northeastern Fyn, Denmark, by pharmacist Poul Helweg Mikkelsen. Original drawings by Mikkelsen and Danish National Museum conservator Gustav Rosenberg constitute the primary source-material for information on the find. Mikkelsen paid for an arched building to be raised above the site, which was then covered with earth and grass. The ship was then given to the National Museum, which had full responsibility for the site until 1994, when responsibility passed to the Department of Archaeology and Landscape at the Viking Museum at Ladby (part of The Museums of Eastern Funen).
Two factors regarding the discovery of ships in general are relevant to the discovery of the Ladby Ship. First, ship burial sites are often found on higher terrain, hilltops, slopes, and beach ridges. Second, ship burial sites are usually found in close proximity to the water, whether it be a lake, a fjord, or the sea. The Ladby Ship is thus typical of many ship burial sites, as it is located on top of a mound, near Keterminde Fjord. Presumably, the ship was dragged up from the Fjord to the top of the mound with the assistance of rollers, as was the case with the Oseberg Ship. The ship is a longship that carried 30-32 rowers. While Rosenberg gave no description of the shape of the mound, Mikkelsen described it as an oval. Rosenberg hoped to find stones in a circle-formation around the mound, but instead he discovered a collection of stones to the north and south of the ship and a small pile to the east. Since the stones lie at a higher level than the row of rivets that outline the ship's gunwale, it is unlikely that the stones were used to support the ship in the burial. Rosenberg concluded that the stones came from a previous mound on the site that was destroyed when the ship-grave was constructed.
Number of grave goods were found in the burial site, including weapons, riding gear, utensils, textiles, tools, and even board games.Special attention has been paid to the ship's anchor, as it is remarkably well-preserved. Mikkelsen discovered the Ladby ship anchor with its chain and rope, and in his journal he recounts the excitement of finding the anchor, noting that many observers watched the discovery with great interest.The Ladby anchor is an example of a stocked anchor, an anchor with a heavy wood stock that is placed at right angles to the flukes, allowing the anchor flukes to grip the sea floor securely. The anchor's chain served two important functions: it increased the weight of the entire anchor apparatus, and it served as a “spring” to reduce the pull of the ship from wind and waves. The other end of the anchor chain was tied to the ship by rope the anchor there is an anchor-rope which is tied to the ship.The Ladby anchor is thought to be larger than the Oseberg ship's anchor, located in Norway. The anchor was located on the port side, right forward in the prow, with the shank in a roughly horizontal position pointing backwards towards the stern.The anchor was in good condition, while the chain was in bad shape, resting in roughly two piles at the bottom of the ship, beneath the shank and chain.