Gotland is a beautiful island in the middle of the Baltic Sea with a pleasant and temperate climate that’s earned it the nickname the “Island of Roses.” These days it’s a popular vacation spot, but according to local legend this was not always the case: The island was once a stormy, haunted place that only ceased its trickery thanks to a brave hero named Tjelvar.
The 13th-century Gutasaga saga about the early history of Gotland tells the story of Tjelvar, a mighty hero who tamed the Baltic island. According to this legend, Gotland was once a living creature, and one not in the mood to let people inhabit it. During the night, it would be like any other island, calm and quiet. But once the sun came up it would violently thrash around and sink underwater, taking any visitors along with it into the depths of the sea.
This process repeated itself for many, many years, until one day, Tjelvar made the risky journey to Gotland using just a small rowing boat. He set foot on the island in the dead of night and started a fire, which cleansed the place of evil and pacified the island. Tjelvar became king of Gotland and is known to history as the first person to ever live on Sweden’s largest island.
After his long and happy reign, Tjelvar died an old and content man. He was loved by all and buried in a ship-shaped grave. These stone ship burial sites, also called “ship settings” are found throughout Scandinavia and were usually built during the Viking era starting in the late 8th century. But Tjelevar’s Grave on Gotland is unique in that it’s more than a thousand years older than most stone ships, dating all the way back to the Nordic Bronze Age. Archeologists have dated the burial monument from between 1100 and 500 BC. In the 1930s, several pots were found inside the ship that contained the burned and crushed remains of the person buried there—whoever they may be.