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Though these stone ships at the Anundshög burial site outside of Västerås are from the Iron Age, the tradition of raising stone ships began far earlier, during the Bronze Age. This coincides with the chiseling of petroglyphs depicting ships; a custom which explodes during this same Bronze Age. One can speculate that this newly found appreciation for the ship as a subject of worship is due to the advent of long-way shipbound trade during this same period.
But what do the stone ships really signify? Even though they are often found at burial grounds and sometimes houses human remains, it is far from certain that they are grave markers. If they are, they were probably built to represent a ship belonging to the deceased, but they could just as well be collective ceremonial monuments symbolizing the naval journey to the afterlife - a view common for many ancient cultures. In fact, our speculations on the meaning and function of the stone ships are just wild shots in the dark and our guesses on these matters are just as accurate as are our written sources on them ... and as the Scandinavian Bronze and Iron Ages were periods of illiteracy, no such written sources are left to us. Other cultures have such sources, however:

“And here the dreaded ferryman guards the flood, 
grisly in his squalor — Charon … 
his scraggly beard a tangled mat of white, his eyes 
fixed in a fiery stare, and his grimy rags hang down 
from his shoulders by a knot. But all on his own 
he puts his craft with a pole and hoists sail 
as he ferries the dead souls in his rust-red skiff. 
He’s on in years, but a god’s old age is hale and green.”

The Roman poet Virgil on the ferryman of the afterlife in ancient Romano-Greek belief.

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