In the Iron Age, the site of the bog was a sacred place, where the weapons and ships of vanquished armies were offered to the indigenous gods in thanks for victory over the fallen enemy. Many items were deliberately destroyed (bent, broken or hacked into pieces) in ritual sacrificial acts, from the period 200 to 400 AD. Nydam Bog has played a role in the Danish national claim for Southern Jutland.
The first known finds from the bog date from the 1830s, when a local farmer gave old swords and shields as toys to his children.
Amongst numerous other items, three boats were found in Nydam Bog. In particular, the 23 metre long oak boat, commonly known as "the Nydam Boat", maintains a distinguished position amongst Danish Iron Age finds, as it is the oldest known rowing vessel in Northern Europe. The oak (egetræsbåden) boat is on display at the archaeological museum in Gottorp Castle, Schleswig, Germany.
From 1859 to 1863, archaeologist Conrad Engelhardt excavated the bog. Engelhardt found weapons, tools, pieces of clothing and two intact clinker built boats, one made of oak and one made of pine. The weapons include lances, spears, bows, arrows and round shields. Under these finds were the remains of a third boat, which apparently had been demolished already during the sacrifice.
Engelhardt’s work ceased with the outbreak of the Second Schleswig War in early 1864. Some of the discoveries from the bog were lost during the Second Schleswig War. The smaller of the two boats, perhaps 19 meters long and made of pine, was hacked up and used as firewood by troops.
The National Museum of Denmark resumed excavation of the bog in 1989. During excavation a large quantity of weapons have come to light, in the form of swords, spears, bows and arrows; and also personal effects such as belt buckles, brooches and ornate clasps. These finds originate from the Iron Age, in the period between 250 and 550.
The sacrifice site was probably used on different occasions during the years 200–450. The oak boat was the first boat found, and the only one still preserved. It has been dendro dated to 310–320. The oak boat is considered the oldest Nordic shipfind and the oldest known clinker built boat. It is 23 m long, c 4 m wide, of clinker type, and built for 15 pairs of oars. The Nydam Boat is the largest and best preserved of the boats found in Nydam Bog and is now displayed at Gottorf Castle in Schleswig, Germany. It once weighed over three tonnes and was rowed by thirty men.
Interest in the archaeology of Nydam Bog has always been particularly lively in the local area. The Nydam discoveries were and remain a significant theme in the relationship between Danish and German cultures in the border region. On this basis, the "Society for Nydam Research" – commonly known as the Nydam Society - was formed in 1983. Through its work, this interest group has contributed to the resumption of National Museum of Denmark’s investigation of the bog.
Today, the site is a green meadow. Parking is available on Nydamvej. From here, there is a path (Nydamstien) to the small white house, Nydamhuset, which is situated beside the site of the archaeological discoveries. It takes about 10 minutes to walk there.
The Nydam Society's long-standing desire to build a copy of the Nydam Boat is being realized. The boat will be built employing the techniques of the time – both to exploit the material characteristics of the timber and to develop an understanding of how large vessels were built in that period. Construction of a copy of the Nydam Boat will be based on the oak boat found in 1859. The construction of the Nydam Boat is divided into two phases. Phase 1 is feasibility study to investigate the construction of the boat. Here the builders will investigate prerequisites and gather experience for use in Phase 2, which comprises building the complete boat.
A comb with a Swastika found in the bog