Bīlavu velna laiva (Bīlavu’s devil ship) is an ancient stone ship in Latvia’s Kurland/Kurzeme region. The ancient graves known as “Velna laivas” or Boat-shaped stone piles are found in the northern part of Kurland/Kurzeme and date back to the Bronze Age, approximately around 950-750 AD. Similar burial traditions were common in various Baltic Sea region countries during the Bronze Age and Viking Age, including Gotland, western Estonia, Finland, southern Sweden, northern Germany, and Denmark.
These “Devil’s boats” in Kurland/Kurzeme are constructed using large, upright granite stones, with the ends of the stack and the central parts of the “boats” marked by especially large stones. The dimensions of the boats range from 9 to 15 meters in length and 2.5 to 4.5 meters in width. Inside the piles, earthen urns are placed in pits where the cremated remains of the deceased are deposited. Occasionally, the urns are positioned within chambers made of flat stones. Each “devil’s boat” could contain between 4 to 12 burials.
The internal structure of these boat tombs follows a similar pattern: stones form an array throughout the interior of the boat under the sod, and the grave itself is situated in the middle of the boat. A large stone slab covers the burial site, and one, two, or several stone arks are constructed within, holding earthen vessels, urns with ashes, and fragments of cremated bones. Notably, no other artifacts have been discovered in these graves.