Oseberg ship

Oseberg ship
The Oseberg ship (Viking Ship Museum, Norway)
Detail from the Oseberg ship
View from the front.

The Oseberg ship (Norwegian: Osebergskipet) is a well-preserved Viking ship discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway.[1]


Burial mound

The Oseberg burial mound (Norwegian: Oseberghaugen ved Slagen from the Old Norse word haugr meaning mound or barrow) contained numerous grave goods and two female human skeletons. The ship's interment into its burial mound dates from 834, but parts of the ship date from around 800, and the ship itself is thought to be older.[1] It was excavated by Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson in 1904-1905. This ship is widely celebrated and has been called one of the finest finds to have survived the Viking Age.[2] The ship and some of its contents are displayed at the Viking Ship Museum, in Bygdøy.

Ship structure

The ship is a clinker built 'karv' ship built almost entirely of oak. It is 21.58 m long and 5.10 m broad, with a mast of approximately 9–10 m. With a sail of c. 90 m², the ship could achieve a speed up to 10 knots. The ship has 15 pairs of oar holes, which means that 30 people could row the ship. Other fittings include a broad steering oar, iron anchor, gangplank and a bailer. The bow and stern of the ship are elaborately decorated with complex woodcarvings in the characteristic "gripping beast" style, also known as the Oseberg style. Although seaworthy, the ship is relatively frail, and it is thought to have been used only for coastal voyages.

Human remains

The skeletons of two women were found in the grave. One, aged 60–70, suffered badly from arthritis and other maladies; the second was aged 25–30. It is not clear which one was the more important in life or whether one was sacrificed to accompany the other in death (see human sacrifice). The opulence of the burial rite and the grave-goods suggests that this was a burial of very high status. One woman wore a very fine red wool dress with a lozenge twill pattern (a luxury commodity), and a fine white linen veil in a gauze weave, while the other wore plainer blue wool dress with a wool veil, showing some stratification in their social status. Neither woman wore anything entirely made of silk, although small silk strips were appliqued onto a tunic worn under the red dress.[3]

Dendrochronological analysis of timbers in the grave chamber dates the burial to the autumn of 834. Although the high-ranking woman's identity is unknown, it has been suggested that it is the burial of Queen Åsa of the Yngling clan, mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother of Harald Fairhair. This theory has been challenged, and some think that she may have been a völva. There were also the skeletal remains of 14 horses, an ox and three dogs found on the ship as well.

Still, recent tests of the women suggest that they lived in Agder in Norway, just as Queen Åsa of the Yngling clan.[4]

According to Per Holck of Oslo University, the younger woman's mitochondrial haplogroup was discovered to be U7. Examinations of fragments of the skeletons have provided more insight into their lives. The younger woman had a broken collarbone, initially thought to be evidence that she was a human sacrifice, but a closer examination showed that the bone had been healing for some time. Her teeth also showed signs she used a metal toothpick, a rare 9th century luxury. Both women had a diet composed mainly of meat, another luxury when most Vikings ate fish. However, there was not enough DNA to tell if they were related, for instance a queen and her daughter.[5] Her ancestors came to Norway from the Pontic littoral, probably Iran.[6]

Grave goods

The so-called "Buddha bucket" (Buddha-bøtte), brass and cloisonné enamel ornament of a bucket (pail) handle in the shape of a figure sitting with crossed legs.

The grave had been disturbed in antiquity, and precious metals were absent. Nevertheless, a great number of everyday items and artifacts were found during the 1904-1905 excavations. These included four elaborately decorated sleighs, a richly carved four-wheel wooden cart, bed-posts and wooden chests. The so-called "Buddha bucket" (Buddha-bøtte), brass and cloisonné enamel ornament of a bucket (pail) handle in the shape of a figure sitting with crossed legs. The bucket is made from yew wood, held together with brass strips, and the handle is attached to two anthropomorphic figures compared to depictions of the Buddha in lotus posture, although any connection is most uncertain. More relevant is the connection between the patterned enamel torso and similar human figures in the Gospel books of the Insular art of the British Isles, such as the Book of Durrow. More mundane items such as agricultural and household tools were also found. A series of textiles included woolen garments, imported silks and narrow tapestries. The Oseberg burial is one of the few sources of Viking age textiles, and the wooden cart is the only complete Viking age cart found so far. A bedpost shows one of the few period examples of the use of what has been dubbed the valknut symbol.[7]

See also



Other sources

  • Hagen, Anders (1968) The Viking Ship Finds: The Oseberg, Gokstad, and Tune Ships (Universitetets Oldsaksamling)
  • Shetelig, Haakon (1928) Queen Asa's Sculptors: Wood Carvings found in the Oseberg Ship, Norway (London: Burlington House)
  • Sjovold, Thorleif (1969) The Oseberg Find and the Other Viking Ship Finds Mary Fjeld Sjovold, translation (Universitetets Oldsaksamling)
  • Sjovold, Thorleif (1954) The Viking Ships - A Short Description of the Tune, Gorstad and Oseberg Ships (Dreyers Forlag)

External links

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