The Gokstad Ship

The Excavation
The Gokstad Ship was excavated in the summer of 1880 at the Gokstad farm in Sandefjord municipality. The mound in which the ship was buried measured about 43 to 50 meters in length and was about five meters tall, and it was constructed from clay mixed with sand. Originally the mound was probably quite a lot bigger.
The ship was buried in the blue clay underground. The uppermost part of the ship, including the two top strakes and the sterns were seriously damaged, but besides this the ship was very well preserved. The ship, which you can see in the Viking Ship museum in Oslo today, consists of more than 60% original parts.

The Ship
The Gokstad Ship was built between 885 and 892 AD. It measured about 23 meters in length and was about 5 meters wide. It could be sailed or rowed. On each side of the ship there are 16 oar holes. Including the first mate and the outlook, the crew would have consisted of 34 people. There are no traces of thwarts, the wooden beams placed across a boat often used as seats. Most likely the rowers would have been sitting on chests, which could also contain personal items. The ship was made from oak and was clinker built with 16 strakes. On the inside of the topmost strake there is a skirting board, the ’skjoldrime’ (shield rim). The shields were attached using thin cords and thus hung on the outside of the ship. There were 32 shields on each side. Every other one was painted yellow and black.

The keel was constructed using one straight piece of oak timber. The nine strakes under the water line were flexible and on average 2.6 cm thick. The tenth strake is 4.4cm thick and stable. The floorboards on deck consist of pine planks that could be easily lifted so that the crew could bail out water when needed. This also provided them with storage space for cargo. In the front of the ship some white wool cloth was found, with stripes of red fabric sewn on. This could be remains from the sail.

The Grave
Abaft in the ship a grave chamber had been erected, where the skeleton of a man in his forties was resting on a bed. Wool and remains of silk with gold thread woven in was found, and could indicate he was elaborately dressed. His weapons and jewellery were gone, but signs of forced entry into the mound about 50-100 years after the burial could explain why. But not everything was removed: In the grave chamber they found, among other things, a board game with pieces made from horn, fish hooks and harness fittings of iron, lead and gilded bronze. Outside the grave chamber they found kitchen utensils, six beds, one tent and a sleigh. Accompanying him in the grave were 12 horses, six dogs and a peacock. Three smaller boats were also part of the grave goods.

Vikingskipet fra Gokstadhaugen i Sandefjord

The Gokstad Ship in The Viking Ship Museum.

A Brutal Death
The skeleton was reburied in the grave in 1928, but for conservation reasons it was retrieved again in 2007. The bones then became the subjects of extensive analyses, which showed that the Gokstad man suffered from acromegaly – a condition, which affects the growth hormones in the body. Characteristically, sufferers have coarse bone structure and facial features, large hands and feet, a big nose and a protruding chin. The Gokstad man was about 180 cm tall and had several stab and cut wounds on his skeleton, something that indicates he was killed in rather a brutal way.

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