The Oseberg Ship

The Excavation
The Oseberg Ship was excavated in the summer of 1904 in the Slagen Valley in Vestfold, by archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson. The ship lay in a grave mound, which had a diameter of 44 meters, on property belonging to the farm Lille Oseberg. When the mound was constructed it would have been around 6 meters high, but by 1904 it had sunk to 2,5 meters. The mound was made using several layers of turf, which formed an airtight seal around the ship. Hence the ship and the artefacts within the grave were well preserved. The Oseberg Mound has been restored after the excavation and is today clearly visible in the landscape.

The Ship
When the ship was buried it was filled with rocks and tied off to a big boulder. Over the years, the weight of the rocks and soil pushed the ship down into the ground, so when the grave was opened the ship was found broken into several thousand pieces. In order to restore the ship to its current appearnce which can be seen in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, the archaeologists first had to complete the world greatest puzzle. The ship is dated to 815-820 AD. It could be both sailed and rowed. The uppermost strake has 15 oar holes on each side. If you include the first mate and lookout, the ship would require a crew of 32 in order to be fully manned. The ship is made from oak and measures about 21.5 meters in length and five meters wide. The ship is clinker built and the strakes are fastened using iron rivets.

The side of the ship consists of 12 strakes. The tenth is where we find the transition from bottom to side and it offers a stabilizing function. The nine strakes beneath the water line are thin and flexible, only 2 cm thick. The two top strakes are somewhat thicker and stronger. On the outside of the top strake a skirting board has been fastened, the ’skjoldrimen’ (shield rim). This is were the shields would have been attached. The decking floorboards are made from pine planks about 2 to 3 cm thick. The mast was also made from pine and stood about 10 and 13 meters high.

 

The Grave
The Oseberg Ship was in use for several years before 834 when it was finally used as a grave ship for two important women. Right behind the ship’s mast a grave chamber had been erected. Internally the grave chamber was decorated with an amazing woven tapestry. The dead women were in a made up bed, on a mattress of down. The women were reburied again in a very solemn ceremony in 1948, but because of concern that the skeletons would be destroyed, they were brought out again in 2007. Archaeologists do not know for sure who the two women were, but examinations after the reopening in 2007 have yielded many answers. With the help of modern technology, analyses of the skeletons have been performed that show they were respectively around 50 and 80 years old. The skeleton of the older woman shows she lead a long and painful life, and that she probably died of either uterine or breast cancer. Additionally, she suffered from a particular hormone disturbance, which meant that in later life she would have developed a beard, a darker voice and a hunched posture.

The Journey to the Afterlife
In the ship, grave gifts for use in the eternal afterlife had been deposited: Personal effects, ship equipment, kitchen utensils, farming equipment, three ornate sleighs and a work sleigh, a wagon, five carved animal heads in wood, five beds, two tents and a storage tent. There were also many animals: 12 horses, four dogs and two oxen. Many of the grave gifts are well preserved, but no jewellery was found. The reason is probably that the burial mound was looted by grave robbers already in Viking times. The spades they would have used to get into the mound, were found during the archaeological excavation of 1904.

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