Take a look at the unbelievable grace and beauty of a Viking ship. Has anything so elegant been designed or built in the century since they sailed the seas? See the wealth of creativity displayed in the grave goods of a queen. Let your imagination be captured by fragments of textiles influenced by the work of artisans brought from far off Asia to this northern land. The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Warriors, merchants and farmers, the Vikings sailed to and founded settlements in many parts of Europe and beyond.
This lovely building frames the remains of three Viking ships that had been used for burial in the Oslo Fjord area. They lay for over a thousand years before discovery and excavation in Gokstad, Osebert and Tune between 1867 and 1904. Buried deep under a mound of blue clay and turf the wooden, leather and cloth objects were well preserved (apart from in the Tune ship where only fragments of the ship remain). Grave robbers had broken in at some point because there were no jewels or weapons to be found.
So who were these people who chose to be buried in such exquisite examples of shipbuilding? They may have been wealthy farmers and were certainly important members of society. They were placed in a burial chamber erected in the stern of the ship, along with a supply of food and drink, horses and dogs, useful and decorative objects.
The great lady buried in the Oseberg ship took her slave woman with her into the afterlife. Her ship is thought to have been a pleasure craft, perhaps a royal one. Imagine it being rowed by 30 strong men.
She also took three fabulously decorated wooden sledges, featuring exquisite carving, that would have been brightly painted and set with shiny rivets. How spectacular these must have been travelling, against white snow and a blue sky.
Two oxen were slaughtered to provide food for the queen’s journey, along with a chest full of grain and a mechanism to crush it. The burial was richly furnished with beds and chairs, as well as cooking utensils and tableware. There are bronze-gilded chests and buckets made from yew wood and probably from England or Ireland. Fragments of her clothing survive and two pairs of fine leather shoes.
All in all a fascinating insight into the household of a great lady in the Viking Period. And yet there is still plenty more to decipher. Particularly the runic inscription on a random piece of wood found in the grave. Translated it means ‘little wise m’ where m is short for mankind. So does it mean little wise is man or man isn’t very smart? What are we not very smart about? An interesting question to take away from the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.
By Natasha von Geldern
The Viking Ship Museum is easy to get to from central Oslo by catching the no. 91 ferry from the harbour to Bygdoy.