Thursday, August 21, 2008

Viking Funeral Ship

An interesting communication has been made to the Academie de Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, of Paris, by M. Gabriel Gustafson, curator of the Christiania Museum, concerning the recent discovery of a Viking funeral ship at least 1,100 years old.
Its mortuary chamber contained the bones of two women, who, judging from the size of the craft, and the elaborateness of its appointments, evidently belonged to a noble and wealthy family. The vessel, which is 70 feet long and 16 feet 6 inches broad, was dug out of a tumulus (an ancient burial mound) two and a half miles from the shore.
A large and extremely valuable collection of historic remains was found in the ship, including a four-wheeled chariot, richly and quaintly decorated, four sledges, three of them curiously carved, several beds, lintels, a mill, spinning-wheels, and a variety of kitchen utensils.
One theory is that the second woman was a slave condemned to accompany her mistress in her last sleep. The ship and its strange cargo, constituting one of the most important archeological 'finds' ever made in Scandanavia, after being carefully restored, will be placed in the Christiania Museum.

Eastern Province Herald August 18, 1908

Amazing how this ship survived all those years in the damp Scandinavian climate. They certainly made quite a few provisions for her afterlife. Pity the slave was killed to accompany her. I wonder if the date is correct or if the ship is older than stated in the paper.


Watercolour Society of SA - Lowveld said...

Lovely blog. "At least" 1,100 years old a hundred years ago...but with carbon dating etc., I wonder if there is a new estimate on its age. Vikings would usually set the funeral ship on fire and send it out to sea, wouldn't they? For those inland they STILL used a ship (sometimes a stone one) and created the tumulous on top of it instead. How fascinating.
Barbara (Molweni with Tony & Elizabeth)

markyi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
markyi said...

I have just found out the ship is in Oslo and is now known as Oseberg Ship. This is what Wikipedia ( says about it:

The Oseberg ship is a well-preserved Viking ship discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway. The burial mound contained numerous grave goods and two female human skeletons. The ships internment 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.
It was excavated by Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson, and Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig in 1904-1905. This ship is widely celebrated and has been called one of the finest finds to have survived the Viking Age.
The ship and some of its contents are displayed at the Viking Ship Museum, Bygdøy, Oslo.
The ship is a clinker built 'karv' ship built almost entirely of oak. It is c. 22 m long and 5 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 rudder, 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.
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. 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.
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 Ynglinge 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 priestess. 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 Ynglinge clan.
According to Per Holck of Oslo University, her ancestors came to Norway from the Pontic littoral, probably Iran.
Although this fact has not been proved, artifacts recently found have provided new insight into the discovery.
Examinations of the skeletons have provide more insight into their lives, though much remains a mystery.
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.
The older woman appeared to have cancer, which was the likely cause of death. She also suffered from Morgagni's syndrome, a hormonal disorder that would have given her a masculine appearance, including a beard.
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.
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, wooden chests.
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 peacock was also found; this is quite surprising as peacocks are only native to hot climates, and Norway was certainly not one.
It is also one of the few period examples of the use of what has been dubbed the valknut symbol.