As beautiful as the ceremonial grandeur of the Oseberg was, the simple grace of the Gokstad was the ship at the Viking Ship Museum that took my breath away. Intuitively, this longship looked more seaworthy than the Oseberg. I later learned that in 1893 a full-scale replica of the Gokstad successfully completed a 44-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Bergen, Norway to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Ironically, the exposition was held in celebration of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the western hemisphere in 1492. In a move that predated the term “political correctness”, in order to minimize offending the Columbian Exposition, the ship’s proposed name “Leif Ericson” was rejected in favor of “The Viking”.
In 1925 a stamp commemorating the Norse-American centennial depicted the Gokstad’s replica, complete with the American flag at the bow and the Norwegian flag at the stern.
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Both the Oseberg and the Gokstad were built using the clinker method where the oak planks overlapped along the edges. The Gokstad is slightly bigger.
21.58 meters (70.8 feet)
5.10 meters (16.7 feet)
23.24 meters (76.25 feet)
5.20 meters (17.1 feet)
A single piece of oak was used to ensure the structural integrity of the keel.The length of the keel then determined the dimensions of the rest of the ship. I imagine that the tallest and straightest oaks in the land would be a Viking boat builder’s greatest treasure.
The invention of the keel is one of the key reasons for the Vikings maintained naval superiority for over two hundred and fifty years. A keel allowed the ship to be rowed and sailed as well. The smaller draught, along with a removable rudder, the ship had the distinct advantage of being able to navigate in shallow inland waters.
Remnants of 32 shields, alternately painted black and yellow, along with 16 oars for each side, and a striped woolen sailcloth were excavated from the buried ship. There were no benches, thus it is speculated that the oarsmen sat on their sea chests.
|Model of the Gokstad ship|
Like the Oseberg, the Gokstad was used as a burial chamber. A 50- to 70-year-old male was uncovered with the ship along with some modest grave goods. It is believed that the valuable items were plundered long ago.
The third ship at the Viking Ship Museum is a 22-meter fragment of the Tune ship.
The incomplete state of this ship reminds us how remarkable the nearly complete finds of the Oseberg and Gokstad were.