Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo - Oseberg Excavation

IMG_2585 Oseberg Viking Longship

During our stay in Oslo, we ferried over to Bygdøy peninsula where we spent the day visiting several impressive cultural and historical museums. The Oslo Pass proved to be a great investment because it was accepted on the public ferry to Bygdøy and at all the museums here.

The Viking Ship Museum was a great treat for my brother-in-law because, like his father did, he works on the San Francisco Bay every day. We say that he has salt water running through his veins, no doubt a trait that passed down from his Norwegian ancestors.

The Oseberg Viking Longship

The Oseberg Viking longship is the world’s most complete ship ever found. A farmer discovered the ship in 1903 while he was digging in a mound on his farm. The following summer, Swedish archeologist Gabriel Gustafson led an excavation team for five months until the last piece of the the 70-foot longship was unearthed. The blue clay of the mound preserved the wood for longer than a millenium.

Image: Univeristy of Oslo 

It was determined that the ship dates from before the year 800 and that she was buried since 834. Conservators spent twenty-one years meticulously restoring the ship using almost all of the original wood and even many of the original iron rivets. Unfortunately, the conservation method of boiling the oak in a concentrated solution of alum rendered the wood brittle as crisp bread. In 1926, the delicate ship was moved to her new, custom-made home where she still stands today.

Image: Univeristy of Oslo 
She is housed in the first room of the Viking Ship Museum which is bathed in a beautiful blend of natural and understated man-made lighting with a ceiling that is shaped like an upside down ship hull. As I was taking the photo at the top of this post, my son sidled up next to me and suggested that I take a couple of steps to the left. Then I saw what he saw...

IMG_2584 Oseberg Viking Longship

...a shadow twin.

IMG_2588 Oseberg Viking Longship with shadow twin

The frond-like prow ...

IMG_2590 Oseberg Viking Longship

.... turned out to be the head of a serpent...

IMG_2587 Oseberg Viking Longship

... with its body intricately carved along the keel and terminating with  its tail at the stern:

IMG_2592 Oseberg Viking Longship

A giant serpent emerging out of the fog would feed any fears and “confirm” numerous sightings of legendary sea monsters.

The Oseberg was thought to only be seaworthy enough for coastal voyages. A full-scale copy of the ship sank in the Mediterranean Sea during trials in 1987. The New Oseberg Ship Foundation hopes to make new replica.

The Oseberg's elaborate ornamentation suggests its use as a ritual vessel and, in fact, the ship was used as a burial chamber. When found, it contained the remains of two women with livestock and objects to be used for the afterlife. The opulence of the grave goods in the ship and the attire of the women suggested  that at least one of them was of very high status. They even unearthed the remains of a peacock which must have been an exotic pet.

The Oseberg Cart

The women were reburied in the original Oseburg mound, but many of the artifacts are on display in the museum. The extravagantly-carved Oseberg cart is the oldest known vessel with wheels in Norway.

IMG_2608 Viking Museum cart

It is believed that the artist who carved the decorations of the Oseberg ship also executed the carvings on the cart. The front of the cart depicts a pit of snakes...

IMG_2611 Viking Ship Museum cart

...surrounding a man believed to be Gunnar in the snake pit of Viking mythology. 

IMG_2614 Viking Museum cart detail

Gunnar was chained and thrown into a pit of snakes but played a harp with his toes so well that all but one snake were lulled to sleep. Tragically, the final adder killed him.


CC said...

Positively fascinating.
Sounds like an amazing trip as well.

Need to read up on my Norse legends and

Thanks for sharing this.

Vagabonde said...

It was very sunny and warm when we were in Oslo 3 weeks ago, so we went to the Folk Museum instead and did not see this Viking ship. I was pleased to see it on your post. Your pictures are tremendous. I’ll have my husband read your post to show him was we missed, but thanks to you, we can see it after all.

rochambeau said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge about the Viking ship. I was to this museum many moons ago, but didn't know the background of how it was excavated and restored to it's splendorous fullness!
As we scattered ashes of a beloved dog friend last Mon. , my friend Andrea told me about Viking Funerals. Do you know?


Relyn Lawson said...

That ship is incredibly beautiful. Really, really gorgeous.

Ruth said...

Holy cow, Dutchbaby, my mouth is hanging open. This is an extraordinary find, and story. The ship itself is beyond gorgeous, the frond-like prow! It reminds me of Gwen's post at Desideratum, of her fiddlehead fern earring creations.

I love that your son suggested you move and see the shadow. Such elegance. The story of the women buried with their afterlife loot is amazing. I wonder if they were queens?

You see the most interesting things. I love that you share them. Don't ever stop!

Kala said...

Amazing how they were able to carve such beautiful details.

Thanks for sharing.

joco said...

What a terrific post.
And your photographs are great. Not easy to get that boat in one picture, in those confined surroundings. Well done you.
So that is how they came over to pillage and plunder us here in the UK.

rochambeau said...

I just sent my mom a link to this post. Her mom was Norwegian, and I think she would like.
Happy weekend Dutchbaby

my verification word is nation. I've never had a real word before.

George said...

This is another fascinating post, Dutchbaby. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

The ship is just magnificent, and your photography displays it beautifully. I love the photos with the shadow of the prow. I am also fascinated by the history of the vessel, especially the use of it as a burial chamber. Amazing!

Thanks for a great post.

George said...

This is another fascinating post, Dutchbaby. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

The ship is just magnificent, and your photography displays it beautifully. I love the photos with the shadow of the prow. I am also fascinated by the history of the vessel, especially the use of it as a burial chamber. Amazing!

Thanks for a great post.

Ginnie said...

What thrills me to no end about this post, DB, is that I have been to this very museum but am seeing it BETTER through your eyes than my own...if that can possibly make any sense. It's true. I love all the more info you have shared that I didn't get when I was there. And when I read about that final adder killing Gunnar, I wondered if he was the "designated" killer. "If all the rest of us fall asleep, YOU'RE the one who has to stay awake and kill him." HA!

rebecca said...

such beauty. this perfect marriage of form and function. i am completely taken with the art of embellishment, the offering of time...hands...heart and soul to elevate the utilitarian objects of our life.

complete and utter beauty.
thank you for this.

Jeannette StG said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece of history. What an incredible time it took to excavate and restore the ship for showing standards! Love the woodcarving!

Yoli said...

This is beyond beautiful, showing yet again that they were so much more than the horrible legends.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear CC,
Do I see a Norse mythology children's book in your future? I have lots of photos to share with you :-D.

By sheer coincidence, both my kids are taking mythology this semester.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Vagabonde,
We spent the entire day in Bygdøy and managed to go to both the folk museum and the nautical museums. I'm glad you can share this post with your husband.

Unknown said...

Oops! Should have read this one first...of course they are sea serpents to match that fabulous prow! Oh my goodness, what a work of art! And that shadow is positively eerie. Great work, dutchbaby!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Constance at rochambeau,
I'm so sorry to hear about your beloved Tessie, the life-saver. Your post about her and Noelle was truly touching.

Wouldn't it be something to be sent of to the next world in a magnificent Viking ship?

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Relyn,
I know that if you saw this ship in person, you would have immediately written an entry in your journal.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,
I love to see the world through my son's eyes. He always has a unique perspective.

Love Gwen's fiddlehead earrings! I'd want them extra long and dramatic!

Some of the sources I studied suggested that at least one of the women was a queen, though the university's official website did not. Regardless, if I was buried in a gorgeous ship like this I'd feel like a queen!

How could I stop with wonderful readers like you?

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Kala,
The wood carving is amazing isn't it?

Dutchbaby said...

Dear joco,
I don't imagine there was much pillaging and plundering going on with this vessel. I don't think it was seaworthy enough to cross the North Sea to your neck of the woods. The Gokstad, on the other hand, which is also displayed at the same museum, may have witnessed some serious destruction.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear joco,
I meant to say,welcome to Dutchbaby!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Constance,
So that would make you one quarter Norwegian. My brother-in-law is 100 percent Norwegian. They have an amazing culture with a long nautical history. Please tell your mom that I have a cuppa tea brewing and that I reserved a comfy chair for her. I hope she will enjoy the read.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear George,
I see from your last post that you enjoy shadows also.

Since we didn't stay too long in this museum, I was delighted to have found so much information on the internet about the ships here. The history of these ships is quite enthralling.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ginnie,
I learned most of the information of this post by cybersurfing. I was captivated by all that I learned about these Viking ships. I was happy that I had the photos so that I could revisit them.

"Designated killer" - that's a funny one. I was thinking that maybe this adder was deaf. This is the first Dutchbaby post that had a tragic ending; it felt dramatic.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear rebecca,
Thank you for leaving this beautiful note. Yes, turning the mundane into extraordinary is a noble goal. This wood carver definitely achieved it.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear jeannette,
Yes, it was a labor of love to excavate and restore this ship so that it can be enjoyed by so many of us.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Yoli,
Those stereotypes of rape and pillage are definitely under academic scrutiny right now. The art I see in this ship speaks a beautiful language.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Susan,
You were so smart to make out the sea serpents from such a small sample of the carving.

Welcome back to the blogosphere!

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