Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Viking Museum, Oslo, Norway

Last year we visited The Viking Museum in Oslo.  I am repeating myself as I have explained this before, but this was my second visit to Norway, the previous one being many years before when my son and I visited my sister and her family who were living not too far away at the time.  

I remember being totally in awe of the longboats and other artifacts inside the museum, and when I knew we were going to be in the area, I had suggested to Gregg that we should go there.  My father-in-law's heritage is Norwegian and we were in Norway to investigate where his family had originated from.

At this website it explains the story, and the photos above and below are ones I took of those hanging in the museum.

I read the following on the website.  It's quite long but is a fascinating story.

The Oseberg Finds

On August 8th, 1903, Professor Gabriel Gustafson of the university's Collection of National Antiquities in Oslo, received a visit from a farmer, Knut Rom from the Little Oseberg farm in Slagen in the Vestfold.

The Excavation of the Oseberg ship.

Rom had dug into a large burial mound on his property and had come across what he believed was a ship.  Two days later Professor Gustafson started his investigation.  He found several parts of a ship decorated with the ornamentation from Viking times.  The archaeologist was certain the mound was a ship burial from that era, but to avoid problems with the autumn weather, they waited until the following summer before starting the dig.

The excavation of the Oseberg ship drew great interest from the public.  It became necessary to secure the dig with a fence, signs and a guard, to ensure that nobody disturbed the work or got too close to the remains.  In his diary Gustafson complained of having to work in an exhibition.

When the excavation was finished, the longest and most demanding work was to come.  The excavation itself took less than three months, but it took 21 years to prepare and restore the ship and most of the finds.  The ship was dried out very slowly before being put together.  Great emphasis was placed on using the original timber and more than 90% of the fully recongstructed Oseberg ship consists of original timber.

The Oseberg burial

In the year 834 two prosperous women died.  The Oseberg ship was pulled ashore and used as a burial ship for the two ladies.  A burial chamber was dug right behind the ship's mast.  

Inside, the walls were decorated with fantastic woven tapestries and the dead women lay on a raised bed.  

The women had a number of burial gifts with them.  

There were personal items such as clothes, shoes and combs, ship's equipment, kitchen equipment, farm equipment, three ornate sledges and a working sledge, a wagon, five carved animal heads, five beds and two tents.

There were fifteen horses, six dogs and two small cows.

Investigation of the skeletons showed that the older woman was about 70 to 80 when she died, probably of cancer.  The other woman was younger, a little over 50.  We do not know what she died of.  

Both of them must have held a special position in the community to have been given a grave such as this.  Were they political or reglious leaders?  Who was the most prominent person in the grave?  Was one a sacrifice, to accompany the other into the kingdom of the dead?  Were they related?  Where did they come from?  The two women from the past remain a mystery but continued research may tell us more.

The newer looking carving of the serpent's head in the above photos is a reconstruction that was at the stem of the Oseberg ship.     

There is another ship in the museum called the Gokstad ship.  The photos above and below show that one.

The beginning of the story on the Gokstad find reads:

On the Gokstad farm in Sandefjord there was a large burial mound.  It was said that there was a ship within it.  In the autumn of 1879 the two teenage sons on the farm were bored.  They began to dig into the mound, to see if they could find anything interesting.  And they certainly did.  The rest of that story you can find here.

For a condensed history about the Viking era, you can go here.  You will read that the Viking age lasted for 300 years, from the late 8th century to the late 11th.  It is another fascinating story if you are interested in learning more.  The Oseberg ship is mentioned also.  The site is actually an online store and is worth exploring.

The photo above is of son and myself taken with the Oseberg ship, as is the one of me below when we visited last year, except I am on the other side of the boat.  There were stairs leading to an overlook on the left and right of the boat, which gave us a better view from above.  My trip with our son was in 1987.

I have always had an interest in archaeology and fancied myself traveling the world when I was very young, discovering hidden finds and learning about the past.  I still find myself drawn to archaeological shows and love visiting museums.  We are very fortunate to have the Smithsonian so close to us in Washington DC and never miss one of them when we got into the city.  Thanks to them I can step into the past as often as I want.


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