The five historic Skuldelev ships are to be digitally scanned using groundbreaking technology to help ensure they can be preserved for posterity. 

The new project comes after the decision was made to eventually move the ships from their current building in the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum to a new location that will offer greater protection from storm surges and violent weather. 

Guarding against the forces of nature 

The 1,000-year-old Skuldelev ships are currently housed in the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum's iconic Viking Ship Hall, adjacent to Roskilde Fjord. 

However, there is great concern among the museum staff that more extreme weather events caused by climate change could eventually penetrate the building and cause lasting damage to the ships. For this reason, the decision has been made to move them to a more secure location by 2028. 

Each ship will be placed on specially built racks, which will then be used to transport them to the new location. However, given the age of the ships, this is a highly delicate operation that requires a significant amount of precision. 

Building 3D models will enable the team to create racks that precisely fit the dimensions of the individual ships. 

On the museum's website, Tom Nicolajsen, who is responsible for the scanning process, commented, "The scans will be used by a forging company that will then build racks for each ship so they can be moved in their entirety." 

"This is the first part of the process of moving the Skuldelev ships to their new home in a new museum, safe from the forces of the sea and climate change." 

The digital scans will be used to design custom-built racks that will safely transport the fragile ships to a more secure location. Photo: Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

Conservation for the sake of posterity 

The digital scanning process has already begun, with current work focusing on Skuldelev 5, which is located right next to the water and is, therefore, at greater risk. 

The work is being carried out by the Danish company Zebicon, which previously scanned the Jelling runestones. The team uses a 3D light scanner that makes it possible to identify even the tiniest details of the ships. 

Fixed plates are placed around the ship being studied before the scanner is rolled inside and outside to capture all the details of its surface. 

In addition to helping the museum team in their efforts to relocate the five ships, the scans will also help preserve the shape and structure of the vessels for future generations. 

"The 3D scans will also be an essential part of the museum's work to preserve the Viking ships," stated the Viking Ship Museum's collection manager, Anne C. Sørensen. 

"By creating a digital copy, we will ensure that the ships remain part of our cultural heritage. The scans can be used for future restorations and research and also give us a more detailed starting point for new reconstructions of the ships going forward." 

The digital replicas created from the scans will serve as invaluable resources for future restorations and research. Photo: Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

An important goal 

The Skuldelev ships were discovered in 1962 in Roskilde Fjord. 

The ships, which were deliberately sunk to serve as a defense against potential invasions, are a valuable part of Denmark's living history and a first-class example of the famous clinker shipbuilding technique. 

Indeed, in 2021, UNESCO confirmed that Nordic clinker-boat traditions belong on their list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

Each of the ships was carefully measured after they were initially retrieved from the fjord, and a draftsman also traced the details of each part of the ships to provide a complete record. 

Since that time, however, there has been no full-scale attempt to further capture the details of the ships, despite the dramatic advances in technology. 

Moving the ancient ships to a new location is a major operation that will require a huge amount of planning and expertise.

The Viking Ship Museum already carried out a successful trial lift of the Skuldelev 6 ship in June 2023, and it is hoped that all five of the ships can be successfully moved by the time the new museum is completed in 2028.

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