It is also one of the most famous artifacts from the Viking era. Together with some contents from the ship, the ship is displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo (currently closed for renovation, will reopen in 2025/26).
The excavation of the ship from the burial mound at the Oseberg farm (hence the name of the ship) was undertaken by two archaeologists – Haakon Shetelig from Norway and Gabriel Gustafson from Sweden.
The assessments have shown that the ship was built in 820 AD and buried around 834 AD, although some parts of it are much older, according to researchers.
The structure and the carvings of the Oseberg ship
The Oseberg ship is almost entirely made of oak, about 20 meters long, 5 meters broad, and a mast of around 10 meters high. It was made with 15 openings for oars, enabling 30 people to row it.
The oars were made of pine, decorated with paint. Interestingly, the oars were kept in excellent condition, as if they hadn't been used at all, so there is speculation on whether they were made for burial purposes.
The ship's bow and stern were decorated with some complex woodcarvings in a very specific style – Oseberg style, as it was named later on.
The women of the Oseberg ship
The Oseberg ship was used as a burial ship, in this particular case, for two women, who were obviously members of a higher social ranking.
Another curious fact is that, in general, this type of burial wasn't performed to bury women, which confirms that these two were important members of society at the time.
Their exact function in society remains a mystery (there is a possibility of discovering more details through further and still ongoing research).
Multiple indicators prove they were important, as they were buried alongside a long list of things, including clothes, tools, kitchen utensils, sleighs, beds, tents, a cart, and animals – horses, dogs, and cows.
Their bodies were placed on a bed covered with bed linen, and the bed was in the burial chamber. The walls of the chamber were decorated with rich tapestry, so altogether a rather glamorous scene, indicating high social ranking.
The Oseberg ship's bow. Photo: Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo
One of the two women was probably around 80 years old at the time of death. According to some resources, she suffered from arthritis and a medical condition that gave her a masculine appearance and a beard.
The other one was younger, but her age is a matter of speculation – anywhere from 25 to 55 years old. It is still not quite clear which one was more important and whether one of them was sacrificed for the burial of the other.
Also, it is still not quite clear whether they were related (a mother and a daughter, for example) or if they were possibly a couple. According to some theories, the older woman could be one of the Viking queens.
The Oseberg ship replica
There was an attempt in 2004 to make a replica of the Oseberg ship. However, due to some technical details that weren't taken into consideration, the attempt wasn't successful.
A new attempt took place in 2010, with improvements. The new ship was launched in June 2012. In March 2014, it even sailed the open seas, and overall, it performed well.
The reconstruction thus showed that the Oseberg ship was not just a burial chamber for the two women mentioned above, but that it also could have sailed.
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