The activities of the Oseberg Viking Heritage Foundation focus on two main areas. One is to provide training for youngsters in traditional crafts such as boat building, weaving, and textiles. 

This is carried out at two work centers in Tønsberg and Sandefjord, a scheme whose development has just earned backing to the tune of NOK 300,000/ EUR 26,000 from the DNB Savings Bank Foundation.

The other is the construction of archaeological replicas of famous Viking ships discovered in the region. Most of the parts are processed in Sandefjord before being transported on board the Viking ships Gaia or Saga Farmann to Tønsberg for assembly there. 

The current project is the Gokstad, for which the Steenslandfondet is now contributing NOK 100,000 / EUR 8,600.

This harks back to the very origins of the organization, almost 20 years ago.

Setting sail

The foundation was set up in 2005 on the waterfront at Tønsberg on the Southwestern tip of Norway for the express purpose of constructing a replica of what has been described as the world’s most beautiful Viking ship: the Oseberg. 

A burial ship for two women who belonged to a fertility cult, the Oseberg would have been used in 834. When excavated at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in 1905-06, it was found to have an array of everyday items, a wooden cart, bedposts, and four sleighs, as well as a bucket, its handle embellished with a Buddha figure made of brass. 

Apart from this, objects made from precious metals were conspicuous by their absence, presumably taken at some point in the 1,000 years-plus between burial and discovery.

The Oseberg Viking Heritage Foundation provides training in traditional crafts such as boat building and weaving. Photo: Oseberg Viking Heritage Foundation

The ship is an elegant beauty, clinker-built, made almost completely of oak, just over 21 meters long and five meters wide. It even has a mast and sail area. 

It forms part of the unique collection at the Viking Ship Museum, currently under reconstruction, due to be moved to new premises alongside in an elaborate and painstakingly planned operation.

The first attempt to create an exact replica failed. Then, from 2010, using Viking Age tools and traditional methods, another Oseberg was re-created. Launched from Tønsberg in June 2012, this proved to be a success; she took to the open seas two years later, reaching a speed of ten knots under full sail. 

This not only attested to the craftsmanship involved but also showed that the Oseberg could actually have sailed if it hadn’t been used for ceremonial purposes.

Hands-on history

Based on these experiences, the same team decided to establish a new concept in 2016. It would become a center for research and developing skills surrounding Viking-Age shipbuilding, as well as associated handicrafts. 

It would also showcase the Viking heritage of surrounding Vestfold County, promoting the region as a foremost destination for followers of Viking culture and history, and continue in its quest to create more ship replicas. 

The latest is the Gokstad. The largest preserved Viking ship in Norway, in a similar story to the Oseberg, the Gokstad takes its name from the farm in which it was found, near Sandefjord. Drawn by their own curiosity to a mound on their farmstead, the owner’s sons began to dig around.

It was the winter in 1880, the ground frozen, but soon they began to spy the point of the long bow poking up. Once news reached Oslo, famed archaeologist Nicolay Nicolaysen, then President of the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments, headed over to see for himself.

Nicolaysen and his team carefully chipped away at the side of the mound and soon found what they were looking for. What they uncovered was the 
skeleton of a man in his forties, placed in a burial chamber surrounded by horses and dogs, riding equipment, and three smaller boats. Again, there was no gold or silver. 

The ship is nearly 24 meters long and just over five meters wide. Holes for 32 oarsmen line the sides, among an overall crew of around 60. Analysis later dated the Gokstad to around or just after 890 – a few decades after the Oseberg.

Like the Oseberg, the Gokstad was put on display in the Viking Ship Museum. A new home, currently under construction, will provide both vessels with suitable protective surroundings in which the public can admire them.

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