As Norwegian Minister of Research and Higher Education Ola Borten Moe ceremonially broke the soil to instigate the construction of the new Museum of the Viking Age, head engineer David Hauer and his team moved a little closer to their removal deadline for three rare Viking ships. 

Delayed by a year, debated for two decades, the transformation of the Viking Ship Museum to become integral to a new Museum of the Viking Age is now underway. 

In place for nearly a century, the former ship museum was by far Norway’s most popular cultural attraction. 

In 2022, it closed its doors to make way for a new one, better equipped to protect precious ships from changes in humidity and temperature. 

The Museum of the Viking Age is due to open in 2025-26.

Priceless cargo

As recently revealed by The Viking Herald, the removal of Gokstad, Oseberg, and Tune to a new, custom-built extension alongside is a massive operation with priceless cultural relics at risk. 

Museum Director Håkon Glørstad and project leader Göran Joryd, both from the Museum of Cultural History and the Museum of the Viking Age. Photo: Ava Bosy

We speak with head engineer David Hauer, tasked with coordinating the relocation, about the challenges ahead:

The Viking Herald: In your expert opinion, what are the most difficult challenges in this process?

David Hauer: The existing museum will be considerably enlarged, and the Oseberg, Gokstad, and Tune ships will be moved into the new adjacent building. Structural stability is a key factor in avoiding damage to the ships. 

They are already suffering from degradation, and during the construction work and relocation process, the objects will be exposed to deformation and vibration. 

It is a big challenge to understand the behavioral characteristics of such complex archaeological wooden objects as Viking ships. Therefore, it is important to break down the analysis into manageable sub-levels. 

When we protect the ships from construction work vibrations and prepare for the moving process, we lift them into a stiff and heavy steel framework rigs and place the complete structure on four loadbearing points instead of the 19-32 separate supports they have today. 

These points are finally set on air springs. It is a particularly challenging task to pick up the ships from the floor and place them safely into the rigs without introducing unacceptable structural loads. 

In addition, there is, of course, a risk involved in mounting the large steel frames close to fragile Viking Age wood. This part of the process will be completed in February 2023.

Thorough preparations were made in the run-up to moving the precious Viking ships. Pictured is the Gokstad Viking ship. Photo: Vegard Vike

TVH: What is the timeline for moving the most iconic ships? 

DH: Moving the ships into the new museum includes a detailed planning process, production, implementation of rails and jacks, and the actual move. This process started in January 2023 and is planned to be completed by spring 2026. 

TVH: How many people are working on moving the ships and objects? Which areas do they specialize in?

DH: Moving the Viking ships and the other large and fragile objects to the new gallery areas must be carried out with great care, and a dedicated group project group was formed in 2016 to face these challenges. 

The SGO (Safeguarding of Objects) project is an interdisciplinary group of conservators and engineers from various disciplines, such as structural statics, acoustics, and dynamics. 

In addition, a specially trained group of industrial mechanics from the offshore sector is mounting and implementing our technical solutions. Depending on the working phase, the group numbers between 30-40 people. 

The ground-breaking work that has been carried out in the assessment of archaeological wooden structures has been a challenge for all members, with the need to re-think routines, workflow, and approaches for all of us.

TVH: In what ways will the new building better protect Viking Age ships and objects?  

DH: The overall aim of building a new museum is to slow down the rate of their deterioration. For the Viking ships and other objects, it is important to attune them to an acceptable climate and light exposure and protect the objects from vibrations. 

For the ships, it is also very important to establish new support systems to avoid structural collapse. 

A new museum building is a necessary prerequisite to implement these measures and facilitate long-term conservation strategies to preserve the Viking Age collections for future generations.

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In the photographs below (courtesy of the Museum of the Viking Age), you can see how professionals worked to secure the Gokstad Viking ship in late 2022.

Photo: Vegard Vike

Photo: Vegard Vike

Photo: Vegard Vike

Photo: Vegard Vike

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