It was my great pleasure to visit the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. I’d arranged to meet with Margrethe, a graduate student who works at the museum and gave my friend and I a fascinating guided tour of the small museum.
There are three ships on display there:
All three have been unearthed from burial mounds, which fascinates me. The Vikings buried these ships either purposely, or accidentally advantageously, in clay which preserved them very well. In fact, on this ship, they found the remains of two women, dogs, horses, and a basket of apples. Think about that: the apples were preserved well enough after centuries of being buried that they were recognizable as apples. I find that amazing.
The second ship was a little less austere. It did not have the carvings that the first ship had, but it was exquisite regardless. Because of the size and depth, they believe this ship was used for transportation — possibly transAtlantic transportation to Newfoundland.
The third ship was much less intact. Still, it is among the best-preserved Viking ships found. Its structure leads researchers to believe that it was used for pillaging because it would have sailed faster than the others.
There are still several burial mounds in Norway, Sweden and other places that scientists are pretty sure contain Viking ships. But they may never be excavated. Because as Margrethe explained, to expose them is to begin their demise. It’s a delicate balancing act and one archeologists carefully consider.
The intricate carvings on the Oseberg ship are what Margrethe has devoted her graduate thesis on. She is very passionate about the ships and Viking life, so seek her out if you’re lucky enough to visit the museum.
I was lucky enough to not only visit the Oslo museum, but to return to Cincinnati and discover that the Cincinnati Museum Center had a special Viking exhibition which my family was treated to. Their display was much more comprehensive about Viking life. In fact, it was here that I learned that the term “viking” means “to take a trip.”
Throughout the exhibit I saw pictures of the Oslo Viking Ship Museum. Everything I saw in Cincinnati jived with what I’d learned in Oslo. Vikings weren’t Brute warriors with horned helmets. They were a people and culture with sophisticated knowledge of metalworking, shipbuilding, navigation and trade.
More than 500 archeological artifacts are on display, along with the longest Viking ship ever found: the 122-foot Roskilde 6, a partially intact Viking longship excavated from the Roskilde Fjord in Denmark in 1997. It is on loan from the National Museum of Denmark. Cincinnati Museum Center made the exhibit even more dramatic by showing a stormy sky and sea behind the carcass of the ship so that you could imagine what it might have been like to sail the ship through a storm, complete with audio lightning and thunder.
Another provocative sight in the Cincinnati exhibit is the “Ghost Ship.” You can’t see an actual ship, but the original iron rivets are suspended with fishing wire in the shape they would have formed before the oak hull deteriorated over the past 1,000 years.
I’d never been that interested in Viking culture, though it’s seems to be trendy right now with the television series depicting Viking life. But I found the history of the ships in Oslo fascinating, and was thrilled to learn even more about the Vikings when I returned home from Europe.
Are you intrigued by all the Viking hoopla of late?