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The Oseberg ship burial

From The Viking Ship Museum exhibition

00:00 / 02:38

Archaeological excavations have gathered a lot of information about when and how and what happened during the Oseberg ship burial. First, a long ditch was dug to fit the keel of the ship. Because this dirt was spread around over blooming flowers around the ditch, we now know this process took place during spring.


Then the ship was pulled out of the fjord and dragged about 1 kilometer over sticks to the burial site. It was then placed with the prow facing south towards the fjord.


A grave chamber was built behind the mast, in the rear of the ship. Analysis of the soil layers shows that the entire north side of the ship, over the roof of the chamber up to the opening, was covered with peat and rocks. The south side, including the entrance to the chamber, stayed open. What remained may be interpreted as some sort of stage. The scene that then unfolded has been given a visual interpretation by Anders Kvåle Rue.


With the ship half covered, four oars stuck out of the oar holes at the front of the ship, but the ship was also anchored with a heavy block of stone. The grave chamber was filled up with beds, blankets, and other fabrics, four wooden animal head carvings, multiple chests, and much more.


Then two deceased women were laid in the chamber before it was closed with planks. After this, the front part of the ship was filled with items: a cart, four sledges, several beds, barrels, another animal head carving, the list goes on. Buckets of wild apples and blueberries were also found, indicating these events took place in autumn.

With everything in place, what followed would be a gruesome scene. Fifteen horses, four dogs, and a bull were slaughtered, and the entire front of the ship was likely covered in blood. Not long after this bloodbath, people entered the grave chamber and removed things before the room collapsed. Later, the front of the ship was covered in rocks and boulders, and the whole ship was covered in turf. The entire mound would have had a diameter of 40 meters and been more than 4 meters high.


A lot has been imagined and speculated, but exactly what ritual or religious meaning this burial had will remain a mystery. What we do know is that it does not cease to amaze, even after a thousand years.

Click on the pictures below, to see some of the findings.

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