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The Oseberg Burial's Ships & Sleds

The Oseberg Ship

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“I sailed the coasts of the Northern way, between land and water. I saw life in between him, her, and beyond. Between the time I wandered then, and now, between life and death, I remain”

The Oseberg ship, excavated in 1904, is the richest Viking Age burial ever discovered. The ship was buried in the year 833 and has carvings depicting animals and figures which have given the Oseberg-style, one of the Viking art styles, its name.

 

It was filled with wagons, household implements, many animals, tapestries, furniture, and much more. The 21.5 meter long and 5.1 meter wide ship looks like it could sail anywhere, but truth be told it was not a sturdy ocean-going vessel, more likely it was used for sailing close to the coast.

 

Who was buried in this Viking Age grave with wealth beyond imagining? A warrior? A king? A whole band of Vikings? No, the richest Viking Age burial ever found belongs to two women, one in her 50s and the other in her 70s. What’s more, the older individual was plagued by diseases from early in life and might have had a hormonal abnormality causing them to have a deeper voice as well as the growth of facial hair. Yet, based on skeletal research, they both enjoyed wealthy lifestyles.

 

So, what does it all mean? Many theories have been brought forward over the years. From legendary Norwegian queens to magicians who physically represent two different worlds and are therefore in touch with greater powers. The story is sure to unfold further. For now, the next time someone asks you to think of a true Viking, maybe imagine a bearded lady for a change. 

The Gokstad ship

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“On the prow of my ship, I stood proud, sailing this horse of waters

into the horizon. Now, I sail it once more, into the waters

that flow where no living man may go.”
 

This is the Gokstad ship, and it was built around the year 890. 

It is 5.18 meters wide and 23.22 meters long, 34 pairs of hands could steer it out on the open sea, and masterfully shaped overlapping planks, set firm with clinkers, make it seem clad in an armor of timber. 

 

The man buried inside, who was in his forties, must have been a person of renown. He seems to have been felled by a blow to his knees and a stab to the thigh, probably because of battle, adding to the excitement of his life. 

 

He was buried with a splendid array of grave gifts. Even though much of those gifts must have been taken from the burial after its construction, we can still catch a glimpse of the splendor through the remains of peacocks, horses, board, games, shields, and much more, reflecting this person’s international prestige. 

 

The burial mount must have been an impressive sight during the Viking Age, standing 5 meters tall and at least 45 meters in diameter, keeping the memory of power alive. Interestingly, a market space seems to have been neighboring the mount, meaning that the solemn monument of death was flanked by the most vibrant sounds of commerce and life in full swing.

The deceased were not as absent from the lives of the living as one might expect.

The Oseberg Sleds

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“Gliding over a white blanket, I loved to feel of the cold on my cheeks.

Tears of cold would freeze as soon as they left my eyes, so I journeyed over the snow which is Skadi’s sadness."

Think that sleighing and skiing are modern activities? Think again!

These sleighs found in the Oseberg grave are a great example of Scandinavians adapting to their snowy environment thousands of years ago.

 

The rich carvings make it stand out. In the Viking Age, they would have been painted in red and black.  Horses moved the sleigh around,

making for an even stronger impression. 

Some have taken the presence of sleighs in the Oseberg grave to indicate that the grave was constructed during the winter months, it is after all a lot easier to have a funeral procession in the snow with sleighs. That is all nice and well, until you consider that the ground is frozen solid during the winter! 

Yet, there is evidence that the Oseberg grave might have remained open and accessible quite a while before it was closed so perhaps the burial spanned multiple seasons. 

 

We invite you to delve in and meet all the individuals, beasts, and shapes that dwell on the surface of these ancient sleighs and picture yourself crossing the icy landscape of Viking Age Scandinavia in style.

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