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Woodworking 

Animal head posts

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“As I walk back and forth between the beyond, I shall be guarded, by fierce beasts with gripping maws. There shall be five, rattling into the dark, so that no one may pass their gaze unnoticed.”

This is one of the 5 famous animal head carvings from the Oseberg burial. They are marvelous creations and would have taken considerable skill to carve, even for experienced wood carvers.

Based on the quality of their decorations some have been attributed to a so-called “Master” and others to the “apprentice”.

Take a moment to look at their fierce faces, gritting teeth, and bulging eyes. Lose yourself in the complex patterns covering them from top to bottom. If you look closely, you will see they are small beasts gripping one another. These are mysterious creatures, and much time has been spent identifying and understanding them.

 

Now it is your turn. There is a running joke which says that “if an archaeologist doesn’t know what something is, they will just call it ritual!”. The big question is what they were meant for when placed inside the grave nearly 1200 years ago.

Archaeologists and historians have been asking questions like this for more than a century. Of course, archaeologists are (most of the time) careful to say anything for certain. However, in this case, they might be on to something when saying they are meant for ritual.

Four of the animal heads were placed around the bed in which the dead lay, and one was lying by the prow of the ship. They could have been attached to something, or carried around, maybe in a procession.

Some say they are cats, others see dragons, and still others say dogs or wolves. We do know the four heads clearly had something running through their mouths, rope, or other items, some of which could make a rattling noise.  

 

Combined with their fierce look, and the gripping beasts carved into them, the idea of a group of protective creatures comes to mind. Maybe they were meant to protect the dead or guide them along in the beyond? In truth, we don’t know (yet), but even the exercise of trying to figure it out is an exciting worthwhile one!

 

Why don’t you give it a go? What do you think these ancient creatures represent?

Viking Age wood lid

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"When I carved this, I imagined joining the One-eyed on his path. Then I walked in his strides, mighty among men. May his wise gaze favor my kin when I am no more, forever."

This lid, found in the Oseberg grave, has been inscribed with a so-called “Valknut”, a common yet mysterious symbol often associated with Odin, chief amongst gods. Some claim it was thought to have protective powers while others claim it indicates (human) sacrifice. The truth is that its' meaning is simply hidden from us.

 

Take a moment to follow the simple lines, never ending, never truly beginning. Imagine yourself carefully carving this and ask yourself, what does it mean to you?

Viking Age chair

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“When I sat in my high seat, nothing was hidden from me. From there I screamed into the beyond, and a thousand voices would share secrets from the dark, for better or worse. ”

This chair would not be entirely misplaced in a very vintage IKEA collection. Yet, it is almost 1200 years old, found in the Oseberg grave, and there is more to this seat than meets the eye.

 

Some chairs might have had significance beyond providing comfort in the Viking Age. They may have commanded power, as thrones do, or functioned as a potent stage for magical practice. 

Later Medieval writings suggest that Odin had a throne from which he could see all that happened everywhere, and many small chair-shaped amulets from the Viking Age deepen the mystery. 

 

Imagine what decisions may have been made, what rituals practiced, or what lazy days were had, on this oldest of resting places.

Viking Age
sleigh shaft

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“I delighted in the swirling shapes, smooth touch, and sturdy build of carved wood. My mind used to travel through the carved crevasses of its surface, as my body moved over the lands.”

This well-preserved wooden object was likely used to draw sleds or wagons. It was found in the Oseberg grave, and its sturdy look hides its true age. 

 

The few surviving wooden objects do suggest Scandinavians were exceptionally skilled in, and fond of, wood carving during the Viking Age, whatever surface they could find. Those surviving examples have something very personal about them.

 

Just try to imagine every shape as representing years of experience, life, and training. Objects reflect the minds of those who make them and the lives they lived. Knowing that, which of your creations would you want to survive through time?

Handle from the Viking Age

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“Our lives hang in threads of fate, spun by three weavers at the foot of Yggdrasil. Nevertheless, I also spun my own threads, and there are many who regretted their fate, even more so when I showed it to them.”

This is a handle for spinning woolen threads. By hanging the log with its weight down from a bale of raw wool and rapidly rotating it, the finest thread can be made. The spinning process can take days, weeks, or even months.

Spinning and weaving have been linked in late medieval Icelandic writings, as well as Greek and Roman sources, to magical influence, or fortune-telling, and to prophecy.

Perhaps ritualized spinning provided access to hidden knowledge. Maybe, or maybe not, or maybe both.

Think of it this way: Most hammers are used for carpentry, but some are used for judging in court. Do all hammers therefore have within them the power of the legislator?

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