In 1903, a farmer found one of the best-preserved Viking longships on his land. The Oseberg Ship, as it is called, was used in a burial ceremony, and while the clay, rocks, and dirt it was covered with caused significant damage, they also worked to preserve the ship and other items that were buried with it.
The Oseberg Ship
The ship is 71 feet long and 17 feet wide. It has 15 oar holes on each side and a mast about 30 feet tall. It is constructed mainly of oak, but the deck was made of pine. The oars were also made of pine and had traces of paint on them; the lack of wear on them suggests they were created for the burial.
Buried with the Ship
Two women were buried with the ship around 834 A.D. The older woman appears to have suffered from osteoporosis and died from cancer at the age of 80. The younger woman was around 50 years old; the cause of her death is unknown. She also seems to have had a good diet and used a metal pick, a luxury for Vikings, to keep her teeth clean.
The burial site had been previously plundered, likely for precious metals. The items that have survived, however, have provided a great source for improving knowledge of the Viking Age. The grave contained two cows, fifteen horses, and six dogs, which were likely sacrificed to accompany the women into the afterlife. Clothes, combs, a working sleigh, and wooden carts were also among the finds.
Reconstructed and Preserved
After a treatment of alum, linseed oil and lacquer, the Viking Ship Museum at the University of Oslo, put the Oseberg Ship on display as its inaugural exhibit. In the 1950s, the ship received a coating of resin to help preserve its condition.
In the 1990s, scientists noticed that the Oseberg Ship’s wood and metal was degrading. Shortly after, they started the “Saving Oseberg” project. In Feb. 2023, construction began on the Museum of the Viking Age in Oslo. The building is consequently designed to slow the decay process of the ships and other artifacts. The ship is about 90 percent original materials. The museum is scheduled to be opened in 2026.
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