Oseberg ship (Norwegian: Osebergskipetis) a well-preserved
Viking ship discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg
farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway.
The Oseberg burial mound (Norwegian: Oseberghaugen ved Slagen)
contained numerous grave goods and two female human skeletons.
The ships internment into its burial mound dates from 834, but
parts of the ship date from around 800, and the ship itself is
thought to be older. It was excavated by Norwegian archaeologist
Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson in
1904-1905. This ship is widely celebrated and has been called
one of the finest finds to have survived the Viking Age. The
ship and some of its contents are displayed at the Viking Ship
Museum, Bygdøy, Oslo.
The ship is a clinker built 'karv' ship built almost entirely of
oak. It is c. 22 m long and 5 m broad, with a mast of
approximately 9-10 m. With a sail of c. 90 m², the ship could
achieve a speed up to 10 knots. The ship has 15 pairs of oar
holes, which means that 30 people could row the ship. Other
fittings include a broad steering oar, iron anchor, gangplank
and a bailer. The bow and stern of the ship are elaborately
decorated with complex woodcarvings in the characteristic
"gripping beast" style, also known as the Oseberg style.
Although seaworthy, the ship is relatively frail, and it is
thought to have been used only for coastal voyages.
The skeletons of two women were found in the grave. One, aged
60-70, suffered badly from arthritis and other maladies; the
second was aged 25-30. It is not clear which one was the more
important in life or whether one was sacrificed to accompany the
other in death (see human sacrifice). The opulence of the burial
rite and the grave-goods suggests that this was a burial of very
high status. One woman wore a very fine red wool dress with a
lozenge twill pattern (a luxury commodity), and a fine white
linen veil in a gauze weave, while the other wore plainer blue
wool dress with a wool veil, showing some stratification in
their social status. Neither woman wore anything entirely made
of silk, although small silk strips were appliqued onto a tunic
worn under the red dress. Dendrochronological analysis of
timbers in the grave chamber dates the burial to the autumn of
834. Although the high-ranking woman's identity is unknown, it
has been suggested that it is the burial of Queen Åsa of the
Ynglinge clan, mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother of
Harald Fairhair. This theory has been challenged, and some think
that she may have been a priestess. There were also the skeletal
remains of 14 horses, an ox and three dogs found on the ship as
Still, recent tests of the women suggest that they lived in
Agder in Norway, just as Queen Åsa of the Ynglinge clan.
According to Per Holck of Oslo University, the younger woman's
ancestors came to Norway from the Pontic littoral, probably
Iran. Although this fact has not been proved, artifacts recently
found have provided new insight into the discovery.
Examinations of the skeletons have provided more insight into
their lives, though much remains a mystery. The younger woman
had a broken collarbone, initially thought to be evidence that
she was a human sacrifice, but a closer examination showed that
the bone had been healing for some time. Her teeth also showed
signs she used a metal toothpick, a rare 9th century luxury.
The older woman appeared to have cancer, which was the likely
cause of death. She also suffered from Morgagni's syndrome, a
hormonal disorder that would have given her a masculine
appearance, including a beard. Both women had a diet composed
mainly of meat, another luxury when most Vikings ate fish.
However, there was not enough DNA to tell if they were related,
for instance a queen and her daughter.
The grave had been disturbed in antiquity, and precious metals
were absent. Nevertheless, a great number of everyday items and
artifacts were found during the 1904-1905 excavations. These
included four elaborately decorated sleighs, a richly carved
four-wheel wooden cart, bed-posts, wooden chests. More mundane
items such as agricultural and household tools were also found.
A series of textiles included woolen garments, imported silks
and narrow tapestries. The Oseberg burial is one of the few
sources of Viking age textiles, and the wooden cart is the only
complete Viking age cart found so far. A peacock was also found;
this is quite surprising as peacocks are only native to hot
climates, and Norway was certainly not one. It is also one of
the few period examples of the use of what has been dubbed the