Although most of the images of Viking ships are of modern replicas, some real Viking ships have survived, although they have had to be lovingly preserved and repaired to put them on display. For me, the most iconic of restored ships is the Oseberg ship which is on display in the Oslo Viking Museum.
The ship was built around 800 AD. It is 21 metres long and 5 metres wide. It is thought that the mast was 9 metres tall and with a sail of 90 square metres it could have sailed at up to ten knots. The ship had space for fifteen pairs of oars, thus it carried thirty rowers.
This detail from the stern clearly shows the steering oar on the starboard side.
The quality of the workmanship and carving all over the vessel was of a very high order.
The remarkable thing about the Oseberg ship, which was excavated from a burial mound in 1905, is that 834 AD the ship was used as a funeral vessel for two women. One of the women was aged 70 to 80, and the other 50 – 55. It is not clear who the women were, but it was a burial of people of very high status. This is clear from the goods which were provided for the women for their journey into the next world. They were not alone; there were 14 horses, an ox and several dogs also on the ship.
The items on the ship are quite magnificent. These included four elaborately decorated sleighs, a richly carved four-wheel wooden cart, bed-posts, and wooden chests.
So who were the two women and why were they important enough to merit such an opulent grave? One theory is that one woman was of high rank and the other was her servant. Certainly one of them, the older woman, was wearing finer clothes than the other, a red patterned woollen dress and a delicate white linen veil in a gauze weave, with some silk in a tunic under the dress. A DNA profile of the younger woman indicates that she did not come from Norway, but most likely from Iran. Could she have been the older woman’s slave and was she sacrificed at the burial?
Is it possible that these are the remains of Queen Asa, the grandmother of Harold Fairhair, the first king of Norway? (872 -930 AD). Could the name Oseberg come from a distortion of Asa berg, that is, Asa’s mound?