The Oseberg Ship. Photo by Mårten Teigen of Museum of Cultural History, Oslo
The Oseberg Ship. Photo by Mårten Teigen of Museum of Cultural History, Oslo

Like subterranean explorers we travelled for miles along the network of tunnels approaching Oslo. This was quite unlike any city approach I had experienced.

The occasional car swished past on the cavernous carriageway of Bjørvika Tunnel and soon we made our exit from the urban roads. Within minutes we arrived on Bygdøy, a small rural island which boosts an array of tantalising museums. Among them is the Kon-Tiki Museum. Thor Heyerdahl’s book made a huge impression on me as young and one day I must return for this pilgrimage. For now our destination was The Viking Ship Museum which was  easy to find with the aid of the long-suffering SatNav struggling on with the Norwegian pronunciation.

Overhead shot of The Oseberg Ship
Overhead shot of The Oseberg Ship

On seeing the Oseberg Ship I initially gasped in awe and immediately felt a humbling stirring in my soul. Over a thousand years old and our fore-fathers had not only created a vast sea-worthy craft but had done so with great sense of beauty and elegance. This was no clumsily constructed vessel, rather the wonder of craftsmanship shone from every angle, the soft planed oak boards with the carved keel, the perfect round-headed iron fastenings, then looking up to the bow I spotted the magnificently carved snake head spiral.

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The ship, the largest intact Viking ship in the world, was built around 820 AD and could be either sailed or rowed with 30 oarsmen. Fourteen years later The Oseberg Ship was used as a burial ship for two women, one in her 70s the other in her 50s.

Burial Chamber
Burial Chamber

They were placed in a specially made burial chamber which resembled a small log cabin and with them were placed various items to help them in the after-life, including kitchenware, sledges, clothes, as well as horses and dogs. The remains of a peacock was one of the more exotic and unusual animals discovered. There would have been jewellery and weapons but these were looted within a hundred years of burial.

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The artistic wonder continued as we wandered further into the museum. To be so aesthetically delighted was totally unexpected. We looked with awe at the beautifully carved sledges, a wagon, animal-head posts as well as the paraphernalia of the every day. The perfectly formed spades would not be amiss in a local B&Q; I could just imagine the price tag dangling on the top.

My wonder at these explorers of the past shifted to admiration of the early 20th Century archeologists whose care and dedication strove to rescue and persevere the finds which had been buried in the blue clay. Seeing the collapsed nature of the buried boats – oh yes, I forgot to mention the shock and amazement of discovering two further complete Viking Ships at the museum; The Gokstad Ship and The Tune Ship, tucked into opposing sides of the large cross-roads shaped museum.

Buried boats and artefacts were discovered tumbled to the side like giant wooden dominoes. All askew. All topsy-turvy. Looking so fragile in the photographs from the era, now the power and force resonated from the ships, silencing the large crowd mingling around us.

Our experience at the museum was tinged with sadness and poignancy as we learned my son’s generation might be to last to view the artefacts on display. The seemingly perfect objects were preserved with alum and they are slowly corroding from the inside out whilst scientists are working hard to find a solution to the chemical disintegration.

Replete in spirit and mind we left in mutual silence, our musings loud in our own heads, our hearts full of raw emotions from our millennium journey in the previous hours. It was time to leave this island of tranquility and head to our next destination – our hotel in Oslo city centre.


  1. Mike

    I feel humbled after looking at the photographs and reading your blog. Being English, at school we were taught that the Vikings were plundering and pillaging rapscallions from the North whose sole purpose in life was to invade, cause mayhem, loot as much as possible and then high-tail it back to Viking Land. In retrospect this was very one dimensional.

    It is obvious from your blog that there was much, much more. The artefacts are amazing and are part of a much deeper and developed culture of which I was not aware. I’ll be doing some research into this now – and hopefully will get to Oslo one day to see these for myself.

    And they sailed to America in ships like these – they were either brave or mad!


    1. The Vikings had very bad PR in the UK until the development of Jorvik Centre in York which recreated a whole settlement , smells and all. It still failed to capture their pioneering spirit and their artistic side which this museum had in abundance. Yes, a bit of madness in life helps us all I find! :-))

  2. Peter R

    Another case of “Wooden ships and iron men”. It seems the hardiness of the Vikings hasn’t been lost on their descendants. I’ve crossed the Atlantic on the QM2, which is 148,000 tonnes. Looking out at that huge expanse of water and trying to imagine a Viking ship crossing it was humbling. And it seems they did it hundreds of years before Columbus.

    1. Thank you Peter, that’s a lovely comparison to draw with my earlier piece. Hadn’t occurred to me before, but now realise how true it is. The Vikings must have had great courage and drive to undertake a journey into the unknown – what a wonderful passion for life!

    1. Marion, so happy you liked the post – the history is truly amazing and felt I should have known a lot more of this before. A day of education and also spiritually uplifting. Thank you so much for your lovely comment.

  3. The Vikings were amazing people. More than just warriors and expert seaman. I love how your pictures brings out the craftsmanship in their work. Truly beautiful! I hope these scientific can find an answer and save these gifts from the past.

    1. I am so glad you feel that the photos captured the craftsmanship of the Vikings as I so wanted to do justice to the ships and objects. It was a day of revelation on so many levels. Yes, keeping my fingers crossed that a solution is found to halt the disintegration. I’ll look out for information.

  4. Mirja

    It is wonderful how you show us the Vikings as Craftsmen and Artists. Thanks also for the fantastic photos that let us see the fantastic and loving work that went into everything.
    From their beautiful ships to every day household items. Wish we had more of that left now.
    To top that they were avid travellers, trading all the way down to Byzantine and the Black sea.

    Thanks for taking us through this era from time long ago and bring it so to life.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the journey Mirja. It took a while (read long while) to sort out which photos to show as I had so many to choose from and I could easily have put another 12 or so on. My emotive reaction to the everyday objects surprised even myself, but you could feel the care put into them and then to see them so immaculate, as if ready for use. Touching. The hunger for travel and exploration by the Vikings was fascinating – such a driving force within them. I left thinking, have we lost that? Or is it just restrained?

    1. Don’t you find that – you often don’t do the ‘touristy’ attractions on your doorstep. We live an hour by train from London but still visit it rarely. It is well worth a visit although I understand they are building a new museum with bigger and newer exhibition so that could be interesting,

      1. Quite a bit away from Oslo, 8-9 hours by car. But when I’m there I usually visit friends, go to concerts and such and I don’t tend to go to the museums the we went to when I was younger and a “proper” tourist with my family

      2. Blimey, that is quite a way – I hadn’t realised. You’re quite right, this kind of museum is definitely one you visit with your family. Like the sound of concerts in Oslo and might have to look into that next year.

  5. Amazing history. I am constantly awed at how life worked in the past. I know if I was there, in the Viking land, I’d love it, call it home. I try to wrap my brain around that. It’s all about perspective, innit?

    1. Hi Jacqui, My brain doing loops on perspective! Strange how some objects are so familiar from so many centuries ago and yes, know what you mean that it could be home. Only thing I’d miss is the heating and indoor plumbing!

  6. I love old, old things that transport me back to a different time. I can envision the craftsmen, the oarsmen, the ship on cold water. The images are beautiful. Thanks for the trip through time. 🙂

    1. Diana, some museums can be rather flat and dull but this one was exactly the opposite by transporting us into the Viking era and yes, I could so well imagine the ships on the cold stormy seas. I was hoping that they had rigged up some sort of ‘cabins’ under the seats for those on board, but no, all they had were a partially tented area to the aft. Brrr…hardy folk. So happy you enjoyed the ‘time travel’ and the photos.

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