New Viking probe may reveal secrets
May 31, 2010
MUSEUM GUIDE: Norway’s capital is packed with museums, and they’re often popping up in the news. We’re following that news, and focusing every week this spring on a specific museum worthy of a visit.
THIS WEEK: New examinations of Viking treasures found near the famed Gokstad ship may make a trip to Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum even more worthwhile.
They’re the world’s most intact Viking ships, and literally The Real Thing: Norway’s national treasures, housed in an unassuming museum on a surprisingly rural peninsula just 15 minutes from downtown Oslo. The Gokstad and Oseberg ships have long been subjects of fascination, and not just because they’re more than 1,000 years old.
It’s their fine lines, symmetry and intricately carved details that can captivate the visitor. How on earth, one might wonder, did people in the 9th century manage to build such symbols of beauty and power, and then bury them with the person whom they honoured, for transport into eternity?
Newspaper Aftenposten reported this week that a team of experts at Norway’s Museum of Cultural History have secured new funds to probe the mysteries of the Gokstad ship, found in a hillside grave in Vestfold, along the coast south of Oslo. Armed with NOK 3.5 million in “start capital” from the Anders Jahre Humanitarian Foundation, the researchers hope to shed new light over the power structures in the area around the time the Gokstad ship was built.
Various items found in the grave but packed away for years will be re-examined, and the grave area itself will also get another probe, to pry out its secrets.
“Of the three graves in the area, the Gokstad one is the best preserved,” Jan Bill of the museum, part of the University of Oslo, told Aftenposten. He thinks the Gokstad grave fell into the shadow of the rich finds at the Oseberg grave.
“The Gokstad project wasn’t a priority after the war,” he said. “Many objects have been packed away since the 1950s and inaccessible to researchers.
“Now they’re going to come to light again, be examined and analyzed with the help of the latest modern methods.”
Included among the objects are riding gear, a sled, six beds, an apparatus on which to hang a cooking pot, pieces of a shield and even a best buckle. There also are 12 spades that could have been used years after the ship was buried in the grave, to rob it.
“The entire Gokstad discovery has been incredibly little investigated,” Bill told Aftenposten. “We want to examine the objects, to better understand who was buried there, whether he was from the area, and what kind of network he had.”
Meanwhile, the Gokstad ship (built around 890AD) remains on public display at the museum on the Bygdøy peninsula along with the Oseberg ship (built 820AD) and the far less-intact Tune ship (built 900AD). A proposal to move the precious vessels to a new and larger museum, consolidated with most of the other collections in the Cultural History Museum located downtown, is under evaluation but it’s controversial. For at least the next several years, the ships are likely to stay berthed on Bygdøy.
The Viking Ship Museum
www.khm.uio.no (external link)
Open: Every day 9am-6pm, until September 30. From October 1, 11am-4pm. Take the #30 bus heading west to Bygdøy, and get off at “Vikingshipshuset.”
Admission: Adults NOK 60, NOK 30 for children, students and seniors over age 67.
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