Viking ships stay berthed, for now

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Plans to move Norway’s precious Viking ships from the existing Viking Ships Museum in Oslo to a new, proposed museum on the other side of town have been put on ice. The government minister responsible for the ancient vessels wants to be sure, among other things, that they would tolerate being moved.

Debate continues over the future home of Norway's national treasure, its famed Viking ships. Pictured here, the Oseberg vessel excavated in Vestfold in 1904. PHOTO: Views and News

“I want a better foundation for such an important and difficult professional and political issue,” Tora Aasland, minister for research and higher education, told newspaepr Aftenposten over the weekend.

The proposed move has sparked much debate and fears that the wooden vessels, believed to date from around 900AD and excavated more than 100 years ago, would be irreparably damaged by a move. There’s also fears that vibrations from nearby trains at the new proposed museum site at Bjørvika would also damage the ships, if they survived the move.

Aasland was supposed to make a decision on construction of a new museum for the ships and the collections of the state Museum of Culture and History in February. Massive debate delayed her decision then, and now she still doesn’t feel she has enough information.

“As the government minister in charge I don’t believe the foundation of information now is good enough,” Aasland said. She intends to form an independent panel of experts on the issue, with international participants.

The director of the Museum of Culture and History, Egil Mikkelsen, supports a move to larger and more modern facilities, and was disappointed by another delay. Olav Aaraas, director of the existing museum’s nearest neighbor, the Norwegian Folk Museum, wants the Viking ships to stay put and was encouraged by Aasland’s indefinite postponement.

Officials and politicians for the City of Oslo are eager to see the national treasures moved to Bjørvika, the eastern waterfront area that’s undergoing major redevelopment. It’s already home to the Opera House and is also expected to be the future site of the Munch Museum, the Stenersen Museum and the city library.

Many archaeologists and some staff at the existing museum on Bygdøy oppose moving the ships, however, as does Ragnar Løchen of the Museum of Culture and History. One conservator, Vegard Vike, claims more consideration is being given to politics and city redevelopment than to what’s best for the ships themselves, which have been on display at the existing museum since 1936.

Vike and other conservators have claimed that some politicians agitating for a move to Bjørvika haven’t taken the time to come talk with experts at the existing museum, and are putting the national treasures at risk.

An alternative plan for expansion and consolidation of the state’s archaeological collections calls for adding on to the museum at Bygdøy. City officials fear that will increase traffic in an area already congested, especially during the summer tourist season.

Aasland, who also wants more information regarding logistics and costs, has raised the entire debate from the municipal level to the national government level.

“Taking care of the Viking ships is a large and important national issue,” she said. “I don’t want to put our country’s most valuable cultural treasure at risk.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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