State finally funds Viking ship repairs

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Leaders of the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo could finally heave a sigh of relief on Monday, when government officials signaled release of NOK 35 million in funding for a new museum. Government ministers were also claiming that preservation of the ancient vessels housed there has always been a priority, despite dire warnings that Norway’s national heritage was literally cracking up.

After years of delays, the state government finally announced funding for improvement and expansion of the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo. The money will also help take care of Norway’s famed Viking ships that literally have been cracking up. ILLUSTRATION: Statsbygg

Pleas from leaders of the existing Viking Ship Museum seemed to be going unheard, when the government delayed actual funding outlays, despite evidence of damage to the ships on display. When archaeologists found signs of more Viking ships buried around Oslo, critics fumed that the state needed to take care of the ships it already has before excavating more.

On Monday, one of the government ministers in charge insisted that the state has been well aware of its “international responsibility” to preserve its Viking ships.

“Norway has the world’s largest, best and most unique collections from Viking times,” said Iselin Nybø, the minister responsible for research and higher education. The Viking Ship Museum is part of the state’s Historisk Museum, which in turn is part of the University of Oslo.

“The Oseberg ship is a completely unique example of that,” Nybø continued. “It is our responsibility to take care of these fantastic collections for the future.”

‘Part of our international heritage’
Trine Skei Grande, the government minister in charge of culture and leader of the Liberal Party to which Nybø also belongs, went on to claim that the funding allocation in the government’s proposed budget for 2020 made it “not only a big day for Oslo but for Norway as a nation. This is our international responsibility. It’s part of our international heritage and we must manage it.”

The relatively modest funds, equivalent to around USD 4 million, will at least allow groundbreaking on the new Viking Ship Museum announced several years ago. It’s now being called Vikingtidsmuseet (Viking Age Museum) and will display much more of the treasures found around Viking ship excavations. It will also offer new and better conditions for the Oseberg and Gokstad ships that some experts fear are in danger of collapsing or disintegrating.

“A long fight has ended in victory,” said a relieved director of the museum Håkon Glørstad. He’s been struggling to realized the museum improvement and expansion project for years and called himself “Norway’s happiest man” on Monday. “This is the most fantastic gift any museum director with an interest in history can get,” Glørstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

New excavations turn up nails
Asked whether NOK 35 million was enough, he responded that “it’s enough for a start, and to prepare for groundbreaking.” He acknowledged that the new museum “will cost a good deal more, but this is an important allocation because it’s a commitment that the government and the Parliament want to do this.”

Yet another Viking ship has been spotted at gravesites south of Horten, meanwhile, and preliminary excavations began last week at Jellhaugen near Halden south of Oslo, where photos from georadar have shown what could be the other spectacular discovery of long-buried Viking treasures including a ship. After a few days of digging north of Halden last week, six nails surfaced, enough to confirm the existience of a ship at the site.

“It’s the first Viking ship in a grave that’s being examined,” archaeologist Christian Løchsen Rødsrud told NRK, “so this is a rare finding.” The dig is being conducted by the Historisk Museum and the University of Oslo.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund