The Gokstad ship is one of the more famous ships of the Viking Age (c. 750-1100 AD).
Have you ever visited Norway’s Viking Ship museum in Oslo?
If so, you’ll have seen the amazing vessel.
The mighty ship was found in a burial mound known today as the “King’s Mound” in Vestfold og Telemark from the shores of the Oslofjord in excavations beginning in 1880.
140 years later, it remains the most significant Viking Age find and a major tourist attraction for Oslo and Norway.
At near 24 m long and 5.2 m wide, it is the largest intact Viking ship known.
In fact, for having been underground for almost 1,000 years, there was an incredible amount of the original wood still in place.
Dendrochronology, basically the age assessment based on tree rings, has dated the construction to c. 890 AD, but interestingly enough, it was not buried until ten years later in a fact that helps archaeologists to conclude that it was in fact a functioning vessel, one that actually set sail before being turned into a final resting place.
During the Viking Age, it was a flexible, fast ship suitable for the open ocean.
It could have been sailed or rowed, so it was likely used for raiding and trading abroad. There are 16 oar holes on each side, and the crew would have consisted of 34 people in all.
After perhaps a decade at sea, the ship became the grave for a tall, muscular man in his 40s.
Many have wondered who this man was to have warranted such an elaborate burial: not only was the ship itself impressive, but also the process of hauling the ship on land and making the grave mound would have taken a long time and a lot of manpower, indicating this person must have had some degree of importance in the Viking Age society.
A longstanding theory held that it is Olav Geirstad-Alv, a petty king in Norway in the 9th c. AD, although the dendrochronology does not quite line up.
Osteological analysis of the bones also indicates the man died of massive injuries to his body, most likely during a battle.
This has led to speculations of another name, Tore Haklang, who died in the Battle of Hafrsfjord in the late 9th c. AD.
Either way, It is not just the ship that attests to this man’s importance, but also the other things that were found with him, as grave goods include silk fabrics embroidered with golden thread, gaming pieces, riding tack, and even a sled. The man also had animal companions: twelve horses, six dogs, and no less than a peacock.
Unusually, no weapons or jewellery were found, but the grave had been plundered at some point prior to excavation. In fact, as such items were common in Viking burial rituals, their existence would have been common knowledge.
Whoever was buried in this ship, presumably a local chieftain, they had great importance during the Viking Age and the vessel stands alongside the equally famous Oseberg ship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, currently under renovation but set to reopen in 2025.
It’s one of the many museums of Bygdøy, a peninsula within easy reach of downtown Oslo.
Images from web – Google Research