Five carved animal heads were found in the Oseberg grave. Four of them are displayed at the Viking Ship Museum for the public to behold. The fifth is in very poor condition, and the remains are therefore kept in the Museum’s depository. Because none of the animal heads are alike, researchers believe that the animal heads have been made by different woodcarvers. The heads are carved out of maple wood, and two of them are adorned with silver rivets. The making of the animal heads must have been quite the challenge. The woodcarver(s) had to find a naturally curved piece of wood from the lower part of a suitable tree trunk.
We do not know for certain what the animal heads have been used for. As with many of the mysteries of the Viking Age, one can only wonder. Four of the animal heads were found in the burial chamber, and one on the forward deck. They were all found with a rattle and a piece of rope. One of the ropes passed through the mouth of one of the animal heads, like reins. There was a shaft about half a meter long at the base of the neck of each of the heads. It is possible that the heads were carried using the shafts. They might also have been mounted on walls, or perhaps even on a throne (or anything, really). But most interessting of all is the theory that they had some sort of magical or religious significance. They might have played a significant part in offerings, and maybe the burial ritual of the Oseberg Queen herself.
Sources: Museum of Cultural History, UiO
Photos: Sól Geirsdóttir
In The Oseberg Queen’s grave, there were more than 12 horses, 3 ceremonial sledges and a cart. The placement of the sledge shafts indicate that there could have been a horse on either side. The cart (1st pic of this post) was probably only used for special occasions. The back of the cart is decorated with carvings of cats – often associated with our fertility goddess Frøya. The front end shows a man being attacked by serpents, possibly portraying the tale of Gunnar in the snake pit. The sleighs are made of different types of wood and were richly carved. The placement of the sledge shafts indicate that they were pulled by two horses. We believe that the sleighs were made for pageantry and therefore, appearances were important. These carvings were enhanced by black and red paint, and tinplated nails were also part of the decoration. Unfortunately, the colours were difficult to preserve and cannot be seen today.
The best viking bling is ancient museum bling! 😉 I am always in awe when beholding the gorgeous Oseberg finds. Yass!
Sources: Uio, Museum of Cultural History & The Viking Ship Museum
Photosss: Sól Geirsdóttir
Two yarn winders for beechwood. The balls are balls of yarn;)
Tent Frames. These objects were too fragile to be mounted in the correct position
Authentic viking shoes. Behoooold!
Mystical rune inscription that possibly reads “unwise person”
Chests, Boxes and Various Wooden Containers:
“The Oseberg grave was rich in chests, boxes and casks. The beautiful metal-bound buckets of yew-wood with gilded bronze fittings, were probably produced in England or Ireland. The Oseberg grave contained neither jewelry nor precious metals. Some of these items may have been deposited in this damaged chest and removed by the grave robbers who broke into the chamber.”
Text: The Viking Ship Museum, UiO Photos: Sól Geirsdóttir
This is part one of the picture reel from my latest visit to this glorious museum. I hope you enjoy it!
“There were five rattles in the Oseberg grave. We are not sure what they were used for: perhaps as musical instruments, sleigh bells fitted on the brindle or cult objects to be used in religious rituals or processions.”
“One of the rattles found in the grave chamber would appear to be of this last variety. The rattle and hook were found fastened to the carved animal head-posts.”
Detail on the bucket found in the Oseberg mound (ca AD 800). You probably notice the Swastika. In the 1940s, it was misinterpreted by the nazis as a “proof” of white supremacy thoughts among vikings. According to Kim Hjardar, (historian and writer of “Vikinger i Krig”) The vikings had no racial agenda for their pillaging.
Animal heads. There are loads of different theories about what they were used for. They might have had ritualistic significance.
“When the objects in the Oseberg mound were excavated, there were remnants of colours on some of them: Red, reddish brown, black, yellow and grey-white. The most colourful of all the burial gifts were the sledges.”
“In his diary, archeologist professor G. Gustafson who was in charge of the excavation in 1904 writes about his dilemma. Should the colors or the carvings be given priority? Alum conservation was the best and only method of preserving the shape and carvings of the artefacts. The problem was that alum conservation would also destroy the surface and therefore the colours. Gustafson sacrificed the colours to save the carvings.”
“What can be done to prevent the artefacts from the Oseberg mound from degrade? Research to conserve the Oseberg find proceeding on three main fronts:
– Elucidating the current condition of the physical and chemical composition of the wood on the artefacts
– Examining wether existing conservation methods can be adapted and used
– Developing completely new conservation methods
This is urgent! The researchers face difficult choices, and their decisions may have terminal consequences:
Should the researchers take action now? Halting the degradation before it goes too far? They are concerned that the existing methods may not be sufficient since there is a lack of knowledge of how current methods last over time. Or wether there are unforeseen problems with them. Should conservation wait until researchers have found better methods? This risks that the artefacts will disintegrate while awaiting new treatment. How long can they wait?”
To those of you who have the opportunity to go and se the Oseberg finds in person: please do so. There is a high probability that it won’t last long due to the degrading.
TEXT: from The Viking Ship Museum, University of Oslo, Norway. Pictures: Sól Geirsdóttir, The Viking Queen.