Buddha Buckets and bed-posts:The Oseberg Ship Burial

The site at Oseberg is one of great importance to those wanting to study Viking Age culture, as it contains excellent examples of tapestries and fabrics, not to mention a complete cart (the only complete one recovered thus far) two female burials with extensive grave goods and the  ship itself wasn’t in bad nick either:

Note the lovely carvings at the prow, and the shallow/ wide shape?  Not made for going across oceans, (as a modern replica built to the same specifications sank twice…you can see a replica being sailed HERE and HERE)

oseberg replica

certainly not designed for warfare, nor carrying many people (approx 30 rowers), the current theory is that the craft was used for coastal journeys before it was used to hold a double burial.

But: let’s start at the beginning: it’s a very good place to start.

In 1904-05 the site was excavated and found to have already been robbed in the past.  The majority of precious metals were missing and the site had been disturbed.

oseberg-viking-ship-excavation-1904      oseberg shipexcavation

The burial took place in 834AD, although the ship was older than this date.  Excavators found a number of objects which are unparallelled in the archaeological record; conditions of preservation had been excellent, allowing for remains in timber and cloth.

Grave accompaniments first: aside from fourteen horses, an ox and three dogs, four elaborately decorated sleighs,

oseberg sleigh

a carved four wheel wooden cart,

oseberg cart

bed-posts and carved decorations:

 

oseberg-viking-bed oseberg animal head postOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

wooden chests and a brass bound yew wood bucket now known as the Buddha Bucket due to the design of a figurine.

oseberg_buddha

Oh yes, and tapestries:

oseberg tapestry original

Original tapestry

oseberg-tapestry-original-drawing

reconstructed tapestry

Inside one of the wooden chests was a huge amount of weaving equipment:

oseberg weaving equipment

oseberg weaving equipment

 

oseberg Band_photo_02

Tablet weaving from Oseberg

Inside the burial chamber (constructed on the deck, just behind the mast) were the remains of two women, one younger and one older.  One at 60-70 years, and one initially thought to be 25-30, but is now thought to be 50-55.  One wore a very fine red wool dress with a silk appliqued tunic underneath and a fine white linen veil, the other wore a blue wool dress with a wool veil.

oseberg silk

Silk material cut up into strips and used as decoration for the under-tunic. Thought to be of Persian design.

So who were they?

In the best traditions of archaeology, the top bods can’t say for definite.  Some hold to the theory that the burial is that of Queen Asa, mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother to Harold Fairhair.  Others understand that she is a volva, not related to a car, but a type of magic user, literally translating to ‘wand carrier’.  Someone who could sing the runic charms (galdr), practice spae, or trance oracle and practiced northern shamanism (seidr).

One things is for certain, there has never been a burial found in such good preservation before, this single site has advanced our knowledge of viking trade routes, status items and fabrics like no other before it.  We can only hope that they find another similarly preserved site in the future and can put all modern techniques and analysis to good use.

 

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