The Gokstad Ship,
The Gokstad ship is displayed together with the Oseberg ship, the Tune
ship and two of the smaller boats found at Gokstad in the
large hall at the Viking Ships Museum in Oslo.
During the year 1880 the sons of Gokstad, a farmer in Sandar, began
to dig in the their land. Nicolay Nicolyasen led the Kings Mound excavation
situated quite a distance away from the fjord where the ship would
have sailed. The excavation took a few months to complete. Nicolyasen
transported the ship from Lahelle (Vestfold, Sandefjord) to Oslo and later
The excavation of the Gokstad ship, built around the year 890 AC, answered
many questions about the building and uses of Viking ships. Later archaeological
inspections have dated the grave between the years 900-905 AC.
ship had 32 rowing oar holes that left room for 70-80 men on board; this
supports the idea that this was a warship. Even though Gokstad was not
as richly decorated as the Oseberg ship, it stands out
as a construction masterpiece. Gokstad has a stronger keel than any other
Viking ships from Vestfold. The keel was hewn from a single tree trunk
that must have measured 25 metres height. Both the mastfish (mast partner)
and the kjerringa (a large block of oak) were extremely strong, the kjerringa
is strengthened by knees (naturally bent branches). The mastfish is solidly
fixed to fit the crossbeams, supported firmly on each side by knees.
The planking, sixteen pieces on each side of the ship form the hull
below the water line to the side, were of solid construction. These details
play an important part during sailing when the hull's endurance was put
to the test.
The Gokstad ship's seaworthiness was demonstrated by a copy, Viking,
which was built at Framnæs shipyard, Sandefjord in 1893.
The three small boats
smallest of the boats in the mound, measures 6.60 meters in length. The
small rowing boat was most likely the ship's boat, to be used when the
ship lay in anchor or for use on long voyages. A boat, like this one,
that can be rowed with 4 oars is often known as a færing.
The largest of the three boats found was 9.75 meters in length. This boat
has most likely been used in fjords or used as a fishing boat. A boat,
like this one, that can be rowed with 6 oars is called a seksring.
These smaller boats gave us a lot of exciting information about other
aspects of seafaring during this period. Nicolaysen described the
excavations: "If we take into consideration the findings of the three
smaller boats, these can be viewed with even more wonder than that of
Gokstad, for as far as we know these are the only small boats of this
kind ever found from this period".
Other small boats from the Viking period have been found, but none have
been in such good condition that they could be reconstructed.
Frederik Johannesen, a Norwegian naval architect, was in charge of the
restoration of both the Oseberg and the small ships. "We see here
a presentation of work that in every way deserves great respect, not just
the handwork but also the finished product. It is a delight to look
at, pure artistic enjoyment, this boat with its fine, clean lines,
majestic, yet at the same time charming and soft in profile", he
said. Although the three boats are very similar, it is the largest of
the boats that is better built. "The sea routes were the best
method available when travelling around Norway and of course, the only
means when travelling further afield to countries in the South and
the West. We can see this clearly today, but to have been able to develop
such well built vessels, there must have also been some kind of competitiveness
amongst boat builders. As far as we can gather from documentation, it
was Norway who had gained supremacy in ship building more than any other
country in Northern Europe". Experience gained from sailing these
vessels validate Johannesen's theory of the vessels seaworthiness.
The Mound Ruins
Mound was extremely large. It was 43.50 metres in diameter and 5 metres
high. It had probably been larger but had been reduced in size by farming
activities such as ploughing and planting. The blue clay mixed with sand
allowed the ship to be buried in good condition. Blue clay filled the
ship and the bottom of the grave. It was the items found in the
clay that were the best preserved.
Today the mound is situated quite a distance away from the fjord where
Gokstad would have sailed. The land level has risen nearly 3 metres
since the construction of the mound but even so the mouth of the fjord
would have been 400 metres away. It is believed the Vikings pulled
the ship up along a stream called Hasle that runs close by the mound.
The ship inside the mound contained a Burial Chamber fit for a Chieftain
or King and with it his personal goods of practical use. It was
the custom to make sure the dead was well equipped for their life after
death. Some of the findings were most likely personal possessions
of the Chieftain.
The Burial Chamber
The Burial Chamber was situated behind the mastfish where the Chieftain
would have stood as he navigated his ship.
The skeleton of a male between 50 and 70 years of age, of 1.85 metres
tall (above the average height during this period), was found. By the
side of the skeleton were fragments of wool and silk that are presumed
to have been the dead mans clothing. Fragments of wood found are believed
to have been part of a bed. He also had with him three fish hooks and
a two sided board game made of oak with a playing piece made of horn,
it is similar to the game called Mølle. Horses' harnesses
and one horseman roundel (ornament of bronze displaying a horseman) were
Outside of the Burial Chamber
The remains of a Peacock, an exotic bird, were found in the grave. Peacocks
are natives of India and Sri Lanka , which must have been taken to Europe
during the Viking period. The Peacock found at Gokstad is the oldest one
brought to Northern Europe.
The Chieftain also had with him six cups and a plate made of wood. In
front of the mast the remains of 3 smaller boats, several beds, two pairs
of verge boards belonging to a tent and equipment for a sledge was found.
Kitchen utensils like a chopping board, an oblong wooden bowl and a large
bronze pot were also found. A large cask with a capacity of 750 litres
served to store the water supply.
Outside the ship area, there were remains of 12 horses and 6 dogs (maybe
thought to be served as hunting in the afterlife).