Bergen Maritime Museum: a peek at medieval and Viking water transportation

Jan and I visited the Bergen Maritime Museum (Bergens Sjøfartsmuseum) a week ago — the first time for me, and something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while now. It lived up to my expectations!

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

The entrance to the museum, located in the heart of the University of Bergen.

Quoting from their brochure: It is the aim of Bergen Maritime Museum to provide a survey of the development of our shipping expertise from ancient times right up to the present day.

Covering two floors, it’s fairly extensive and quite interesting! We spent a lot of time looking over several specific eras in history, and with this post I thought I’d share a few images and words about the oldest vessels from Norway.

 

Rock carvings and Logboats

From their website: Our very oldest Scandinavian vessels are known to us from pictorial sources i.e. rock carvings, and from finds of boats and parts of boats.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

A recreation of a Bronze age rock carving from Skjeberg, in the southeastern part of Norway.

Quoting from the display: Logboats are vessels made of hollowed logs and have been used at all times world-wide in places like the Amazon, Nigeria and Scandinavia. In Nordic stone age, logboats were used as means of transportation and for fishing. The oldest proven logboat in Norway dates back to 200-100 B.C. … Logboats have been used in rivers and lakes in Norway as late as the 20th century.

The exhibited logboat was found in 1960 by the shallow lake Solsevaten … in Hardanger. The logboat is dated back to 1400 – 1430. It is flat-bottomed and probably made of a pine trunk. The boat may have been used in connection with fishing and mountain dairy.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

Logboat from the early 1400’s.

 

The Kvalsund boat

Quoting from the display: In 1920 two boats were found in a bog in the northwestern part of Norway. The largest, which was 18 meters long, is exhibited in model here. There is no trace of mast or mast step, so the boat probably had no sail. The vessel is precursor to the Viking-ship.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

Kvalsund boat, the precursor to the Viking ships.

 

Boathouse reconstruction

Quoting from the display: Reconstruction of the boathouse from ca. 500 A.D. on the basis of excavation at Stord shipyard property in winter 1956 … The ship is a replica of the Kvalsund boat.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

A boathouse reconstruction, with a replica of the Kvalsund boat.

 

The Oseberg Ship

Quoting from the display: The Oseberg ship was found in a large burial mound at the Slagen farm in Vestfold and excavated in 1904. The ship was built around 815 – 820 A.D. and had been used as a sailing vessel for many years before it was put to use as a burial ship for a prominent woman who died in 834. The woman was placed in a burial chamber in the aft section of the ship. Next to lay the body of another woman, possibly a servant, as well as her most valuable possessions.

The ship, built of oak, was 22 meters long and 5 meters wide. The 12 strakes were secured with iron nails. The ship was designed for both rowing and sailing. With a square sail of about 90 sq. meters it could reach speeds of over 10 knots. The top strake had 15 oar holes. A full set of oars was included in the grave furnishings. The crew probably sat on their ship’s chests. The Oseberg ship was in all probably intended to be used as a royal pleasure vessel for sailing along the coast. Both the prow and stern of the vessel are finely carved in the characteristic “Animal style”.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

A model of the Oseberg Viking Ship; the original is in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.
Visit their website to find out the intricate and complicated path of
discovery, excavation, and restoration of this unique piece of history.

 

Keel from a Viking ship

The keel from a Viking ship, found at Bremanger in Sogn og Fjord, Norway, is stretched out under the display case. It’s a unique piece and an interesting glimpse into the heart of a powerful ship.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

The keel from a Viking ship.

 

Anchor

An amazing find — an anchor from ca. 800 A.D, found in Nordland, Norway. Can you image what it took for builders of that time to envision and create this?

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

An anchor from the beginning of the 9th century.

 

Mast

The central mast support from a Viking ship; with primitive tools (to our 21st Century eyes), the mast was wedged firmly in place. I stood there and imagined the force of the wind, waves, and water … and it all held together.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

The central mast support from a Viking ship.

 

Frame timber reconstruction

Reconstructed frame timber section of a Nordic medieval ship, with an original 4.5 meter long deck-beam. The beam was excavated at Bryggen in Bergen.

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

Reconstruction of a part of a Nordic medieval ship.

 

I found this map showing the locations of the major Viking ship finds interesting … and the graphic of Norway’s explorations by ship fascinating!

July 12, 2014 - Bergen Maritime Museum

 

I’ve enjoyed wandering through museums all over the world, but this is the first time I’ve been to a ship museum. Because of my joy in discovering aspects of history I’ve previously overlooked, plus living in an area where water dominates all aspects of life … well, this part of the Bergen Maritime Museum was an intriguing glimpse for me into the very beginnings of the ancient Norwegian’s adapting to their world. Over the next few weeks I’ll share other aspects of our time at the museum.

Comments

    • says

      The scale doesn’t really show in my photo, but it’s about 5 – 6 feet tall? — and the boats back then weren’t *quite* as big as we’re used to today. :)

  1. says

    Hi Cindy,
    a highly interesting article: thanks! What I found surprising is that the Oseberg ship was THAT early. And also, that the form of the anchor is still considered the best allround type of anchor nowadays.
    Best regards from southern Texas,
    Pit

    • says

      I’m not a ship expert, and had honestly not thought about an anchor’s shape through the ages. But standing in front of it I thought the same idea as what you’ve written — that form must be the best!

      Isn’t history interesting? I’m glad you enjoyed this part of our visit, Pit!

    • says

      Pit, I realized I had a typo in the dates for the Oseberg Viking ship — I’ve corrected it now. It *wasn’t* 815 – 320 A.D.! :)

    • says

      It didn’t go into detail of the explorations — it was just that graphic about the specific ships. But I know markers and such have been found in New England. I have family that lives between Rochester and Buffalo, and I was talking to one of their local friends who has property on the Erie Canal and mentioned Viking artifacts found on their property. Another friend grew up on a huge farm in Vermont and they found artifacts there also. It’s fascinating, isn’t it?

  2. says

    Wow! It looks absolutely fascinating, Cindi – and I get a real sense of ancient times just looking at the photos; what a great place to visit – it sounds just my kind of thing! xxx

  3. says

    Yes:-) I havent been there for a long time! Absolutely loooove seing it through your eyes dear Cindi! Thanks for taking us along, I enjoyed:-)

    • says

      Thanks Tina! I’ve read about all this, but to stand and see and experience the reality was — as you write — pretty amazing. :)

  4. says

    Hi Cindi. We also visited that Museum…but after a month of non-stop picture taking, the photos I did take of it I didn’t intend to write a post…so I’m glad I saw yours…it’s excellent! I loved Norway!

  5. says

    I don’t know if you get the History Channel (offered on cable TV in the United States) in Norway also. If you do, check out their TV series The Vikings. It is very well done, and provides good insights into the life of those ancient mariners.

What are your thoughts?