The Viking Age (800-1050 AD) is one of the richest and most intriguing periods in Scandinavian history, and the Viking society is often counted among the world’s great civilizations.
Well preserved for the afterlife
Our knowledge about the Viking Age is largely based on archaeological data. Pre-Christian burial customs have given us access to a wide variety of Viking artifacts. It was common to bury the deceased with grave offerings that reflected his or her position in life, ranging from weapons and carts to kitchen utensils and board games. Affluent and powerful people were some times laid to rest in complete ships, well equipped for the journey to the afterlife. A tumulus of stone and soil was built on top of the remains, a finishing that preserved the grave's contents well.
A number of Viking burial mounds have been discovered and opened in more recent times. Some of the largest and most rewarding excavations took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. Finds from these excavations, including whole ships, are on display in Oslo.
Oslo Viking exhibitions
The Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy serves as the dock for three original Viking ships: The Oseberg ship (from around 820 AD), the Gokstad ship (from ~ 890 AD) and the Tune ship (from ~ 900 AD). The museum features several objects that were found in the 1904 Oseberg excavation. These include sledges, beds, a horse cart, wood carvings and remnants of textiles. Also on display are the skeletal remains of the man buried with the Gokstad ship and the two women who were found in the Oseberg grave.
The Viking ship museum may appear surprisingly unsophisticated, but the no-nonsense exhibition space at least lets the ships and artifacts tell their intriguing 1100 year old stories free of distractions.
The Historical Museum in Oslo has a permanent exhibition that covers the Viking Age, with focus on the Vikings' lives as farmers, traders and warriors. Norse mythology and burial customs are also covered. Among the exhibition highlights are the only (known) helmet that remains from the Viking age, and Norway’s largest gold treasure from this period.
Viking road trip
Although there was a large settlement in Oslo during Viking times, there are few traces left of the Vikings outside of the city’s museums. However, Vestfold county, located only a 1,5 hour drive south-west of Oslo, boasts a good number of Viking landmarks. For instance, the mounds/sites where the Oseberg and Gokstad ships were found are both in this area.
Right outside the city of Horten you also find Midtgard historical centre, where visitors can learn about Vikings through exhibitions, guiding and an outdoor Viking playground. More information about these and other Viking-themed attractions in Vestfold, complete with maps and driving directions, is available at www.visitvestfold.com.