gokstad ship

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1100 years ago some bored Viking carved outline of his foot on ship deck. Found in Gokstadt ship, Norway

The Gokstad Ship was excavated in the late 1800s and is a permanent feature of the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo.

For about a decade, from 890 to 900, the ship sailed on ocean voyages. The holes cut for oars along the upper hull are well worn, evidence that the ship had been used for more than just a funeral ceremony.

The ship’s deck was fitted with loose floorboards. These could be lifted up so that supplies and plundered treasure could be stored below deck. The outline of a foot covers two of these floorboards. There are two outlines of feet on the Gokstad Ship. One is a distinct right foot. The other is a weaker outline of a left foot on a different floorboard.The ship was buried on land in a massive grave and the loose floorboards were helter-skelter when it was excavated. So we don’t know whether the planks with left and right feet had been originally next to each other or had been the capricious result of two separate individuals.


Hanne Lovise Aannestad of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo has measured one of her own feet against a tracing of the carved outline – because no one can actually step on the fragile floorboard, of course. The foot was smaller than hers, and even though people were generally shorter in the Viking days, this was probably a little person.

Some guys built that. They fucking made it. With tools no better than I have access to. With draw-knives and eye-ing sizes, with hand-forged nails and saws.

Whatever the cultural capital of the ‘viking ship’, however the technology affected history, just remember that there weren’t any blue-prints for boats like these.

It was trial and, I imagine, a lot of error. It was skill.

It was craftsmanship.

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The Gokstad ship at the Viking Ship Museum in OsloNorway

The Gokstad ship is a Viking ship found beneath a burial mound at Gokstad farm in SandarSandefjordVestfoldNorway. Excavation of Gokstadhaugen or Kongshaugen (from the Old Norse words kóngr meaning king and haugr meaning mound) revealed a ship burial dating back to the 9th century. The site was excavated in 1880 by Nicolay Nicolaysen.

The Gokstad ship is clinker-built, constructed largely of oak. The ship was not intended for long voyages but for warfare, trade, and transportation of people and cargo. The ship is 23.24 m long and 5.20 m wide. It is the largest in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The ship was steered by a quarter rudder fastened to a large block of wood attached to the outside of the hull and supported by an extra stout rib. The block is known as the wart, and is fastened by osiers, knotted on the outside passed through both the rudder and wart to be firmly anchored in the ship.

The ship was built to carry 32 oarsmen, and the oar hles could be hatched down when the ship was under sail. It utilized a square sail of c. 110 square meters, which, it is estimated, could propel the ship to over 12 knots. The mast could be raised and lowered. While the ship was traveling in shallow water, the rudder could be raised very quickly by undoing the fastening. Dendrochronological dating suggests that the ship was built of timber that was felled around 890 AD. The Gokstad ship was commissioned during the reign of Harald Fairhair at the end of the 9th century. The ship could carry a crew of 40 men but could carry a maximum of 70.

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Gokstad Viking ship excavation. Photographed in 1880

The ship’s design has been demonstrated to be very seaworthy. The Viking, an exact replica of the Gokstad ship, crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Bergen, Norway to be exhibited at theWorld’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago during 1893. Other replicas include the Gaia, which currently has Sandefjord as its home port, the Munin, (a half scale replica) located in Vancouver, B.C., and the Íslendingur in the Viking World museum.

The skeletal remains

During the excavations, the skeleton of a male aged between 50–70 years was recovered. The skeleton was found in a bed inside a timber-built burial chamber. Although the identity of the person buried is unknown, it has been suggested that it is that of Olaf Geirstad-Alf, a petty king of Vestfold. He was of the House of Yngling, and died about this time, according to theHeimskringla.

The grave goods

The grave was furnished with grave goods. Apart from the ship itself, they consisted of three small boats, a tent, a sledge and riding equipment. It is believed that the mound was plundered in ancient times. The excavation in 1880 showed that valuables of gold and silver had been removed. In the Viking period, weapons were considered an important part of a man’s grave goods. In the case of the Gokstad ship, any such weapons were probably taken by grave robbers.

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Gokstad ship replica Viking at theWorld’s Columbian Exposition Chicago in 1893

Currently the ship, the reconstructed burial chamber, two of the small boats and two tent boards from the burial chamber are displayed in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. Some other artifacts that survived the plundering are also on display in the museum.

The Gokstad ship in popular culture

The Gokstad is also the name of Tarvold’s ship in the fictional TV-show named Viking Quest, known from the Entourage series on HBO.