Home Art and cultureOseberg Burial Mound: The Luxurious Viking Grave for Women
Oseberg Burial Mound: The Luxurious Viking Grave for Women

Oseberg Burial Mound: The Luxurious Viking Grave for Women

Archaeological excavation always excites us to the core, especially with finding going against the social belief. This is vividly illustrated with the excavation of Oseberg burial mound. But why this burial mound stood out among other Viking excavations? First, one of the largest Viking ships was in the site. Second, the burial mound was for a Viking woman.

The discovery of Oseberg burial mound

Oseberg burial mound is located on the west side of the Oslo Fjord, roughly 60 miles, to the south of  Oslo. The district was Slagen. The discovery as well as excavation of the site back to the beginning of the 20th century was extremely interesting.

Johannes Hansen was the last farmer of the Oseberg Ødegården farm. When Hansen was young, he wanted to devote his life to become a professional sailor travelling to the USA around 1870 with the American Dream. There, he met a fortune teller who told him that “You don’t need to go that far and struggle. There are treasures under your farm back home. You just need to carefully dig the mound up”. Unexpectedly, Hansen returned to his home, Norway, and together with a neighbor digging up his farm. But nothing was found there and Hansen quickly gave up. The neighbor, though with more staying power, also stopped digging after days.

Oseberg burial site when the archaeologists carried out the excavation
Oseberg burial site when the archaeologists carried out the excavation

As the archaeologists had found the Gokstad ship nearby, the Oseberg farm’s neighbors had a dream of making a fortune with their spades. Quickly, they dug the farm, the soil was removed and spread around the field. Only the southern part of the burial mound was left intact. A new-coming neighbor named Oskar Rom somehow managed to buy the farm. In 1903, after conducting the water away from the mound, Oskar made his discovery of a wooden piece with luxurious inlay and patterns.

The excavation of the burial mound

This owner, Oskar Rom, annoyed Professor Gabriel Adolf Gustafson, manager of the University
Museum of Antiquities, when knocking at the door of Professor’s house in the afternoon. Yet, the moment Gustafson saw the wooden piece with carvings and silver inlay, the inhospitality vanished into thin air. He immediately went down to Slagen and formed an archaeological team to excavate the site.

On 10 August 1903, the team came across a burial chamber and under that some oak planks and rivets. The archaeologists claimed that the site was more solid than the Gokstad ship. Yet, it had been plundered so there were chances that the valuables inside went missing.

Many official offices donated to help bring the ship out for preservation. The Norwegian government spared 5,000 kroner, Kristiania municipal council 10,000 kroner, Ringnes Brewery 6,000 kroner. The owner of the farm Oskar Rom took advantage of the situation, charging the team with 12,000 kroner to pass the ownership to the University. At that time, 12,000 kroner was not a small amount. Also, at that time, the Norwegian Antiquity Law was yet to pass any Act so the private owners could make whatever sale or treatment of the site. Luckily, a generous landowner, Squire Fritz Treschow, donated the total amount needed to the University.

Oseberg Ship Excavation detail

The excavation started in June 1904. The police authority strictly protected the site during excavation to secure peace for the site, keeping the unwanted guests from a distance. And it was not until 5th November 1904 that the last pieces of the ship revealed themselves from the soil.

The team found out many artifacts inside the Oseberg burial mound. They included a luxurious Oseberg tapestry, a cart, five outstanding head posts, etc.

The reconstruction of the Oseberg tapestry
The Oseberg tapestry
Oseberg bucket with the Buddha in meditation pose
Oseberg bucket with the Buddha
Famous Oseberg animal head post. Only four out of five are now on display. The fifth Oseberg animal head post is in serious condition
Famous Oseberg animal head post. Only four out of five are now on display.

Examination of the skeletons

Inside the burial mound, the archaeologists found remains of two individuals. Gustafson said that with his amateur knowledge of skeletons, he thought the skeletons belonged to female for the small size.

Professor Gustav Adolf Guldberg (1854–1908)
Professor Gustav Adolf Guldberg (1854–1908)

The remains inside burial mound then came to Professor of Anatomy, Gustav Adolf Guldberg at the University of Kristiania. As what Gustafson guesses, the skeletons belonged to female, yet two different females: one elderly and one younger. The older woman was around her 50s – 60s with the height of 1.57m (5.1 ft). She appeared to have problems with her joints and vertebrae. As a result, they concluded this woman met with articular arthtitis which the man inside Gokstad ship also had. The second individual was around her 20s or 30s.

The researchers put forward three theories about the identities of the two individuals.

The first stated that the elderly woman was a figure of high rank and the other could possibly the servant who sacrificed her life to accompany her mistress in afterlife. This practice was common in the Viking Age.

The second possibility was that the younger one was the princess and the older was her servant. Chances were that the robbers took parts of the younger woman’s body because of the luxurious objects on her body.

The last possibility was that both of them were of the high social rank. Yet, this theory was not widely accepted. Because no traces of people with rank getting buried together were found.

Oseberg skeletons inside the Oseberg burial mound
Oseberg skeletons inside the Oseberg burial mound
The teeth and jaws belonged to two individuals inside the Oseberg site
The teeth and jaws belonged to two individuals inside the Oseberg site

Conclusion

Oseberg burial mound is among the most exciting Viking excavations. The Oseberg ship is also among the Viking ships in the best condition now. It is now on display in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The burial mound attracts the public not only with the luxurious artifacts inside but also the identities of the two women inside the burial.

The Oseberg burial mound unintentionally attested to the written account saying that the Vikings respected their women a lot. This kind of thing was abnormal around Europe back then. While Medieval tribes failed to respect their women, the Vikings managed to do it. Along with the Oseberg burial mound, Viking BJ 581 Burial in Birka also stated that the Viking women held an important part back to their time.

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