Vikingeskibsmuseet

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By now you should be used to the Scandinavian habit of pronouncing 'k' as 'sh' when it precedes certain vowels.  The title-word, then, sounds very much like 'Viking Ships Museum', and that's exactly what it is. 

The museum has the remains (mostly fragmentary) of five ships scuttled in the channels of Roskilde at various times between 1060 and 1080 AD.  The remains are fragmentary because they were discovered in 1962 by a dredging crew that brought parts of the ships up in the jaws of a marine dredge.  Some of the pieces were so waterlogged they were said to have the consistency of putty.

The ship shown here is a longboat, used for transporting warriors.  Next to the museum is a boatyard where artisans using Viking-age technology (only) are reconstructing a ship.  When finished, it will be more than 30 meters in length.  In 2004, it will be launched and a volunteer crew will sail it to Dublin.  Did I hear you ask 'Why Dublin?'  Here's why....


Britt tells us all about the Irish longship

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The word for today is 'dendrochronology'.  It's the study of tree rings.  Cut down a tree in 2003 and look at its rings; they're as unique as fingerprints, and every tree from that region will demonstrate the same fingerprint for the same time period.  That is, you can take this 80-year-old tree and match its 20-year rings to a similar tree from 60 years ago. 

Dendrochronologists have built huge catalogs of tree-ring fingerprints for many regions stretching back thousands of years.  When they cored the keel of this ship, the only thing it matched were the ring patterns from Dublin, c.1042. 

This ship was built near Dublin sometime after 1042 AD.  How did it wind up in Roskilde, Denmark?  Because in 1042, much of Ireland was a Viking outpost.  Beyond a doubt, Irish vikings traded with their cousins elsewhere in Scandinavia.  This ship was sunk about 1070 AD, so it was probably near the end of its service life.  The Vikings who sailed it to Roskilde from Dublin unloaded it, sold the hulk, bought (or built) a new ship, and sailed home to Ireland.  This throw-away boat was then sent on its last mission: harbor defense.  Stripped of everything valuable or reusable, it was towed into the channel accompanied by several other boats loaded with rocks.  There the rocks were transferred into this boat until it sank.

Although they only have 25% of this vessel, there's enough for marine archæologists to determine its length and other design characteristics.  The keel was intact and taught the Roskilde curators all sorts of things about how the Vikings built boats.

Armed with that knowledge, the boatyard at the Vikingeskibsmuseet set about building their own copy of Skuldelev 2.  It was nearing completion when we were in Roskilde in 2003.  It is scheduled to launch in August 2004.  Then its hand-picked crew will conduct sea trials for two years to learn the limits of the craft and how to handle it in varying weather and sea conditions.  In 2007 they will sail it to Dublin with, no doubt, a great deal of fanfare.  It's going to make a terrific documentary; I can hardly wait. 

More?  Go to http://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/, then "Visiting the museum" -> "The Viking Ship Hall" -> "The Skuldelev Ships" -> "Skuldelev 2".