In 1903 a farmer named Knut Rom made an extraordinary discovery on his property: a complete ship from the Viking era, along with two skeletons and a treasure trove of grave goods.
The ship Rom discovered became known as the Oseberg Ship, and it is the centerpiece of the Viking Museum in Oslo. The Oseberg Ship is 21.5 meter long oak “karv” type ship, a slightly smaller than average, early ship style. The bow and stern are richly decorated with carvings of interlocking beasts.
Almost as exciting as the discovery of such a complete and beautiful ship, the grave goods contained some very mysterious items. The so-called “Buddha Bucket” is the most famous mystery. Decorating the base of the handles on this otherwise unremarkable bucket, two small brass figures seated in the Lotus position look like nothing more than tiny, completely out of place, Buddhas. Although it is possible that Vikings did have contact with Asian cultures (and in fact another Buddha figure is on display at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm) researchers consider it more likely a result of coincidental hodge-podge of styles from their many Northern European contacts.
In 1904, at the time of the excavation of this remarkable find, there was no room to house it in the existing historical museum. In fact, two other ships, the Tune Ship and the Gokstad Ship, were also in need of a home. The first designs for the Viking Museum were drawn up in 1914, but it was not until 1957 that it finally opened its doors.
The Oseberg, Tune, and Gokstad Ships are all now housed inside the museum.
All of the ships were built between the years 800 and 900, the height of the Viking Age. The first ship discovered was the Tune Ship in 1867, but it is not in as good condition as the Oseberg or the Gokstad. The Gokstad Ship was discovered in 1880 in a burial mound along with two male skeletons, and is displayed with a reconstructed burial chamber. The Gokstad has also had new life in the form of replicas, one of which successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1893 to be exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
There is another Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark.
Update as of January 2022: The museum is currently closed for renovations.