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The Gokstad ship

The Gokstad ship was built around 890 AD, at the height of the Viking period. It was a fast and flexible ship that was suitable for voyages on the high seas.

Gokstad ship
© Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo/ Photographer unknown.

Different functions

The Gokstad ship could be sailed as well as rowed, and the ship was suited to voyages of discovery, trading and Viking raids. On each side of the ship there are 16 oar holes. Altogether the crew consisted of 34 men, including oarsmen, the helmsman and the lookout. There are no signs of thwarts. The oarsmen probably sat on chests, which could also contain their personal equipment.

Room below deck

The ship is made of oak, and is 5.18 m wide and 23.22 m long. It is clinker built with 16 rows of strakes. The nine strakes below the waterline are only two to three centimetres thick, making the sides of the ship light and flexible. The keel is made of one straight piece of oak. The deck consists of planks of pine that could be lifted so that the crew could easily bale out water if necessary. This also provided storage capacity for a little cargo.

No dragon heads

When the ship was excavated, 32 shields were fixed to each side of the boat, painted alternately in yellow and black. White woollen material with red cloth strips sewn on were found in the forepart of the boat, perhaps remnants of the sail. The ends of the bow and stern posts had rotted away so it is not clear how they were finished, but there is nothing to indicate that they were ever fitted with dragon heads. Even without dragon heads, the Gokstad ship must have been an impressive sight when appearing on the ocean horizon with full sails set.

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Published July 7, 2016 10:42 AM - Last modified Sep. 22, 2016 10:10 AM