Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Viking Ships 1

Ladby Ship
Viking and pre-Viking Ships, and their impact upon the Western World -Part 1

In this series of articles, Viking and pre-Viking ships are compared, and their historical significance and impact upon the western world are discussed. With particular reference to such finds as the Heberby, Nydam, Skuldelev, Gokstad and Ladby ships, it is hoped that this series of articles will bring a number of threads together to give a comprehensive overview of this topic.

Ladby Mound
In April 2012, I and my wife, Dee, travelling together with Dr Andrew Thompson and his wife Angela, travelled to Denmark. During this visit we travelled extensively across Jylland, Fyn and Sjælland, visiting a number of historical sites such as the Trelleborg and Fyrkat ring fortresses, Lindenholm høje, Jelling, Moesgård, and the Københaven Museum. However, there were two locations I found particularly interesting – The Viking museum at Ladby and the Viking ship museum at Roskilde.

The Viking museum at Ladby, located near to Kerteminde on Fyn is significant as it is the only ship burial in Denmark. Although much of the original ship has been lost its imprint in the ground has been preserved and can still be seen in situ within the reconstructed mound, protected by glass.

The Ladby ship was found in 1935 and is dated to 895CE. It was  21.54 metres in length with a beam of 2.92 metres, with a capacity for two rows of 16 oars.

A reconstruction of the Ladby ship was undertaken in 1963 – the ‘Imme Gram’, but with the availability of modern technology there is now a new school of thought on the appearance of the original ship.[1] Consequently, with a grant of 4.8 million crowns (kroner) from the Augustinus Foundation, and using only traditional Viking methods, the Ladby Ship Guild in cooperation with the Viking Museum at Ladby and the Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde,[2] have begun work on a full size construction of the Ladby ship. Completion is expected to be in 2015.

At the time of our visit to Ladby the keel and curved stems at each end had been completed and the garboard strakes fitted, with the next strake in progress.

Lying around the site were many large pieces of oak, selected carefully for their shape, from which naturally strong sections for the ship would be crafted.

I hope that at some point in the near future to be able to go back to Denmark and take some more photographs of the ship at various stages of construction. However I would be grateful if anybody visiting the site could be good enough to take some digital photographs and forward them onto me in order that I could include them in the article on that I am presently researching. 

At the Roskilde ship museum I was fortunate to find, that in addition to having the original Skuldelev ships on display in the Viking ship hall, there was a Skuldelev 6 under construction and that in the harbour was a reconstruction of the Skuldelev 2, the Sea Stallion, a full size ocean going Viking ship. The term ‘Skuldelev ship’ relating to five 11th century ships discovered in 1962 which represent five different types of vessel.[3] They had apparently been sunk to blockade the Peberrende, a natural channel in Roskilde Fjord near Skuldelev.

In addition there were numerous other early Scandinavian craft, such as the 12 oared ‘Bjørnefjord’ sailing ship in which Dr Thompson and I went out in; rowing the ship as part of a twelve person crew. Feeling the wind catch the sail and how responsive she was to the rudder, was a fascinating experience. 

Over the years there have been a number of Viking ship reconstruction, and undoubtedly they are as iconic in Scandinavia as the longbow or the spitfire is to the English. And as if to reinforce this, on the island of Vibransøy in Norway they have, or will shortly be launching a Viking dragon ship, the Dragon Harald Fairhair; a long-ship 114 feet in length, with a beam of 27 feet, and displacing some 70 tons. 

As a result of all this activity I was inspired to begin work on an article with the working title of ‘The comparison of Viking and pre-Viking ships, and their significance and impact of on the western world.

The work will look at the development of their design and how such ships impacted on the western world. Although such an article is not entirely original, by looking at such vessels as the Heberby, Nydam and Skuldelev ships, the Gokstad and Ladby ships, it is hoped to bring a number threads together in one comprehensive article.

[1] Author unknown. (2012) Ladby Viking museum. (Vikingemuseetladby) / Kerteminde Museum
[2] Author unknown, (2012)  Viking ship museum (Vikingeskibsmuseet)
[3] Author unknown, (2012)  Viking ship museum (Vikingeskibsmuseet)

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