Ten years ago, experts concluded that the three world-famous Viking ships on display at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum needed a new home. Plans were drawn up for a striking new museum with the best technology available to safeguard the delicate nature of these 1,000-year-old vessels, arguably Norway’s most important pieces of cultural heritage.
The old museum closed for tourists last year as experts prepare the ships for the move. However, political squabbles over finances now risk irreversible damage to the ships.
Norway’s Viking ship discoveries
Norsemen raided and traded throughout much of Europe between the late-700s and mid-1000s, a period now known as the Viking Age. Admired for their shipbuilding and seafaring skills, Vikings had such a strong relationship with their wooden boats that they were even used to bury the most decorated warriors. Incredibly, some of these burial vessels survived many hundreds of years underground.
The small Tune ship was unearthed on a small island near Fredrikstad in 1867. Some years later, the Gokstad ship was discovered near Sandefjord under a pile of earth that had long been known as The King’s Mound. In 1903, the Oseberg ship was discovered with much of its decorative carvings still intact.
For years, the three vessels have been the star attractions in the Viking Ship Museum in the Norwegian capital city, Oslo. But 10 years ago, experts appointed by the Norwegian government concluded that a new facility was required in order to guarantee the preservation of the ships and other grave items.
Among other problems, the vibrations caused by visitors has caused damage to the ships. The museum has been closed for more than a year to prepare for the move.
A unique museum—if it happens
The planned Museum of the Viking Age will be a facility built to the highest technical specifications to preserve the delicate vessels. It will be a significantly larger building, allowing many more exhibits and education space. If it happens.
The original budget for the museum was 2.14 billion Norwegian kroner ($226 million), a figure that has risen to 3.14 billion Norwegian kroner ($331 million) before construction has even begun. Museum bosses claim the significant complexity in such a modern building together with cost increases caused by pandemic-related delays are among the reasons for the overrun.
However, the center-left government, which has already caused anger in science and research communities by making major budget cuts and firing the board of the Research Council of Norway, has refused to cover any of the increase.
Norway’s Research minister Ola Borten Moe recently called for the museum to cut the additional one billion Norwegian kroner ($105 million) from the budget or risk the project returning to square one.
“The ships can’t wait”
Ellen Horn, chair of the board of the Museum of Cultural History, said the government must guarantee progress because of the risk to the ships that the new museum is designed to protect.
“As the invested parties now argue over the price tag, the cultural heritage which the project is meant to safeguard is disintegrating. For every passing hour, funds which were intended for preservation are going to waste over discussions about price tags and who should foot the bill,” said Horn in an opinion piece on Science Norway.
External funding obtained by the museum is also at risk if the project doesn’t move forward as planned. “The Government has little to gain but everything to lose by stopping the building project,” added Horn.