Oseberg Treasure: Puzzle that Never Ends

After two-year of excavation, archaeologists finally managed to bring out the Oseberg burial site to the public eye. 1904 witnessed the end of the excavation although some research upon the Oseberg treasure and remains is still an open book to the community of archaeology. It is either because of the precise information shortage or the Oseberg item displacement. Though everything still awaits the official conclusion in the future, we are still excited to read what mystery around the Oseberg treasure is.

The remains of two women

According to the archaeologists, the Oseberg burial site is dedicated to the women resting inside the Oseberg ship. But whether it is for one woman or both of them is hard to tell. Because in the Viking age, there was a tradition of human sacrifice. Commonly, it was the slave and the servants that became the sacrificial subjects escorting their masters/mistresses to the afterlife. Although no evidence shows which woman in Oseberg was the slave, we still have insufficient information to conclude both of them possessed the same rank in society.

The thing that we should note is that the remains in Oseberg burial site says that the Viking women could gain special role in their society. Their role was so special that the living at that time buried them at a luxurious chamber with precious items and especially sent them a real ship to get them to the afterlife. Not the majority of the Viking community could enjoy this. Because the majority of them were farmers, not a chance that they could enjoy such luxury. That is to say, the Vikings were so much civilized compared with the ancient tribe of their time. Also, the number of Viking ship excavations by far have been few.

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The remains of the women inside Oseberg burial chamber. The young woman (left) and the old woman (right)

Two women inside Oseberg, one was around80 years old which was a very rare age at the Viking age. Because at that time,the average life expectancy was around 50 years old. The other woman was younger, around her fifties. The old woman died of cancer which the Vikings obviously had no clue. Meanwhile, no exact death cause could be concluded upon the remains of the young woman.

The Oseberg tapestry that arouse controversies

It would be a normal tapestry depicting a traditional ritual if it were not for the man in the leading role wearing a horned helmet. As far as we know, the Vikings didn’t wear horned helmet. And it was actually the artwork by modern artists in the 19th century. However, ever since the tapestry is reconstructed, the puzzle has been unsolved.

The leader of the ritual was ahead of the line. His hand was holding a sword – the symbol of nobility and wealth while his head was with a horned helmet. The figure was physically bigger than the other people following him.

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Viking Oseberg Tapestry (left side) showing a man in the leading role wearing a horned helmet with a sword upside down

And of course many theories are put forward but not any of them can satisfy everyone. One theory says that the tapestry might have been just the excavation of the Viking artists. For example, some artists now still love to add unreal details to their work to make it more awesome. And so could the ancient artists. Meanwhile, some people believed that the Vikings only wore the horned helmet during their traditional ritual, not their battle. However, there has been no excavation of horned helmet by far. One major theory is about the helmet with ravens of Odin. This theory says that that horned helmet was actually the helmet with the ravens and this kind of helmet appeared in few Viking artifacts.

Image of the Viking Oseberg treasure horned helmet
The helmet with the ravens on top

The animal head posts

Later, when it comes to the term “Oseberg”, many of the Viking enthusiasts will think of the animal head. Oseberg style is also known as the gripping beast. This makes the animal head posts become the Oseberg treasure.

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Four out of five Oseeberg animal head posts are now on display

In the burial site, there were five animal head posts found. However, there were four of them now on display while the fifth one is in so bad condition that it is safely preserved.

Image of Oseberg animal head posts
Four animal head posts with different patterns in th Oseberg treasure

 It seems that the Oseberg animal headposts were the work of different artists. As each of them had the different patterns and design. The archaeologists are yet to officially conclude what animal the posts depicted. They could be the legendary Jormungand serpent in Norse myth, the cats of goddess Freya, the horses, the dogs or wolves of Odin.

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