Gokstad ship

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The Gokstad ship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway

The Gokstad ship is a Viking ship found in a burial mound at Gokstad farm in Sandar, Sandefjord, Vestfold, Norway. Dendrochronological dating suggests that the ship was built around 890 AD.


The place where the boat was found, situated on arable land, had long been named Gokstadhaugen or Kongshaugen (from the Old Norse words kóngr meaning king and haugr meaning mound), although the relevance of its name had been discounted as folklore, as other sites in Norway bear similar names. Shortly after the 1880 New Year the sons of the owner of Gokstad Farm, having heard of the legends surrounding the site, uncovered the bow of a boat and its painter while digging in the still frozen ground. As word of the find got out, Nicolay Nicolaysen, the then President of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments, reached the site on 6 February 1880 and, having ascertained that the find was indeed that of an ancient artefact, liaised for the digging to be stopped.[1]

Nicolaysen returned on April 27 and established that the mound still measured 50 metres by 43 metres, although its height had been diminished down to 5 metres by constant years of ploughing. With his team, he began excavating the mound from the side rather than from the top down, and on the second day of digging was surprised to find the bow of a ship.[2]


Side view of the ship

The Gokstad ship is clinker-built, constructed largely of oak. The ship was intended for warfare, trade, transportation of people and cargo. The ship is 23.80 metres (78.1 ft) long and 5.10 m (16.7 ft) wide. It is the largest in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The ship was steered by a quarter rudder fastened to a large block of wood attached to the outside of the hull and supported by an extra stout rib. The block is known as the wart, and is fastened by osiers, knotted on the outside passed through both the rudder and wart to be firmly anchored in the ship. There are 16 tapered planks per side. The garboard planks are near vertical where they attach to the keel. The garboard planks are narrow and remain only slightly wider to take the turn of the bilge. The topside planks are progressively wider. Each oak plank is slightly tapered in cross section to allow it to overlap about 30mm the plank above and below in normal clinker (lapstrake) style. Iron rivets are about 180mm apart where the planks lie straight and about 125mm apart where the planks turn. At the bow all of the planks taper to butt the stem. The stem is carved from a single curved oak log to form the cutwater and has one land for each plank. The inside of the stem is hollowed into a v shape so the inside of the rivets can be reached during construction or repair. Each of the crossbeams has a ledge cut about 25mm wide and deep to take a removable section of decking. Sea chests were placed on top of the decking to use when rowing. Most likely on longer voyages sea chests were secured below decks to act as ballast when sailing. The centre section of the keel has little rocker and together with flat midships transverse section the hull shape is suited to medium to flat water sailing. When sailing downwind in strong winds and waves, directional control would be poor, so it is likely that some reefing system was used to reduce sail area. In such conditions the ship would take water aboard at an alarming rate if sailed at high speed.

The ship was built to carry 32 oarsmen, and the oar holes could be hatched down when the ship was under sail. It utilized a square sail of approximately 110 square metres (1,200 sq ft), which, it is estimated, could propel the ship to over 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph). The mast could be raised and lowered. While the ship was traveling in shallow water, the rudder could be raised very quickly by undoing the fastening. Dendrochronological dating suggests that the ship was built of timber that was felled around 890 AD. This period is the height of Norse (Viking) expansion in Dublin, Ireland and Jorvik (York), England. The Gokstad ship was commissioned during the reign of Harald Fairhair at the end of the 9th century. The ship could carry a crew of 40 men but could carry a maximum of 70.[3]

Gokstad Viking ship excavation. Photographed in 1880

The ship's design has been demonstrated to be very seaworthy.


The Viking, an exact replica of the Gokstad ship, crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Bergen, Norway to be exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago during 1893. Other replicas include the Gaia, which currently has Sandefjord as its home port, the Munin, (a half scale replica) located in Vancouver, B.C., the Íslendingur in the Viking World museum in Iceland, the Hugin in Kent, England, and the replica housed at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Human remains[edit]

During the excavations, the skeleton of a male aged between 50–70 years was recovered. The skeleton was found in a bed inside a timber-built burial chamber. Although the identity of the person buried is unknown, it has been suggested[citation needed] that it is that of Olaf Geirstad-Alf, a petty king of Vestfold. He was of the House of Yngling, and died about this time, according to the Heimskringla.

Grave goods[edit]

The grave was furnished with grave goods. Apart from the ship itself, they consisted of three small boats, a tent, a sledge and riding equipment. It is believed that the mound was plundered in ancient times. The excavation in 1880 showed that valuables of gold and silver had been removed. In the Viking period, weapons were considered an important part of a man's grave goods. In the case of the Gokstad ship, any such weapons were probably taken by grave robbers.

Gokstad ship replica Viking at the World's Columbian Exposition Chicago in 1893

Currently the ship, the reconstructed burial chamber, two of the small boats and two tent boards from the burial chamber are displayed in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. Some other artifacts that survived the plundering are also on display in the museum.

Plans for a continued stay at the current location[edit]

The ship will not be moved from Bygdøy, Kristin Halvorsen (Minister of Education) stated on May 3, 2012 — thirteen years[4] after a debate regarding a possible relocation began.

In popular culture[edit]

The Gokstad is also the name of Tarvold's ship in the fictional TV-show named Viking Quest, known from the Entourage series on HBO.


  1. ^ Nicolaysen, N. (1882). "The Viking ship discovered at Gokstad in Norway" (in Norwegian and English). Cammermeyer. pp. 1–5. Retrieved 26 September 2011. [dead link]
  2. ^ Nicolaysen, N. (1882). "The Viking ship discovered at Gokstad in Norway" (in Norwegian and English). Cammermeyer. pp. 1–5. Retrieved 26 September 2011. [dead link]
  3. ^ T.D. Kendrick, A History of the Vikings (New York, NY: Frank Cass and Company, 1968), 24-26.
  4. ^ http://www.klassekampen.no/60191/article/item/null/forsegler-skipenes-skjebne

External links[edit]