Oseberg Cart

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photo of alfric's cart


The artifact that is commonly referred to as the "Oseberg cart" was discovered in the Oseberg Ship.  The ship was found in a burial mound in Oseberg near the Oslo Fjord in Norway in 1903.  "The Oseberg ship is the most sumptuous relic of a Viking burial.  The bones of two women were found inside.  They had been buried in the mid 9th century.  Judging by the rich furnishings, one was probably a queen.  The other may have been her slave or servant... Inside as well were a richly carved wooden wagon, three beautiful sleighs, a work sleigh, and many pieces of furniture, tapestries, and kitchenware such as an iron cooking cauldron."

While researching for this project I began to ponder the actual purpose of the Oseberg cart.  A clue about it's purpose is revealed in where it was discovered.  The fact that the cart was part of a burial ship led me to believe that it was built for the burial and conceivably carried the body to the burial site.  The Oseberg tapestry shows a scene of many carts and people traveling  in one direction, I believe               that this is a depiction of the  funeral procession.  I was pleased to find that other researchers reached the same conclusion "It is not very likely that this cart was ever intended for practical use, probably it was a sacred vehicle for religious ceremonies." Laslo Tarr in "The History of the Carriage" states "Regarding the famous ninth_century Oseberg carriage, scholars like Sigurd Grieg and Schetelig are of the opinion that it was a ritual carriage...  The unusual structural features of the vehicle indicated that it was not used for practical purposes."

The Oseberg cart was richly decorated with elaborate carvings and was part of the Oseberg Ship burial. “The Oseberg mound beside the Oslo fjord in southeast Norway, excavated in 1904, was found to contain the most richly furnished burial known from the Viking Age.” I built the cart representation but it is the carving being presented at this time.

Q How was carving incorporated into the lives of Viking Age peoples?
A Decorating for the everyday Norseman consisted of carving Runestones which were dedicated to the memory of some loved one lost in a far away land or boasting of some great deed. They also carved everything from intricately entwining beasties to simple scratched figures on just about anything that stood still long enough. The Norse people carved stone, antler, horn, and wood. The number of examples surviving to the present day speak to a world filled with art and beautiful carved objects. “The splendor of the Oseberg carvings and the skill of their workmanship remind us how much of the best Viking art we mush be missing, given the small amount of Viking Age woodwork that has survived” Lots of everyday objects carved so surely a broad canvas like the Oseberg cart would be irresistible.

Q When was the Viking age?
A “The period known as the Viking Age extended from the ninth to eleventh centuries. This was the time of the Viking movements oversea, when Viking ships sailed from Scandinavia...out across the northern hemisphere...”

Q What style of decoration was used on the original cart?
A “The ornament of the great wagon includes a remarkable series of designs, for the most part unparalleled among the other carvings. These range from the naturalistic human heads of the trestles to the interlacing snake-like creatures down it’s sides. On the ends ‘there is a man (Gunnar) entangled with snakes.. And an enigmatic scene between a woman, a man and a horseman.’
Much of the carving found on the Oseberg artefacts is done in the Gripping Beast style motifs. “As it’s name implies, the chief features of the gripping beast are it’s paws that clutch the borders around it, parts of it’s own anatomy, or neighboring animals.”

Q What style did you use to decorate your cart?
A I used a variety of different styles. Primarily I emulated the style found on Runestones. The Runestones style tells a story with silhouetted figures, some aligned along a particular line and others floating as though gravity did not apply to them.

Runestones are not the only place to find carvings that tell a particular story the church at Hylestad stave church had carved pillars that tell the story of Sigurd. I used this style on the end panels and one upper side panel of the cart. The snake motif found on the sides of my cart are a hybrid of the Gunnar in the snake pit design found on the original cart and the Urnes style from the Urnes church. The carving on the frame of my cart is, with the exception of the head on the trestles (which I ignored for structural reasons) were taken directly from the original Oseberg cart. I used my carving to tell the story of the events impacting me and my friends.

photo of cart

Oseberg style cart

photo of full cart

Full cart

photo of carving detail

Detail of carving