Oslo’s famous Viking ships are in danger as the government demands budget cuts
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 have been drawn up for a striking new museum with the best technology available to safeguard the delicate nature of these 1,000-year-old ships, arguably Norway‘s most important pieces of cultural heritage.
The old museum closed to tourists last year as experts prepare ships for the move. However, political wrangling over finances now threatens to cause irreversible damage to ships.
Discoveries of Viking Ships in Norway
The Norse raided and traded across much of Europe between the late 700s and mid-1000s, a period now known as the Viking Age. Admired for their skills in shipbuilding and navigation, the Vikings had such a strong relationship with their wooden ships that they were even used to bury the most decorated warriors. Incredibly, some of these burial vessels have survived several hundred years underground.
The small ship Tune was unearthed on a small island near Fredrikstad in 1867. A few years later the ship Gokstad was discovered near Sandefjord under a pile of dirt long known as King’s Mound. In 1903 the Oseberg ship was discovered with much of its decorative carvings still intact.
For years, the three ships have been star attractions at the Viking Ship Museum in Norway’s capital, Oslo. But 10 years ago, experts appointed by the Norwegian government concluded that a new facility was needed in order to ensure the preservation of vessels and other grave goods.
Among other problems, vibrations caused by visitors have caused damage to ships. The museum has been closed for over a year to prepare for the move.
A unique museum – if it happens
The planned Viking Age museum will be a facility built to the highest technical specifications to preserve delicate vessels. It will be a much larger building, allowing for many more exhibits and educational spaces. If this happens.
The museum’s original budget was 2.14 billion Norwegian kroner ($226 million), a figure that rose to 3.14 billion Norwegian kroner ($331 million) before construction even began. Museum bosses say the significant complexity of such a modern building as well as cost increases caused by pandemic-related delays are among the reasons for the overrun.
However, the centre-left government, which has already angered the scientific and research communities by making major budget cuts and sacking the board of the Norwegian Research Council, has refused to cover the less increase.
Norwegian Research Minister Ola Borten Moe recently called on the museum to cut an extra billion Norwegian kroner ($105 million) from the budget or risk the project going back to square one.
“Ships Can’t Wait”
Ellen Horn, chair of the board of the Museum of Cultural History, said the government must ensure progress because of the risk to the ships the new museum is meant to protect.
“As the invested parties now argue over the price to pay, the cultural heritage the project is meant to safeguard is disintegrating. For every hour that passes, funds earmarked for preservation are going to be wasted in arguments over price tags and who should foot the bill,” Horn said in an opinion piece on Science Norway.
External funding obtained by the museum is also at risk if the project does not progress as planned. “The government has little to gain but everything to lose by stopping the construction project,” Horn added.