Furniture

i n the popular image of a Viking ship burial, .the fallen chieftain sets off on his final voyage into a blazing sunset as his proud ship blazes up around him. Fortunately for us, the Oseberg ship was not burned but buried under a mound at Slagen in southern Norway, becoming the final resting place for two Norse women. When excavated in 1904, it turned out to be one of the great archaeological finds of all time. (See sidebar, page 29). Not only was the ship itself found almost intact, but it was also fitted out as if for a voyage, with the household goods and furnishings used by persons of rank in the ninth century.

Furniture from the Viking period is extremely rare. Most wooden artifacts succumbed to the destructive combination of civil strife and a damp climate. By the time the Oseberg ship was excavated in 1904 (it was the third ancient burial ship to be discovered), conservation techniques in Norway were very advanced. Wooden parts could be stabilized and preserved for the painstaking work of reconstruction—one of the sleds found on board was in more than a thousand fragments. In most cases, it was possible to piece these parts back together and make measured drawings with a fair degree of accuracy. Reproductions could then be built for further study.

The furniture found inside the Oseberg ship included beds, chests, a chair, a kitchen stool and several looms. A close look at a few pieces shows a style of furniture that was handsome, sturdy and practical—beds were made to

Found aboard the excavated Oseberg ship, this chair is a reconstruction of the oldest-known chair in Norway. Note the staggered, pegged tenons. The seat was woven, but the material used Is unknown.

Oseberg Ship Measurements

Found aboard the excavated Oseberg ship, this chair is a reconstruction of the oldest-known chair in Norway. Note the staggered, pegged tenons. The seat was woven, but the material used Is unknown.

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Cfiunowumwmn ouc *:»*»• r knock down so they could be assembled for use on land and then taken apart for stowage on board.

The chair found in the ship (see photo above) is the oldest one known in Norway. It is made of beechwood and, being less than 15l/i in. high, may have been for a child. When first excavated, there were traces of ornament. Animal designs were painted in black or dark brown on a light-colored background. Little was left, and consequently all that remained was lost during conservation. The seat had decayed, but it was apparently woven of either leather, grass rope or withes (flexible branches).

On all four panels of the chair and the backrest the grain runs horizontally. The wooden pegs you see in the chair post were used lis an alternative to nails in much Viking woodwork. They are called "trae-nagler", or "treenails." The front and rear panels of the chair are housed in the posts as well as being through-tenoned. A close look at the photo shows that adjacent tenons are offset so they don't interfere with each other or weaken the posts. The upper seat back is attached to the posts by a continuous stub tenon.

Another item lound inside the ship is the chest shown below. Chests were an essential item on board a Viking ship. They doubled as rowing seats, and most likely the crew kept its personal gear in them as well. The chest shown here is so well-preserved that the hinge and lock the morning. It is almost square in plan with a length, head to foot, of only 5 ft. 8 in. The occupants must have been somewhat shorter. The ferocious looking carved animal heads on the posts were no doubt intended to protect the sleepers from wandering land spirits.

Each side rail of the bed has a half lap at the head end where it fastens to the head posts with wood dowels, pointed at one end. At the other end. the rails are mortised through the foot posts and secured with loose wedges. The headboard and one of the bed slats is fastened in the same way. The original bed posts had traces of paint and geometric ornament, but so little remained that thev were impossible to duplicate with authenticity.

Viking tumiture makers showed a preterence tor oak, which they rived (split) rather than sawed out of logs. They would work the wood with a combination of axes and adzes. Finally, they used an iron tool, found in many Viking graves, that is similar to the blade of an old-fashioned wooden spokeshave. It would act like something between a plane and a scraper. ▲

Simon Watts is a journalist and a contributing editor for AW. Ame Emil Christensen, curator of the University Museum of National Antiquities, Norway has been helpf ul in obtaining photos and supplving it i foil nation.

In Viking times, chests doubled as rowing benches and storage bins for personal gear. This restored chest may have been used as a safe or strong box because the iron bands were spaced to prevent thieves from gaining entry.

still worked, although the key is lost. The elaborate locking arrangement on the chest has three separate iron hasps secured by a sliding locking pin. The technique of dovetailing was unknown to the Vikings, so the corners are simply lapped and nailed.

Although there are no lifting handles, this chest has the look of a safe or strong box. The iron bands are so close that, even by cutting through the wood, extracting the contents would be difficult. The bands arc attached to the wood with iron nails, which have tin-plated heads.

There were five beds found aboard the Oseberg ship. The one shown below is a reconstruction of an oak bed. Before its Lise as a burial ship, the Oseberg had no cabin or shelter, meaning this elaborate bed mu-st have been taken ashore at night, set up in a tent and dismantled in

Mortise-and-tenon joints with loose wedges allowed this bed to be easily disassembled for stowage on board a ship. It could be quickly assembled once ashore.

Mortise-and-tenon joints with loose wedges allowed this bed to be easily disassembled for stowage on board a ship. It could be quickly assembled once ashore.

Buried for a thousand years under a mound ' * in Norway, the Osberg 2/i ship contained the remains of two Viking women and numerous artifacts. Note that the ship is moored to a huge rock to prevent it from sailing away._

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Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

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