The Puzzling Animal Head Posts Found in the Oseberg Viking Ship Grave

One of of five animal head posts found in the Oseberg Viking ship grave. (Photo: © Museum of Cultural History/ Univesity of Oslo /CC BY-SA 4.0/ Kirsten J Helgeland)

Five animal head posts were found in the Oseberg Viking ship grave dating back to the year 834 AD. The posts that originally were painted are made by different woodcarvers, and the researchers have no clear idea of what the works of art were used for.

Today, four of the animal head posts are exhibited at the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo. The last of the wooden carved posts was in a very bad condition and is safely stored in the museum.

In 1904 when the Oseberg ship was excavated, two elderly women were found in a separate burial chamber just behind the Viking ship mast. The chamber was decorated with a stunningly woven tapestry and the two women were placed next to each other in a made bed.

The burial took place during four months in the spring and summer in the year 834 AD, something archaeologists have been able to document through grave findings.

Animal head post, 2 of 5. (Photo: © Museum of Cultural History/ Univesity of Oslo /CC BY-SA 4.0/ Kirsten J Helgeland)

The skeletons show that the oldest woman was between 70 and 80 years old when she died, probably from cancer. The other woman was younger and more than 50 years old, but the cause of death is unknown.

The researchers are not sure who they were or what position they had in society. Some believe that the oldest woman was a powerful Völva sorceress and that the youngest woman might be a weaver or a close friend.

But, these are just theories.

No matter which theory that turns out to be correct, the Oseberg burial mound is the richest equipped Viking grave ever found, telling that these two ladies were really powerful women with great influence.

Animal head post, 3 of 5. (Photo: © Museum of Cultural History/ Univesity of Oslo /CC BY-SA 4.0/ Kirsten J Helgeland)

Among hundreds of objects following the two ladies in their Afterlife, there were found three beautifully carved wooden horse sleighs, a work sleigh, one cart, seven beds (one with a chopped off bull’s head), fifteen horses, two tents, six dogs, one throne chair and a large amount of textiles.

Uncertain Use

Four of the animal head posts were located in the burial chamber and one in the front of the Oseberg ship. They are about a half meter long (20 in) and on one of the animal heads there was attached an additional half meter long shaft.

It looks as if the heads are made by different woodcarvers and two are decorated with silver rivets – and this type of posts is not known from any other graves dating back to the Viking Age.

Some believe these are dog heads, in that case, some really scary Viking dogs. However, they may as well be symbolizing animals from Old Norse mythology like Odin’s wolves, Freya’s cats or the Midgard Serpent.

If the animal head posts were carried during processions, attached to the sledges or on a wall by the throne chair, just becomes speculation.

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