Monday, December 25, 2006

 

Plan to move Viking ships meets opposition

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IHT
By Walter Gibbs
December 25, 2006


The University of Oslo has decided to move three grand Viking ships, probably by truck and barge, to a new museum across town, despite dire warnings that the thousand-year-old oak vessels could fall apart en route.

A retired curator of the current Viking Ship Museum said that the fragile ships, two of which are nearly 24 meters, or 80 feet, long, were almost equal in archaeological importance to the Pyramids.

"Even if I have to live till I am 100, I will go on fighting this move," the former curator, Arne Emil Christensen, who is 70, said in an interview. "The best way to stop it is still through diplomacy, but, if necessary, I will be in front of the ships, chained to the floor."

The university board of directors voted this month to move the sleek- hulled vessels, over the objections of Christensen and several other scholars, including the former director of the British Museum, David Wilson, and the director of the Center for Maritime Archaeology in Denmark, Ole Crumlin- Pedersen. The board wants to transport the ships from a remote Oslo peninsula where they have been housed for more than 75 years to a large, multifaceted museum in the center of the capital.

The ships were pulled in pieces from separate Viking burial mounds more than a century ago, then reassembled with rivets, glue, creosote and linseed oil. Since then they have deteriorated markedly. Christensen said that they have the consistency of knekkebrod, a type of Norwegian cracker.

The most spectacular of them, the Oseberg ship, was built around the year 800 and has enlivened the covers of many history books. Its towering, carved snakehead prow and 30 oars offer insight on the old English prayer, "Deliver us, O Lord, from the fury of the Norsemen." Viking raiders carried by such ships were the scourge of Britain and much of the European continent from the 8th to the 11th centuries.

Engineers from Det Norske Veritas, a risk-management foundation, have modeled the Oseberg ship by computer and concluded that it could be moved "with little probability of damage" if a gyroscopically controlled cradle is designed to bear all five tons of oak without the slightest stress or tilt. The most likely travel route would be in three segments: downhill by truck for about 700 meters; across the Oslo fjord by barge for 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles; and uphill by truck again for several hundred meters.

"It will be a dramatic day, for sure, but I will stay calm," said Geir Ellingsrud, the University of Oslo president. "I am convinced that the move will take place without significant problems."

The ships will not set out immediately and the new museum is not due to open until 2015. The Oseberg ship's rival for museumgoers' attention is the Gokstad ship, which dates to around 890. The third vessel, called Tune, is really only half a ship; but what remains came out of the ground in one piece, held together by the original iron rivets.

"We simply don't know what may happen if these things are moved," said Christensen, an archaeologist who recently retired as the ships' curator and has not yet been replaced.

Ellingsrud, a mathematician, said that Christensen and his colleagues were exaggerating the risk "out of emotion" stemming from their long association with the ships. He acknowledged that they had one more card to play without turning to civil disobedience. The Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage, which has the power to declare landmarks untouchable, is evaluating whether the current Viking Ship Museum and its contents should be protected as one monument.

"The point of no return has not been reached yet," Ellingsrud said.


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