Tune ship

The Tune finds

The Tune ship was found in 1867 on the farm of Nedre Haugen on the island of Rolvsøy, near Fredrikstad. It was the first Viking ship to be excavated and is still one of the best preserved Viking ships in the world.

tegning av Tuneskipet fra 1868
Drawing of the Tune ship from 1868. Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo.

A large burial mound

The burial mound in which the Tune ship lay was unusually large: approximately 80 metres in diameter and around four metres high, making it one of Norway’s largest burial mounds. In the years prior to the excavation, much of the earth in the mound had been removed for use elsewhere. Moreover, the mound had been opened and partly excavated previously. This meant that oxygen had been introduced, which was instrumental in the decomposing of the ship in the mound.

Heavy-handed excavation

The Tune ship was excavated at a time when modern archaeology had not yet taken form. The ship was removed from the grave roughly and quickly. As a result the man interred in the ship and most of the items that followed him to the grave were either damaged or lost.

Professor Oluf Rygh was in charge of the excavation, which only lasted about two weeks. Due to the speed of the work, the ship was excavated in a very heavy-handed manner. For example, there are marks in several places on the ship from the spades that were used.

Transport to the capital

To remove the ship from the burial mound, a wooden frame was fastened to the underside of the ship. Horses were harnessed to the frame, and the ship was pulled out of the burial mound and transported to a nearby river. Here the ship was moved onto a barge and floated downstream to the fjord, and on to the capital. The Tune ship lay outdoors for a period of time before being housed in its own building.

The Tune ship

The Tune ship was probably a fast, sea-going vessel that could quickly transport people from one place to another.

tegning av Tuneskipet fra 1868
Photo: www.flickr.com/people/jimg944

Good sailing ship

Even though the Tune ship is smaller than both the Gokstad and Oseberg ships, it had a stronger mast support, which would have made it possible for the sail to be as large as 100 square metres. Combined with the shape of the hull, this probably made the ship a fast, sea-going vessel with excellent sailing properties.

The ship’s function

In contrast, its cargo capacity was not particularly good. The ship might have been used to transport goods of high value that weighed little, such as furs, glass and slaves. The ship was also well suited to moving people quickly, an important quality for a warship. Perhaps this was the Tune ship’s main function?

Laid to rest without oars

The Tune ship was built around 910 AD and is a clinker-built ship made of oak. The ship has probably had 12 oar holes on each side. This means a crew of 24 as well as a helmsman and a lookout. The ship was placed in the grave without oars.

Performed well in the waves

The ship is estimated to have been 18.7 metres long, 4.2 metres wide and to have had 12 rows of strakes. The upper rows of strakes and the bow and stern posts are missing. In the ship’s present state we can only see the 10 lower strakes, but there are holes and marks for fastening the upper two rows. The two extra strakes would have given a sufficiently high freeboard to prevent fairly big waves from swamping the ship.

The Tune grave

In the grave the archaeologists found the remains of a man, three horses and several burial gifts. The man in the Tune grave must have been a person of importance.

Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo / Morten Krogvold og Svein Kojan.

The burial chamber

The Tune ship was oriented almost directly north-south in the burial mound. The interior of the ship was lined with moss and juniper. Amidships a burial chamber with a flat roof had been built. The walls were fixed into the clay on the outside of the ship. The remains of a man lay in the burial chamber.

A man of high standing

We do not know who he was, but he must have been sufficiently important to deserve a magnificent and splendid grave. Even though the grave had been plundered and only remains of the burial gifts were preserved, they reveal that the dead man was of high standing. He was accompanied to the grave by three horses. One was found in the ship and two outside.

His weaponry accompanied him

The archaeologists found what remained of his weaponry: a sword hilt, two spearheads, a shield boss and what are presumably the remains of chainmail. In addition the finds included a die, two beads, cloth remnants, parts of a ski, the remains of a saddle and a few carved pieces of wood of unknown purpose. These objects were described in the notes made during the excavation.

The objects disappeared

Since the Tune ship was found at a time when modern archaeology had not as yet taken form, many of the objects disappeared during or just after the excavation and were thus never brought to the museum. The objects that remain today are unfortunately in very poor condition.