The Runic inscriptions found written on the Oseberg viking ship have caused many people to ponder about their meaning. The Runes can be read both ways, but one interpretation is “litet-vis maðr,” which translates into English as: “man knows little.” So what did the Vikings know that we do not?
The Oseberg ship is a well-preserved Viking ship that was discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway. It was excavated by Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson in 1904-1905.
The ship is dated to having been build and used during the dawn of the Viking Age.Research has revealed that parts of the ship date from around 800 AD, but the ship itself is thought to be much older. The ship was used in 834 AD as a burial ship for two wealthy women in a burial mound.
The Oseberg mound is the richest Viking burial site ever found. Its contents trigger many questions about “the Nordic final journey.”
The burial mound contained a ship and inside the burial chamber were two female human skeletons. One of the skeletons belonged to an elderly aged between 70 and 80 and the other to a younger about 50 years old.
Although the women’s identities are unknown, it has been suggested that the eldest is Queen Åsa of the Yngling clan, mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother of Harald Fairhair. Recent tests of the women’s remains suggest that they lived in Agder in Norway, as had Queen Åsa.
Other items found in the ship burial included: four horse sleighs, a richly decorated chariot, seven beds, and several woven tapestries. Also found were animal bones from fourteen or fifteen horses, a cat, a Eurasian woodcock, a red-breasted merganser, a bull, a cow, and four dogs.
The burial ship was a real sailing seaworthy Viking Longboat. The ship was a clinker built “karv” ship that was built almost entirely of oak.
Clinker built, also known as lapstrake, is a method of boat building where the edges of hull planks overlap, called a “land” or “landing.”The ship is 70.8 feet (21.58 meters) long and 16.7 feet (5.10 meters) wide. The ship had an approximately 30 to 33 foot (9–10 meters) tall mast with a sail of c. 90 m². The ship could achieve speeds up to 10 knots. The ship also has 15 pairs of oar holes, which means that 30 people could row the ship. Other fittings include a broad steering oar, iron anchor, gangplank, and a bailer
The bow and stern of the ship are elaborately decorated with complex woodcarvings in the characteristic “gripping beast” style, also known as the Oseberg style.
There were also some runes etched into the ship which have been interpreted as, “litet-vis maðr” or in English, “man knows little.” The runes were found on a piece of wood over two meters long that is believed to be part of an oar or mast from the ship. Its discovery has prompted much speculation as to what exactly the Vikings might have meant by this enigmatic phrase and whether they knew something that our modern civilization doesn’t.