Skuldelev Ships: Five Viking Ships Sank In One Spot

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Skuldelev Ships: Five Viking Ships Sank In One Spot

We might know and read a lot about the Viking burial sites with ships. It was among the most famous and unique ritual of the Vikings. Besides being the means of transportation and the coffin, the Viking ships once served as the sacrifices for the good of the community. To be specific, the Viking intentionally let their ships sink into the deep dark ocean.

Skuldelev were their names because the archaeologists excavated them in Peberrenden, at Skuldelev, Denmark. We use the plural form because there are up to 5 ships in the site. 

The placement of the Skuldelev ships before excavation

The placement of the Skuldelev ships before the archaeologists started their excavation

The cool thing about these 5 ships was that they were sunken because the Vikings wanted that. The year was around 1000 A.D. The Vikings filled the 5 ships with stones and let them sink. They did so because they wanted to block the ship channel which provided access to the town. By this way could the town inhabitants protect themselves and their land from the enemies. 

At first, three ships were brought to the narrowest point. After twenty years, other two ships were brought out and sunken. Then the defensive wall added more ships, making it an effective defence system.

Skuldelev ships site

View from above of the excavation site. The archaeologists made it a land excavation by a cofferdam.

When the earliest divers happened to see the ships at the bad visibility, they thought they belonged to medieval Queen Margaret. It was not until 1956, a group of professional divers saw them again and reported to the National Museum. After examining, they concluded the ships belonged to the Viking Age.  

When the archaeologists started to carry out their excavation, they had to lift layers of stones before reaching the ships. 

Around the 1960s, the site was drained making it a cofferdam, making it a land excavation. It took the archaeologists nearly a decade to finish their work of excavating 5 ships. 

The cofferdam where the archaeologists excavated the Skuldelev ships

Excavation of the Viking ships

The cofferdam where the archaeologists excavated the five Skuldelev ships

In the beginning, they thought there were 6 ships in total. But after the study, it turned out to be that the ship number 4 was a part of the ship number 2. By far, the Skuldelev ships have been named with number "1, 2, 3, 5, 6". All of the ships dated back to the 11th century. They were not the similar type of ship, varying from the small fishing boat to an ocean cargo vessel and the huge warship. 

  • Skuldelev 1: a cargo ship with 16m (~52.5ft) in length. It was built from pine and oak repairs. It came from western Norway
  • Skuldelev 2: an oak-built Viking warship. The length of Skuldelev 2 doubled that of Skuldelev 1. Archaeologists believed it was built in Dublin. It was the least preserved ship in the 5 Skuldelev ships. Only 25% of the ship survives the test of time. 
  • Skuldelev 3: an oak-built Danish cargo and transport ship. 14m (~46ft) was its length. It is the best-preserved ship in the five. 
  • Skuldelev 5: a warship built in Denmark. This ship was as long as 17.5m (~57.5ft). Though the ship showed many traces of repairs, the details on the ship suggested that it was built by an experienced shipbuilder. 
  • Skuldelev 6: the smallest ship in the five. The length was around 11m (~36 ft). It was a cargo ship built in western Norway with pines and repairs of oak.

All five Skuldelev ships had their modern replica. The project to bring back these Viking ships aimed to build the vessels with the same materials and the similar shipbuilding techniques. Unlike the reconstruction of the Gokstad ship with the ship named "Viking", this project was recorded visually and verbally. The public had the chance to see the description and analysis of the projects with a film. 

Reconstruction of the Viking Skuldelev ship

Shipbuilder added rivets to the strakes in the bow of the replica of Skuldelev 1 (Cre: Werner Karrasch, Viking Ship Museum)

Viking ship replica. Reconstruction of five Skuldelev Viking ships

Five replicas of the Skuldelev ships set sail after finishing. From left to right: 1, 2, 5, 3, 6 


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