Maritime Craftsmanship

The Viking Ship Museum is an active experimental archaeology research centre, with over thirty years experience in building and sailing reconstructions of archaeological ship finds. It is also a multi-disciplinary working environment, where experts from many different fields collaborate in order to explore ships and seafaring in the past. The dialogue between archaeologists, ship reconstructors, historians and craft specialists lies at the core of the Museum’s work. These modern day crafts men and women apply their skills and innate understanding of materials and craft processes to the reconstruction of boats and ships.

The work that is carried out at the boatyard can be seen as existing on two levels. One the one hand, the efforts of the craftsmen have a tangible result: wood is cleaved, cut and shaped, rope is laid, iron is smelted and forged, wool is spun and woven, and piece by piece, a vessel comes into being. But this work also contains an intangible dimension: the actions carried out by the craftsmen and women echo practice that has continued down through the centuries and represents something essential: our intangible cultural heritage. 

Intangible cultural heritage

Traditional museum work has long involved the preservation and exploration of material cultural heritage. Artefacts are found during excavation, analysed, conserved and placed on display, enriching our understanding of the physical aspects of life in the past: the houses people lived in, the ships they sailed in, the clothes they wore and the items they produced. Intangible cultural heritage on the other hand, is concerned with the things you cannot put on display in an exhibition case – the traditions, techniques, social customs and languages specific to each culture. In 2003, UNESCO drafted the ‘Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage’. One of the areas they include under the banner of intangible heritage is traditional craftsmanship; of which the maritime craftsmanship carried out at the Museum’s boatyard is a prime example. 

Maritime craftsmanship in practice

The construction of a ship can be seen as the nucleus of a much wider production network, which involves countless materials, processes and craft specialists. Boat and ship finds, along with their rigging, rivets and sails are all reconstructed as accurately as possible, using the correct materials, and tools based on period examples found during excavations. The projects carried out at the Museum boatyard therefore represent a living, Nordic craft tradition, which has its roots in the past but which is kept alive by the current generation of crafts men and women.

You can read more about their work by clicking on the menu to the left.