The five reconstructions

The five Skuldelev ships were built and used by people who left innumerable traces in the vessels: The forms of the ships reveal their function, the waters they were built to sail, and the boatbuilders' wishes for sailing capabilities. The wood fibre structure tell us how certain parts of the tree were used to build specific ship parts. And tool marks tell us how the boatbuilder used axes, planes and drills.

The boatbuilders at the Viking Ship Museum works with copies of Viking Age tools and corresponding materials and techniques. The shape of the hull is reconstructed based on the preserved parts of the original ship. The missing parts are reconstructed using other ship-finds, Viking Age ship motifs and more modern traditional Nordic clinker-built boats, which hark back to the Viking Age ship design. The process is called experimental archaeology.

The Viking Ship Museum's reconstructions are lying in the Museum Harbour, side by side with the traditional wooden boats. The harbour environment and the associated exhibitions and activities underline the direct connection between the Skuldelev ships in the Viking Ship hall and the successors - building a bridge between history and tradition.

The reconstructions are not definitive truths. The represent suggestions on how the ships may have looked 1,000 years ago. For each new reconstruction we built and sail, we learn more about the importance om ships in Viking Age society.

Visit the Boat Yard where the smell of tar and newly cleeved timber hangs in the air and see the boatbuilders continue 1,000 year old crafts traditions.

» Read more about the boat yard here... 

And go sailing and experience the Viking Age sail on Roskilde Fjord.

Build: 1999 - 2000

In 1999, the work on Ottar began, a reconstruction of the large ocean-going cargo ship from western Norway. During the building process the boatbuilder found some unusual and unidentifiable axe marks on a biti. The tool marks were recognized by a Norwegian as "sprett-telgjing". This is a special carving technique used when working in pine, and requires special axes. It leaves a particular pattern of axe marks, and was different from any technique that the boatbuilders had previously used. With this technique, the axe enters the wood at a slightly obtuse angle; the boatbuilder then relaxes his arm and lets the axe bounce back out of the wood.

Building Ottar made the boatbuilders more interested in exploring the cutting techniques and tool marks found on the original ships. We learned more about how tools can be shaped, ground and used in different ways. 
Today the museum has a fine collection of copies of Viking Age axes, planes, drills, profile scrapers, knives, chisels and hammers from all over the Nordic region.

Ottar is lying in the Museum Harbour. The reconstruction has robust, full forms and dark-tared wood.

In Norway sprett-telgjing is also found on the Viking Age Oseberg ship, stave churches and in houses from the Middle Ages. In Denmark the carving technique is found on the medieval 'Roskilde 5' ship.

Build: 2000 - 2004

The Sea Stallion from Glendalough is a reconstruction of the great longship Skuldelev 2.
The ship is a war machine, built to carry many warriors at high speed. It is a bold design, both heavy and strong enough to carry its 112 m² sail, but also sufficiently light and long to be rowed by a crew of 60. A compromise between strength and lightness.

High-quality materials were used in building the original ship, for the sake of appearance and to enhance the strength of the construction. It was therefore necessary to select materials for the reconstruction which in type and properties, came as close to as possible to the original.
During the building process the boatbuilders examined how many resources such as wood, tar, iron, wool and hemp were used for the longship. This gave us a picture of the power structures that were required to provide such extensive resources and necessary organisation.

For the Sea Stallion were used:

  • 4 oak trees for keel, forestem and afterstem
  • 14 oak tress for planks
  • 2 oak trees for keelson and mast-fish
  • 250 pieces of crooked oak for frames
  • 3 ash trees for the top strake with oarports
  • 2 pine trees for mast and yard
  • 35 pine trees for oars
  • 10 willow trees for 1,000 wooden nails
  • 10 lime, spruce and pine trees for shields
  • 8.000 iron rivets
  • 600 litres of tar
  • 112 m² sail canvas of flax
  • 2.000 mettres of hemp rope 

The 30 metre long reconstruction was launched in 2004. The dream of recreating all five Skuldelev ships had been fulfilled. The next step in the experiment was a voyage in the wake of the vikings to test the reconstruction. The voyage from Roskilde to Dublin and back in 2007-2008 was the culmination of many years of work, and the most ambitious arcaheological experiment the museum has ever carried out.

The Sea Stallion is lying in the Museum Harboor. The longship is easy to recognize with its characteristic blue, red and yellow strakes.

Build: 1982 -1984

In 1982 Roar Ege, the reconstruction of the small trading ship was built. 
The ship is the best preserved of the five Skuldelev ships with 75 % of the hull intact. Aldready during the excavation, the dream of recreating Skuldelev 3 arose and it was the first reconstruction to be built in the Viking Ship Museum's Boatyard.

To avoid preconceived attitudes towards ship design and construction methods, the museum did not employ professional boatbuilders. The construction team had to be open to a shipbuilding tradition more than 1,000 years old. The museum therefore engaged a group of young people who, two years earlier, built Imme Skinfaxe, a 9:10 scale reconstruction of Skuldelev 3.
The building of Roar Ege was carefully documented. All the details were discussed, and for each decision, a memorandum was drawn up with descriptions, drawings and references. When the reconstruction was launched it had consummed 20,000 working hours - the rope work and hand-wowen wool sail alone accounted for 5000 working hours.

When reconstructing the Skuldelev ships the museum faces several challenges. One of the most difficult is to explain how the Vikings, unlike us, built by eye, using rules-of-thumb that were passed down. We have chosen to build reconstructions that are as close to the original ships as possible. Consequently, we use models and drawings while examining the Viking building tradition.

Roar Ege is lying in the Museum Harbour. The reconstruction is treated with a mixture of wood tar and linseed oil that gives the beautiful dark brown colour. And yo can find mythical patterns carved into the deck.

Helge Ask 1990 - 1991

The keel for the museum's reconstruction of Skuldelev 5, Helge Ask, was laid in 1990. But one question kept being asked: Which ship should we build? The original or the repaired? 
Unlike the other ships, Skuldelev 5 is build using both new wood and recycled timber. A few years before it ended up in Roskilde Fjord, it was also repaired with both new and recycled wood. This is exemplified in the top strake with oarports. During the repair the top strake was replaced with a new plank with oarports that did not fit the thwarts (rowing benches) and the original placement of the oars. The oarports was closed with small wooden plates and new ones were carved right next to.

Helge Ask was reconstructed as Skuldelev 5 originally appeared. The bottom of the hull and the entire port side - approximately 65 % - is preserved and it was therefore possible to recreate the starboard side.

Helge Ask is lying in the Museum Harbour. The small longship is decorated with yellow and braun-red colours, inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. A snake or worm is painted around the aft and for-ship to copy the carved decoration found on Skuldelev 5. When sailing on longer voyages Helge Ask is carrying a red dragon head and tale.

Before reconstructing Skuldelev 5, the museum dreamed about showing the extremes of Viking maritime culture: peaceful trade (Roar Ege) and bloody battles (Helge Ask). After this building process, the dream of reconstructing all five Skuldelev ships began to grow.

uldelev 5 drømte museet om at kunne vise yderpunkterne i vikingernes maritime kultur; den fredelige handel (Roar Ege) og den blodige kamp (Helge Ask). Efter byggeriet voksede drømmen om at rekonstruere alle fem Skuldelevskibe.

Build: 1998 and 2010

In 1998, the museum's boatbuilders reconstructed Skuldelev 6, the fishing boat from western Norway. Skuldelev 6 was originally built as relatively low-boarded (six strakes) with 14 oarports. But after some time the ship was converted into a cargo carrier. By removing the rowlocks and adding a seventh strake it was made more capacious and seaworthy. 

The reconstruction Kraka Fyr is build in its original design - as a fishing boat. The construction project was the first in which we worked with planks of pine rather than oak. 

Twelve years later, in 2010, the boatbuilders lay the keel for yet another reconstruction. No forestem or afterstem was preserved from Skuldelev 6, and this time the design of these was changed. When building Kraka Fyr, the boatbuilders looked to the 'stepped' stems of Skuldelev 3. But archaeological finds of stems in western Norway, and the fishing boat's relationship to Skuldelev 1, indicated that the stems of Skuldelev 6 may have had a different design. Both the forestem and afterstem of Kraka Fyr and the new forestem and afterstem of Skjoldungen are designed with respect for the preserved parts, without changing the boat's shape. This shows that several solutions are possible when reconstructing the parts missing from an original ship.

Kraka Fyr and Skjoldungen often lie side by side in the Museum Harbour. Kraka Fyr with its high 'stepped' stems and Skjoldungen with the shorter and more blunt stem design. Kraka Fyr is moreover darker after years of taring.