A Museum Accidentally Smashed The Biggest Viking Ship Ever

They were meant to preserve ships, not destroy them.
A Museum Accidentally Smashed The Biggest Viking Ship Ever

Somewhere around the year 1000, the Vikings of Roskilde in Denmark were expecting an attack by sea. To defend themselves, they sank five ships of varying sizes, making it so no one could safely sail into the fjord. Picture them sinking, say, a destroyer, a submarine, a cruiser, a carrier, and a battleship. Their move might sound a little extreme, but this strategy (creating a "blockship") would go on to have a long history. Navies were still going this route as recently as 2014, when Russia was invading Crimea. 

People in the area for the next millennium forgot exactly what had happened, but they still always knew something was gunking up the water there. Finally, in 1962, they got around to finding out what it was and digging it all up. Roskilde built a new museum for exhibiting these ships, and it ran for the next few decades without anything too exciting happening.

Then in the '90s, the museum wanted to expand. So they sent in some digging machines to tear through the dirt and make room for a new wing. The digger hit something, breaking it. It was a ship. The previous five ships (the "Skuldelev ships") had been scuttled in the water, but this one had been buried. 

So had eight other ships, now that they went through the dirt further, poking a lot more carefully this time. Archaeologists are all about excavating, but they usually don't set loose a five-ton machine to just tear through the dirt, and this one had damaged the discovery before anyone had had a chance to examine it. Still, the museum staff reconstructed the damaged ship, known as Roskilde 6. Turns out it's the largest Viking ship ever discovered.

"It's twice the length of Columbus' ship" is how sources describe it, though we don't know how useful that comparison is—you probably couldn't say offhand just how big Columbus' ships were, or even if those ships were considered big back then. So, we'll also let you know Roskilde 6 is 120 feet long and must have had 40 oarsmen on each side to keep it moving. Sadly, that means the ship can never sail again, as fewer than 20 actual rowers from the original Viking Age are still alive today. 

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Top image: National Museum of Denmark


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