Oseberg cart

The cart is in a class of its own, both in quality and size; its total length, including the shafts, is about 5.5 metres, the maximum width is about 1.5 metres and the height 1.20 metres. The construc- tion itself is quite simple; the wheels are made of beech with heavy rims and hubs, while the spokes are somewhat lighter. They are connected with heavy axles joined to a centre bar forked at the rear; the ends of the fork are firmly secured to the rear axle, which is thus fixed in relation to the centre bar. Two large carved pieces of wood to which the shafts are attached are mounted on the front axle. The shafts are also decorated with wood carvings, but these are rather primitive and clumsy, especially in comparison with the extremely beautiful carving on the sleigh shafts.

The body of the cart rests on a pair of trestles which are joined to the centre bar with two small intermediary pieces of wood: the whole is held together by long, wooden bolts. The trestles which bear the body terminate in carvings in the shape of men's heads. naturalistic on the back trestle and stylized on the front. The body is built as a box with a semi-circular cross-section. Each end consists of a single piece of wood completely covered with carved decorations. The sides and the bottom are composed of 9 boards which are mortised into the ends and riveted together with iron rivets. The two upper boards on each side are decorated, while the others are plain.

The decoration of the cart differs in some respects from all the other wood-carving in the Oseberg find, but a close analysis would seem to show that it was executed by the same hand as the decora- tions on the ship. There are several indications suggesting that the cart may have been used for religious ceremonies and that it was a copy of an older cart of similar type. Because of the use to which it was to be put, the carver had to attempt to copy this earlier style, with which the craftsmen of the Oseberg period were not familiar. The carving consists mainly of various kinds of animal figures, but among them we come across portrayals of human beings: small narrative scenes that to us have no comprehensible connection with the confusion of entwined and struggling animals with which they are surrounded.

The scene on the front-end is the most intelligible; it depicts a man struggling with snakes which surround him on all sides, while a four-footed beast bites him on one side. This probably illustrates the myth of Gunnar in the snake pit.

The scene roughly in the middle of the upper board on the right side is more difficult to interpret. It shows three people: a man is riding on horseback from the right and is met by another man who seizes the horse by the bridle with his left hand, while in his right he holds aloft something that must be meant to represent a sword. A woman is standing behind him, holding his right wrist as if to prevent him from striking. On both sides the human figures are directly connected with the ornamental animals that grip them at several points.

It may reasonably be assumed that this also depicts a scene from a saga or myth known to the Vikings, just as they were familiar with the story of Gunnar in the snake pit. Perhaps this is a scene from the Hiadings Myth but we can do no more than surmise here.

oseberg cart