Researchers warn that if the planned Viking Age museum is not built as planned, the Viking ships may be stored away indefinitely in a desperate bid to preserve them.

Researchers have started a petition to save the Norwegian Viking ships

“This is a desperate cry to the government,” says one of the archaeologists behind the petition.

Thousands of people have signed the petition to “Save the Viking ships!”, and the numbers are growing rapidly.

Frantic twitter activity during the weekend has helped spread the word.

“The response has been overwhelming,” says Marie Amundsen from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Oslo.

“We thought we might collect around 500 signatures. Now we have more than 5000. It shows that a lot of people are really engaged in this issue, people really care,” she says.

Up in the air

Norway’s research community have been in a state of shock and bewilderment since early May, when Minister of Research and Higher Education Ola Borten Moe forced the board of the Norwegian Research Council to resign, and signaled a number of significant cuts in funding of the sector.

One of the projects targeted by the Minister was the planned new Museum of the Viking Age. Having been needed for decades and planned for years – the old museum is now closed, the artefacts have been packed away, and groundworks for the new museum were to start on August 1st.

Now this is all up in the air. The estimated budget has increased, and the Minister is not having it. If needs be, we will start all over again, he said to the Norwegian News Agency.

This is urgent

At the beginning of June, a report from the University of Oslo and the Directorate of Public Construction concluded that the museum must be built as planned.

There is no way a museum can be built within the original budget and at the same time meet the overarching goal of securing the cultural heritage that is the Viking Ships and artefacts, according to the report.

Archaeologist Marie Amundsen and colleagues have started a petition to ensure that the new Viking Age museum is built.

Amundsen and a colleague were talking about the situation Friday last week, and about how it was urgent to get through to the politicians – the Revised National Budget for 2022 is due to be adopted on Friday 17th.

While a suggested cut and postponement for the Ocean Space Center, a research centre to be built in Trondheim, has since been revised and will continue as planned – nothing has been heard about the Viking ships.

Over the weekend Amundsen was joined by around 20 colleagues from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and the petition went online.

May be packed away for good

“If one country could and should spend this money, it's Norway!” writes one petition signer. “This is a national embarrassment!”, according to another.

Amundsen couldn’t agree more.

“If we don’t get a museum building that can actually take care of these items, the reality is that they will be packed away for good. In a last desperate bid to save them, they will be stored and not available to the public,” she says.

While working as a guide at the old Viking Age museum ten years ago, Amundsen noticed the cracks in the Gokstad ship.

“Every time you came around to that one side of the ship, you could see the light coming through the wood in the cracks,” she says.

“I’ve visited the museum every year since, and the cracks have just gotten bigger and bigger – until the last time I went, a week before they started packing the items away in preparation for the new museum. This time it was a gaping hole,” she says.

Learn from the past

The petition is a desperate cry for today’s government to learn from past mistakes, says Amundsen.

The current museum is the result of governments trying to save money. Cheaper, simpler and smaller solutions have been chosen over more expensive ones that might have preserved the ships better. The building was made to take around 40 000 visitors per year but has been receiving more than half a million.

“When parliament decided to build a museum for the Viking ships 100 years ago, they concluded that there wasn’t enough money, and only a quarter of the planned building was actually built – in the cheapest way possible. We pay the price for this pettiness today”, Svein Stølen, rector at the University of Oslo and Håkon Glørstad, Director of the Museum of Cultural History write in the academic newspaper Khrono (Link in Norwegian).

When the most recent part of the museum was built in 1956, the goal was also to spend as little money as possible, as has reported previously.

A question of priorities

When the cuts were first announced in May, the Green Party stated in the newspaper Khrono (link in Norwegian) that they would work to ensure that the museum would be properly financed in the revised national budget.

“We have to prioritise financing this in order to get on with the project and so we don’t risk that the ships are ruined. It would be incredibly embarrassing for Norway if we are not able to preserve this cultural heritage”, Arild Hermstad, spokesperson of the Green Party said to Khrono.

Hermstad compared the museum to a planned tunnel in Oslo which is going to cost just about the same as the museum.

“So the government can afford this. The problem in the case of the Viking ships is that you cannot postpone the project. Because this in itself is destructive to that which you are trying to preserve”, he said.

The other political parties in opposition were more restrained in their comments, siting that though the Viking ships are important, they wished to wait and see what the actual results in the revised budget would be.

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