If you want to use this site please update your browser!

Seated Buddha Statuette in the Oseberg Ship

The Oseberg ship was found in a large mound in 1904 near Oseberg Farm, Westfold County, Norway. It is believed to be one of the best preserved and most interesting finds of Viking ships, although the burial site (dating back to 834 AD) had been looted during the Middle Ages. The bow of the ship and the roof of the burial chamber were cut through, the remains of two women were scattered, and all precious metal objects were stolen. Nevertheless, Oseberg's burial chamber contained many funerary objects that the thieves thought were useless, but truly invaluable to Viking-era archaeology.

One of Oseberg's most interesting discoveries is the so-called Buddha-bøtte or Buddha bucket. It is a bucket with two identical figures forming the joints of the bucket handle. Both figures represent a man sitting in the lotus pose. His head is flat. His face with his eyes closed has a peaceful and sunken expression. The man's chest is decorated with red and yellow chiseled enamel and a panel of millefiori. The four swastikas on the enamel decoration are shaped in the common Buddhist tradition, in which this symbol represents goodness and good fortune.

In fact, the Vikings may have met Buddhist missionaries during their expeditions. A sixth-century Buddha statue from northern India was found on Helgo Island in Sweden (now on display at the Swedish National Antiquities Museum in Stockholm). However, the Oseberg Buddha does not appear to have been imported from Asia. Researchers point to Ireland or England as possible places of origin. Hexham's bucket ornament is a flat human head with the same broad face and the same eye strain. Other parallels include a hanging bowl found in Leland, Norway (Oslo Museum) and a bowl found in Maas, Holland (Leiden Museum). Both have human-shaped handles decorated with red and yellow enamel. Perhaps the most striking parrallel of the Oseberg Buddha are the anthropomorphic shields on the Myklebostad hanging bowl. which have similar intricate notches in red, yellow and green with panels of millefiori. However, the man is not sitting, but standing.

Seated Buddha Statuette in the Oseberg Ship