Found adorning the walls within the Oseberg ship burial chamber, the Oseberg Tapestry was a remarkable find despite having spent 1200 years buried underground (burial dated to 834). Heavily damaged and largely fragmented, nine sections survived in a recognisable condition. The tapestry is generally understood to display a funerary procession (often suggested to be the procession of the burial it was found within) and the surviving sections evidently display a strong religious significance and features one of the two surviving pictorial scenes for the much discussed hanging ritual. With respect to its location, we are very fortunate to have discovered such a piece that hints towards deeper ritual practice.
'Sacred grove' fragment:
This image is often aligned with particularly Adam of Bremen's depiction of pagan sacrificial practices but in context of the burial and it's location, this is far from a secure link. In context of the whole piece, the hanging scene makes up part of the funerary scene depicted and as such could be argued to instead perform some specifically funerary related function.
The tree from which the bodies 'hang' has been commonly associated with Yggdrasil with presence of serpents and the horse(?) heads that feature at the top of the branches.
Significance of the horse:
With the predominant depiction of the horse across the tapestry, the significance of the horse during burial or funeral has been highlighted. Furthermore, it has been suggested that these images (and the fact that the burial was for a woman) could be representative of the Freyja cult and that this woman was a figure of religious significance. These suggestions go largely unrecognised but are thought provoking nonetheless.
Occasioanally found within female graves (the most lavish example was found within this burial) and literary examples of female funerals, wagons are generally considered to be methods of transporting the deceased to burial and possibly beyond in the afterlife e.g. Helreið Brynhildar. In these fragments, the wagons appear to be filled with small box-like objects. Wagons saw little use in Scandinavia due to the terrain and with the extravegent decoration and limited functionality (i.e. the Oseberg wagon could not turn) it is clear that this example was more than a simple method of transport.
The tapestry fragments were skillfully sketched by Sofie Krafft (University Museum of National Antiquities, Oslo) at the time of discovery and she was supervised by Prof. Gustafson.