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Possible lur (wooden trumpet) or ritual staff

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The year of the burial is determined to 834 AD, however the tube itself has not been dated.

During the Oseberg excavation, one hollow staff was discovered inside a wooden chest, along with domestic paraphernalia. The tube is listed in the Oseberg catalogue as a ‘staff, for unknown purpose. An extremely remarkable wooden tube, maybe a sheath for a stick or something’.[1]

[1] Gablriel Gustavson, The Oseberg Catalogue (Oldsakssamlingen, Oslo, 1903) Translated by autor.

commentary

It is made from a whole piece of birch which has been split in two, hollowed out, and then put back together with some kind of organic material which has now decayed.[1] The staff is 106.5 cm. long and contains six 1 cm. wide indentations that encircles the staff at irregular intervals along its length.[2]

There have been many different theories about what the Oseberg tube could have been used for. Reidar Sevåg was the firsts to suggest that the tube is a musical instrument, a type of short lur or wooden trumpet.[3] Some archaeomusicologists agree with this thesis and the construction of the Oseberg tube is very similar to the Holinge lur and Herninge lur found in Jutish wells. Yet the bore of the Oseberg tube differs from these by having a bore profile which is rounded in both ends, but square in the mid-section. There is a strange squared ending inside the bell end, this “non bell” ending destroys the sound. A rounded bore would improve the sound and is the norm for most wind instruments. [4] The blowing end is also exceptionally small compared to the wooden lurs from Herning and Holing, making the Oseberg tube quite difficult to play.[5] This could be a result of the wood being compressed while in sutu. Nevertheless compared to the 1500 years older bronze lurs, which are to a large extent more sophisticated both in design and playability, the Oseberg tube appears rather primitive, possibly even unfinished. Another suggestion is that there is missing a piece that should go into the tube to make it sound better or that it was not finished in time for the funeral.

Some archaeologists disagree with Sevåg’s suggestion and refer to the straightness of the item and that there is no bell or no proper mouthpiece; consequently archaeologists consider the staff as a symbolic or possibly religious item. Neil Price suggests that the tube is a seiðrstaff, a kind of wand that belonged to a vǫlva. Anne Stine Ingstad suggests that it is a kind of fertility sceptre connected to the reed of fertility motif from the sagas and Old Norse poetry. She claims that this could indicate a possible phallic symbol and adds that the one of the women buried in the mound could have been a vǫlva and was in ‘the service of fertility.’

Stavens hule og ledddelte karakter og dens likhet med et bambusrør synest på denne måten å få sin naturlige forklaring. Når en slik stav er lagt i graven til Oseberg-kvinnen, synest det å understreke at hun må ha stått i frukbarhetens tjeneste.[6]

Whether the tube was hollowed out in order to make it resemble a reed is uncertain, especially when one considers that the tube would not resemble a reed or a bamboo stick when the two parts were bound together. However, it does seem to have a kind of mouthpiece and it can generate sound. Cajsa Lund produced a record in 1984 called Fornordiska Klanger in which she included sounds and music created by reconstructed ancient musical instruments from Scandinavia. She made a soundtrack of a reconstructed Oseberg lur being played with an additional reed mouthpiece and the replica managed to produce a somewhat convincing sound, something between a high-pitched neverlur and an oboe.[7]

Sources:

Christensen, Arne E., Ingstad, Anne Stine and Myhre, Bjørn, 1993. Oseberg Dronningens Grav. Vår Arkeologiske Nasjonalskatt i Nytt Ly, Oslo: Schibsted.

Ledang, Ola Kai, 1999. ‘Musikk som skapte historie’ Studia Musicologica Norwegica 25, 236-241

Price, Neil, 2002. The Viking Way; Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia, Uppsala: Uppsala University.

Sevåg, Reidar, 1973. Det gjallar og det læt : frå skremme- og lokkereiskapar til folkelege blåseinstrument, Oslo: Samlaget

Ole J. Utnes and Olaf B. Brattegaard, ‘The Oseberg Tube’ http://abel.hive.no/trumpet/oseberg/The_Oseberg_tube.pdf

[1] Ibid, 200-201

[2] Arne Christensen, Anne Stine Ingstad, and Bjørn Myhre, Oseberg Dronningens Grav. Vår Arkeologiske Nasjonalskatt i Nytt Lys. (Oslo: Schibsted, 1993), 240

[3] Reidar Sevåg, Det gjallar og det læt : frå skremme- og lokkereiskapar til folkelege blåseinstrument (Oslo: Samlaget, 1973), 54

[4] Ole J. Utnes and Olaf B. Brattegaard, ‘The Oseberg Tube’ http://abel.hive.no/trumpet/oseberg/The_Oseberg_tube.pdf (accessed 11.09.2012)

[5] Ole J. Utnes and Olaf B. Brattegaard, ‘The Oseberg Tube’ http://abel.hive.no/trumpet/oseberg/The_Oseberg_tube.pdf (accessed 11.09.2012)

[6]Ibid, 241

[7] It is possible to get hold of this recording at http://www.musikarkeolog.se/cd.html

(Contributed by Hilde Nielsen.)

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Attributes: seiðr lur music

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