Once upon a time, when men were men and dragons were dragons and anyone who was male had beards and an attitude, the most incredible, graceful, sleek ships sailed the seas.
Designed to carry up to 100 fearsome warriors, they were clinker-built: constructed with overlapping oak planks which could be a thin as an inch but compact and watertight. Flat-bottomed, proud-prowed, riveted together with wrought-iron rivets and roves, even their oars were seated differently in the ship to their forebears. not secured by row locks – external brackets to secure oars – but rather with oar ports, so rowers could row when it suited them and withdraw when the wind was high to streamline the vessel.
In favourable conditions the ships were known to reach 15 knots.
It is ironic, then, that the latest Viking ship to cross the seas did so as a flat pack.
It had to: only 20 per cent of the timber of the Roskilde 6 longboat, excavated from the banks of Roskilde fjord in Denmark in 1997, survives. It is customarily displayed these days on a steel frame. It has been on display at the National Museum of Denmark, but the ship, thought to date from 1025, is on the move once more.
Within the last 48 hours, the British Museum announced that the ship arrived safely. Now it will take two weeks to put it all painstakingly together. It will be the centrepiece of an extraordinary exhibition, Vikings: Life and Legend, which opens in March 2014.
The ship will be surrounded by artefacts from the British Museum itself including the breathtaking Vale of York treasure hoard; and intriguingly, we will see relatively new finds: skeletons from a mass grave of executed and beheaded Vikings near Weymouth in Dorset.
Oh, the stories those exhibition halls will tell.
Vikings: Life and Legend will run from March 6 – June 22 at The British Museum. For booking, click here.