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Viking Age Ship Graffiti from Dublin

Viking Ship graffiti

This piece of Viking Age ship graffiti was identified on a wooden plank that was recovered during an archaeological excavation at Christchurch Place, Dublin. The dig, which was carried under the direction of Breandán Ó Ríordáin, revealed a series of Hibern0-Norse houses, as well as associated features, which mainly dated from the 9th to 11th centuries AD.

Although incomplete, the Christchurch Place graffiti appears to depict a ship of Scandinavian type. The vessel has a central mast, supporting a furled sail, which is secured by several rigging ropes. The fact that the ship’s sail is furled suggests that it is moored and it’s possible that artist was depicting a vessel they had seen docked in Dublin.

Town seal from Sandwith, c. 1300. (after

Town seal from Sandwith, c. 1300. (after Christensen, A. E. 1988, p. 18)

A distinctive figure is shown on the yard of the masthead, where he appears to be securing the sail. Comparable figures are known from a number of English town seals, including a late 13th century example from Sandwith (see image above, Christensen, A. E. 1988, p. 18).

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Ship graffiti from Wintetaven Street, Dublin

The relatively small corpus of medieval ship graffiti from Ireland includes at least two other examples from Dublin. These were recovered from Viking Age contexts at Winetavern Street and both depict similar types of vessel (see image to right). Long and slender, with raised prows/sterns and a central mast, they appear to portray classic Viking longboats (see adjacent image).

Today these ship graffiti pieces can viewed at the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

References 

Christensen, A. E. 1988 ‘Ship Graffiti and Models’ in Patrick Wallace (ed.) Miscellanea 1, Medieval Dublin Excvavations, 1962-81. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, pp. 13-12

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2 Responses to Viking Age Ship Graffiti from Dublin

  1. Patrick O'Donovan November 13, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    The figure at the masthead is definitely representational of a bird..Funny but ….I have just been reading up on this lately. (Source:Wikipedia) The first recorded appearance of the term was in 1807, used to describe William Scoresby’s barrel crows nest platform. According to a popular naval legend, the term derives from the practice of Viking sailors, who carried crows or ravens in a cage secured to the top of the mast. In cases of poor visibility, a crow was released, and the navigator plotted a course corresponding to the bird’s flight path because the crow invariably headed towards the nearest land.[2] However, other naval scholars have found no evidence of the masthead crow cage and suggest the name was coined because Scoresby’s lookout platform resembled a crow’s nest in a tree.[1]

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