Oseberg ship was found in a large burial mound in 1904 near Oseberg farm, Vestfold county, Norway. It is believed to be one of the best preserved and most exciting Viking ship finds, even though the burial (dating to 834 AD) was looted as early as in the Middle Ages. The ship’s prow and the roof of the burial chamber were hacked through, skeletal remains of two women were scattered, all precious metal objects stolen. However, Oseberg burial yielded wealth of grave goods that were deemed worthless by the thieves but are indeed priceless for the Viking Age archeology.
One of the most interesting Oseberg discoveries is the so-called Buddha-bøtte or Buddha bucket. It is a pail with two identical figures forming the joints of the pail handle. Both figures represent a man seated in the Lotus position. His head is flat. His face with closed eyes has a peaceful and sunken expression. The man’s breast is ornamented with red and yellow champlevé enamel as well as panels of millefiori. Four swastikas on the enamel decoration have the shape common in the Buddhist tradition, in which this symbol represents auspiciousness and good fortune.
Vikings could in fact meet Buddhist missionaries during their expeditions. Sixth-century Buddha statuette from northern India was found on the island of Helgö, Sweden (currently on display in the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm). However, Oseberg Buddha does not seem to have been imported from Asia. Researchers point to either Ireland or England as possible places of origin. Hexham bucket decoration represents a flat human head with the same type of broad face and the same stress on the eyes. Among other parallels, hanging bowl found at Löland, Norway (Oslo Museum), and the one found in the Maas, Holland (Leiden Museum), could be named. Both have human shaped handles with red and yellow enamel decoration. Perhaps the most striking parralel to Oseberg Buddha are the anthropomorphic escutcheons on the Myklebostad hanging bowl, which have similar elaborate champlevé in red, yellow and green, with panels of millefiori. However, the man is not seated, but standing.
Who is the person represented on the Oseberg bucket, if not Buddha from Asia? Is it a meditating Viking? A Norse god? This remains a mystery.