In 1880, sons of the owner of Gokstad farm, having heard of the legends surrounding the site, uncovered the bow of a boat while digging in the still frozen ground. As word of the find got out, Nicolay Nicolaysen, then President of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments, began excavating the mound from the side rather than from the top down, and on the second day of digging found the bow of the ship.
The Gokstad ship is clinker-built and constructed largely of oak. The ship was intended for warfare, trade, transportation of people and cargo. The ship is 23.80 meter long and 5.10 meter wide.
The ship was built to carry 32 oarsmen, and the oar holes could be hatched down when the ship was under sail. It utilized a square sail of approximately 110 square meters, which, it is estimated, could propel the ship to over 12 knots. The Gokstad ship was commissioned at the end of the 9th century during the reign of King Harald Fairhair. The ship could carry a crew of between forty to seventy men.