Viking Funeral Activity

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Updated on Jul 9, 2013

According to ancient myth, Viking warriors who died in battle would be sent off in a longboat to a majestic hall called Valhalla, ruled over by the god Odin. The boat, holding the dearly departed, would be set ablaze and launched at sea. Recreate this historical fable with your child by creating your own blazing boat that can be set loose on the calm waters of a small pond or lake.

In this experiment, the candles heat the water inside the tube. As water expands when heated, the steam soon seeks an escape route in the form of the small hole. The steam expands quickly and creates a noticeable recoil as it leaves the narrow opening. Your child will be amazed at the speed and power of this miniature mythical replica!

  • Elapsed time: 1 hour

What You Need:

  • Aluminum tube used for tablets or pills (about 4 inches long) with a screw top
  • Small piece of wood
  • Nail or drill
  • Hammer
  • Water
  • Four 1/2-inch candles, already burned or cut down to 1/2-inch stumps
  • An empty shallow can (e.g., from sardines) just large enough to hold the aluminum tube lengthwise
  • Matches

What You Do:

  1. Have your child lay the screw top of the aluminum tube face up on a piece of wood or something else you don't mind scratching up a bit.
  2. Hammer a nail off-center into and through the screw top. Steam will be able to escape from it later.
  3. Ask your child to fill the tube halfway with water and screw the top back on.
  4. Drip a little wax into the can and then have your child press the candles into the melted wax, in a line against a long side.
  5. Have your child place the tube (with the hole on top) lengthwise inside the can against the other long side, and secure it in the same way. The candles and tube should all fit quite snugly.
  6. Light the candles and place the can on the surface of the water.
  7. Watch as the “Viking longboat” begins to travel under its own head of steam.

On a practical level, note that the vessel is quite fragile so it’s best to wait for calm weather and water conditions before conducting this experiment.

Adapted with permission from "The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science." Copyright 2008 by Sean Connolly. Used with permission of Workman Publishing Company, Inc., New York. All Rights Reserved.

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