EDINBURGH.- The National Museum of Scotland
is the only UK venue for Vikings!, an outstanding exhibition of more than 500 objects, including jewelry, weapon fragments, carvings, precious metals and household items, from the world-renowned collections of the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. Rarely seen outside Scandinavia, these artefacts show the Vikings in a new and intriguing light.
By bringing together these fascinating objects, archaeological evidence, hands-on displays and innovative interpretation, the exhibition reveals who the Vikings really were and creates a vivid picture of how they lived more than 1,000 years ago, dispelling a number of myths in the process.
The term Viking is a modern invention of 19th century Scandinavian scholarship and should not be used to refer to a race or a people but rather to an activity. Men and perhaps even women and adolescents, would go out on a Viking, which could be the sort of pillaging raids that we commonly think of, but it could also refer to a more peaceful trading expedition.
Historian and broadcaster Neil Oliver, who presented a recent documentary series on Vikings and wrote an accompanying book, will give a lecture at the Museum in February as part of a programme of events and activities to accompany the exhibition. He said:
The Viking age has been much misunderstood and even perhaps misrepresented in our history. In recent years, new archaeological finds and scientific advances have enabled us to learn a lot more, which was one of the main catalysts for my TV programme and the book. This exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland will give people the chance to see some of that evidence first hand, showing the craftsmanship, traditions, spiritual practices, home and family life of a society and a people who were extremely well-travelled and well-connected.
Martin Goldberg, Curator - Early Historic and Viking Archaeology at National Museums Scotland said:
We are delighted to be presenting this material from the Swedish History Museum, which will bring the untold story of the Vikings to Scotland. Most will be familiar with popular portrayals of fearsome pillagers with a thirst for battle and those famous horned helmets. Those helmets are a fiction, a cliché with little or no basis in historical fact, and perhaps that reflects the main point that the exhibition makes we are much less aware of who these people really were, where they came from and how they lived. This wonderful selection of material from their Scandinavian homelands will tell a more complex and subtle story, addressing a few myths along the way, not least those helmets.
Excavations from individual grave sites provide insights into the life and death of a warrior, a wealthy woman and a child. Jewelry and sculpture show the skills of Norse craftsmen, and also reflect how well-travelled they were, with material and designs revealing connections from Britain and Ireland to the Baltic and even the Black Sea. Recent archaeological finds show that, while men were dominant in official life, with right to speak at the Thing (a regional assembly), women played a key role, ruling the household on the farm and sometimes became rich and powerful in their own right.
Amulets and statuettes provide tangible evidence for a variety of cults and rites that honored a pantheon of both male and female gods. Norse mythology suggests this was not an organised religion, but rather a system of well-established practices, encompassing all aspects of life and death. The Viking age was also a time of religious change as Christianity began to take root, but this was a slow and complex process. Amongst the Christian relics on display will be the oldest surviving Swedish crucifix, from the 9th century AD.
In addition, the exhibition features a host of interactive displays and features including a virtual dig at a boat grave, a digital Viking wardrobe and the chance to learn about runes, listen to Viking sagas and have a game of Hnefatafl, an aristocratic Viking board game of military strategy.
Gunnar Andersson, Senior Curator of the exhibition from the Swedish History Museum added:
The objects tell numerous stories. They give us clues to life on the farm, aristocrats and slaves, strong women, the power of mythology, the importance of crafts, the symbolism of the ship and the transition between different religions, Scotland has a longstanding connection with Viking history, and we are looking forward to bringing this exhibition to its National Museum.
The exhibition will also feature a small selection of objects from National Museums Scotlands extensive collections. It will be accompanied by a programme of events for adults and families, including the Neil Oliver lecture on Thursday 28 Feb and the next in the popular RBS Museum Lates series, on Friday 22 February, which will have a Viking flavour.