Vikings: Life and Legend

They are the filthiest of God’s creatures. They do not clean themselves after urinating or defecating, nor do they wash themselves after sex. They do not wash their hands after meals. They are like wandering asses.

London was looking ravishing this week, basking in the glorious sunshine. I however, was not looking so great. After a suffocating tube journey, I arrived sticky and sweaty at the British Museum. I was very lucky, because of my work shadowing with English Heritage, I was able to wrangle a spot on their team trip to the Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition.
I felt very privileged as we were introduced to the exhibit by it’s project curator. He talked us through the thinking behind it’s creation, the exhibition design, and challenges that they have faced.

I wasn’t supposed to be taking photos, but some of the artefacts on display were too brilliant not to share so I managed to slyly take some blurry shots.

Vikings are stereotypically known for their raiding and we got to see lots of the treasures of their exploits. The intricacy of the gold work was astonishing. It reminded me of some of the objects that I saw at the BM’s previous exhibition on El Dorado. The display of the objects was also very similar.

These were ginormous broaches that would fasten a cloak. Too large to be worn on a practical basis, they would be worn for more ceremonial occasions.IMG_1092

A slave’s neck chain

Some of the lovely jewellery

The ship is the masterpiece of the exhibition. At about 40 metres long it is huge. The few remnants of the ship are displayed in their original position in a steel reconstruction. This display has faced a lot of criticism in reviews. It is true that the steel cage somewhat hides away the original wood, yet I cannot imagine how it could be displayed in a better way. The steel really emphasises on how large the boat would have been, and how the remaining beams fit into that. The project curator has written an interesting blog post here if you want to know more about the ship, and the exhibition preparation.

Even with timed entry slots, the exhibition was very busy. The first part, before you reach the ship is like a bottle neck, with most of your time wasted queuing or giving up in a huff. The cavernous room that houses the ship allows for a lot more free flow and is far more suitable for the large number of visitors. I found that at times there could have been a bit more interpretation, to help fully understand the relevance of the objects, but I did not pay for the multimedia which no doubt contained a lot more information.

As a subject that I know very little about, I found the exhibit very interesting. It’s only running until June 22nd so do hurry if you fancy giving it a visit. I advise booking ahead which you can do here.

The exhibit also works very nicely if you are a fan of the TV series Vikings and actually gives you some real historical understanding before indulging in the trashy adaptation! I only started watching it this week and I’m completely hooked.

After spending a good few hours in Vikings, we headed up to the newly refurbished Room 41 the gallery for Sutton Hoo and Europe, AD 300–1100. Again we had an introduction from one of the projects curators. The most remarkable change is the use of non-reflective glass. If it is not pointed out to you, you probably wouldn’t notice, but I guess it’s like HD TV, when you realise or compare it back, the difference is phenomenal.

Reconstructed drinking horns

This is a remarkable reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo helmet above, made to look as it did originally.

I would certainly recommend the exhibition, just try to go as off peak as possible to really appreciate it. If you don’t get a chance, or don’t fancy forking out the entrance charge then do have a look in Room 41. They have done a great job of the refurbishment and it does have a section on Vikings there anyway.


8 responses to “Vikings: Life and Legend

      • Yes, we tend not to give the Celtic peoples credit for the wonders of their civilization, even though as white North Americans or white Western Europeans they are our ancestors. We have inherited the Roman military complex that conquered our own people so long ago. That is how patriarchy works, not that the Celts weren’t patriarchal but you know… military expansion. Gwynne Dyer did a good documentary on it. Now I am going to google just how historically inaccurate the show Vikings is. Good acting though.

      • I’ve never studied the Vikings so I’ll try check out that documentary.
        Maybe that’s why I’m loving the TV series, because I don’t have the knowledge to be aware of when it is being painfully inaccurate!

      • Oh the documentary is on the beginning of patriarchy not Vikings!

      • I forget how to find it so I am waiting for my friend to msg me back.

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