Melbourne Museum’s exhibition Vikings: Beyond the Legend is likely to shock many people, especially keen television and movie watchers.
The exhibition debunks many of the myths associated with the Vikings.
You’ll discover, for example, that Vikings helmets didn’t have horns. And even more surprisingly, Vikings weren’t a nation. ‘Viking’ appeared as part of a person’s name or to describe an activity. Men, and perhaps even women and adolescents, could go on a `Viking’ – a trade trip or raid. While some of their exploits away from home could be rather unsavoury, at home they were a groomed and cultured lot! Many were farmers and merchants.
The exhibition, on loan from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, features 430 original artefacts and 40 replicas which have helped archaeologists paint a picture of Viking culture. As a result it’s believed there were three groups in society – the wealthy and powerful aristocracy, working free men and women and unfree slaves.
Archaeologists also believe women in Viking society were powerful. They were often the head of the household and held great influence, particularly if they were a member of the aristocracy.
Using the artefacts, together with multi-media and interactive displays, the exhibition explores eight major themes – Viking people, their family life, their homes, religion, death rituals, craftsmanship, raiding and trading culture and ships.
Among the rare treasures is one of the finest Thor hammer pendants ever found, picture stones used to mark deaths and important events and swords dating from 700-1100 AD.
Well-preserved tweezers, razors and combs support the theory that Vikings took great care of their appearance and personal hygiene.
A 1000-year-old piece of bread and coprolite (fossilised poo!) expose a lot about ancient Viking diets.
Other major pieces in the exhibition include Krampmacken, a replica of an 8.2m Viking merchant boat found on Gotland Island in Sweden in the 1920s. It demonstrates how vital ships were to Viking expansion, travel and trade.
One of the joys of Vikings: Beyond the Legend is that it helps to distinguish fiction from archeologically hypothesised fact. And while it shows that popular culture has treated those known as Vikings harshly, they still were far from perfect!
Vikings: Beyond the Legend is on at Melbourne Museum until August 26. Visit the Museum’s website for more information.
*Photo credit: Caitlin Mills
Jenny Burns attended a media preview of the exhibition as a guest of Melbourne Museum.
Visit travelswithjb,com.au-exhibitions for more exhibition reviews.
- Melbourne, review, Vikings
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