Venture back centuries this summer to one of the most storied eras of human history:
THE VIKING AGE
Making its first North American stop, We Call Them Vikings opens at the Royal BC Museum May 16, produced by the Swedish History Museum in Sweden and MuseumsPartner in Austria.
While many stories persist about the Vikings, the interactive exhibition demonstrates that not all the stories are as we believed. Vikings challenges commonly held beliefs, and with insights into areas such as domestic life, death rituals, the significance of their craft, the power of mythology and the symbolism of their ships, the Vikings emerge in a fascinating new light.
We Call Them Vikings begins with the period between 750 and 1100 CE in Scandinavia, known as the Viking Age, and events in nearby Europe more than a thousand years ago.
The exhibition includes more than 500 artifacts, including jewellery, swords, axes and clothing – some rare, and many which have never before been shown outside Scandinavia. Beyond the fascinating artifacts, visitors can try their hand at board games, building a Viking ship, or dressing a Viking.
Though the word ‘viking’ appears in Old Norse sources, it is mainly used to describe an activity. Men and women went ‘on a viking’ – a commercial trip or raid. People seem to have referred to themselves as a Viking only when involved in this activity.
Viking fleets used rivers and coasts for trading, raiding and settling in new areas. Scandinavians moved into Russia, and also travelled eastward to Byzantium and to what is now the Middle East. By the end of the 8th century they were raiding in France, the British Isles and Ireland, south into the Mediterranean and into North Africa. Other journeys took them to Iceland, Greenland and even to Newfoundland. These new lands brought exotic goods as well as cultural influences. Among the hundreds of artifacts in the exhibition are an Irish cross, a Buddha figurine from India and a Coptic ladle from Egypt. Over time, these voyages to other areas contributed to belief systems, ideology and objects taking on other shapes and forms of expression.
Viking Age society was hierarchical, but not rigidly so. The greatest difference between people was that which existed between the free and the unfree (thralls). Women generally had a more equal position in society, sometimes being involved directly in trade or colonization.
Two very different religious systems were also found in Scandinavia at the time – the indigenous Old Norse religion and the more recent Christianity. The former involved worship of many gods and goddesses while the latter focused on one supreme god.
These belief systems were often merged, and the results are shown in this exhibition in many examples of fine jewellery that include Christian crosses and fish as well as the symbolic tools or animals of the Old Norse gods. (The names of many of these gods live on in our English names. Thor, the god of thunder, has a name that survived as ‘Thursday’ or Thor’s day.)
Representations of these Norse gods reflected in this exhi-bition range from exquisite filigree-work jewellery to rune-inscribed spearheads, from silver embroidered silk fabric to the oldest known crucifix in -Sweden.
Special events at the Museum
Check out these not-to-be-missed activities coming up at the Royal BC Museum this spring; see the full line-up online at www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
May 29 – Viking Feature Lecture: Part 1 UVic’s Dr Erin McGurie shares her expertise about what modern archaeology tells us about the people we call Vikings.
May 31 – Night at the Museum: Vikings! Spend the evening digging through the archeological record to come up with fascinating new discoveries. In the morning, Viking yoga will sooth your warrior bones and a hearty breakfast.
June 13 – Vikings and Canada Grant Keddie, Curator of Archaeology at the Royal BC Museum, examines the deep history of the Vikings and shares the DNA evidence of their origins and their visits to Canada.
Vikings isn’t the only exciting new exhibit on its way. Opening June 21 is Our Living Languages: First Peoples Voices in BC. Working in partnership, the museum and the First Peoples’ Cultural Council have developed a 3,200-square-foot exhibition exploring British Columbia’s 34 unique First Nations languages. Learn more about the languages and the people working to preserve them, keeping the region the most linguistically diverse in Canada.