Vikings: Beyond the Legend
Currently showing at Melbourne Museum, the Viking: Beyond the Legend exhibition is a must see for anyone interested in learning more about Vikings, or anyone interested in seeing how this exhibition has been curated.
450 artefacts, representing Viking life from 700-1100 AD, are on loan from the Swedish History Museum. The main focus of the exhibition is to highlight the rich diversity of Viking culture and to dispel some of the myths that surround them. Lena Hejll is a Curator and Project Manager at the Swedish History Museum, and one of the curators of the exhibition. In her lecture on 24 March, she outlined the thoughts behind the design of the exhibition. Firstly, she wanted to address the notion of Vikings. The stereotypical view of Vikings is of a single group of people who collectively identified with the word "Viking". Rather, the Vikings were a collection of geographical groups, located across Scandinavia, who shared a common religion and understanding of the world. The term Viking was a 19thC invention. The interactive geographical map at the beginning of the exhibition clearly and precisely outlined the background to the Viking peoples and, thus, did well to address one of the myths associated with them.
It was important for the curators that the objects be presented in themes. Lena comments: "It is not chronological, but it has eight themes... We try to twist the message and, hopefully, present something slightly different. In each theme, we also try to debunk existing myths and stereotypes about the Vikings." Accordingly, the themes of daily life, religion, world view, trade, craftsmanship and funeral practices were present. The use of interactive technology is always a hit with visitors and I never fail to be amazed at the insightful comments that children make as they interact with an artefact or digital technology. In this case, the replica sword was a big hit with budding warriors.
Of particular interest to me was the section about weaving, dyeing and fabric making. Students in my senior ancient history classes are always fascinated with how women made clothing without the technology we have now. This exhibition did a great job to explain the plants dyes that Vikings used to colour fabric and wool. The colour swatches and the clothing samples were popular with visitors.
On this note, the biggest myth of all was addressed: Vikings did not have horns on their helmets! This costuming element was introduced in the 1876 production of Wagner's opera The Ring. I guess it was such a hit, that it stuck!
The exhibition is on until 26 August 2018.