Friday, February 27, 2015

Vikings Exhibition Opens Today at the @FieldMuseum, Only US Stop on International Tour

What does the word Viking bring to mind? Ruthless warriors and merciless invaders? Or prosperous farmers, enterprising merchants, and caring families? Vikings, the latest exhibition at The Field Museum, explores the truth behind Scandinavia’s ancient—and infamous—seafaring raiders.

Opening February 27 and running through October 4, The Field Museum’s presentation of Vikings is the only US stop on an international tour. The exhibition was organized by the Swedish History Museum in Sweden, in partnership with Museums Partner in Austria. Major sponsors: Discover, Viking Cruises.

The exhibition transports visitors to the Viking Age (8th-11th centuries) brought to light through modern archaeological discoveries. Nearly 500 ancient artifacts—many never before seen outside of Scandinavia—reveal new insights into the legendary people characterized as heartless marauders.

Artifacts on display in the exhibition reveal glimpses into family and community, religion and rituals, travel and trade, aristocracy and slavery and the roles of women. The exhibition provides insight into the significance of Norse craftsmanship, the power of their mythology, and the symbolism of their ships. A highlight of the exhibition is the Krampmacken, a replica Viking ship from Sweden based on historical and archaeological sources.

The exhibition will also explore some of the misconceptions surrounding these early Scandinavians. Though there is a Viking helmet replica in the exhibition, visitors won’t find any horned helmets on display. In fact, no Viking helmet has ever been discovered with horns; this image emerged in the 19th century, popularized by authors and artists who romanticized Norse culture. Another myth is that the Vikings called themselves “Vikings.” Generally, the people of early Scandinavia named themselves after the farm, village, or region in which they lived. The word “Viking,” derives from Old Norse, and meant a trade ship or a raid. During the Viking era, people were not always out on these expeditions; most lived as farmers, merchants, and craftsmen.

Striking examples of Viking craftsmanship are on display including exquisitely wrought brooches, depictions of Norse gods, as well as gold and silver pendants—including the oldest known Scandinavian crucifix, highlighting the transition between Old Norse religious practices and Christianity.  Viking Age swords and other weapons will also be on display, highlighting the Vikings’ exceptional metal working technologies.

Vikings features a number of interactives, allowing Museum visitors to take part in the excavation of a virtual boat grave, spell a name in runes, explore Norse mythology, and play an early Scandinavian board game. Visitors can pick up an accurate replica of a Viking Age sword and test the weight and balance between handle and blade, discovering the skill it takes to master sword handling.

Vikings brings a new appreciation for the people remembered mainly for their plundering ways. And while raiding and pillaging were mainstays of their culture, Viking society was much more complex and multifaceted; Vikings were skilled craftsmen, successful merchants, and hard-working farmers. Like society today, no one thing defined the Vikings, and research continues to teach us how nuanced these northern people were.

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