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IKEA, Viking-style: longboat to arrive at British Museum in 'flat pack'

Huge wooden warship dubbed the Norse 'weapon of mass destruction' at the centre of new exhibition dispelling 'fluffy bunny' scholarship on Vikings

The latest flat-packed timber to arrive from Scandinavia should provide more excitement than the usual trip to IKEA, as it is almost 1,000 years old and described as the Viking version of a "weapon of mass destruction".

The 37-metre wooden longboat, which was discovered in Roskilde, Denmark, will be the star attraction at the Viking exhibition which will open at the British Museum in March.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: "We previously had no idea there were ships that big; that they could bring several hundred armed men that fast. It was a terrifying, targeted weapon of mass destruction."

Vikings: Life and Legend marks the first major exhibition on the subject at the British Museum for over 30 years.

It will explore their "extraordinary expansion and cultural network" from the 8th to the 11th century.

The longboat, known as Roskilde 6 and the largest ever discovered, is dated to around 1025 AD. It will be displayed in the new exhibition space at the museum, which is close to completion. 

Around 20 per cent of the wooden longboat survives. It is mounted on a steel frame that suggests the original shape of the vessel. It is currently on display in Copenhagen and will be disassembled and "flat-packed" with each timber put into its own box at a regulated temperature and brought to London.

The show will put warfare and the warrior identity back at the centre of what it meant to be a Viking, after recent attempts to play down the violence by the "fluffy bunny" brigade. The museum director described the Vikings as "thinking thugs".

Curator Gareth Williams said: "We have sometimes forgotten in recent years, while emphasising the trade, settlement and craftsmanship, that what Viking originally meant was being a pirate, marauder and raider.

"We're in danger of getting too much of a fluffy bunny account of them. Here we're trying to provide a balanced view of the warriors as well as the culture; it's not either or," he said.

"Their reputation as raping and pillaging is a cliché, but it’s a cliché that has some justification. We can't get away from that."

One Viking cliché that the British Museum dispelled was that of the warriors' helmets. Mr Williams revealed there is no evidence there were horns attached, and said the traditional image was likely to be little more than a 19th century fabrication.

Other objects visiting for the first time include weapons and looted treasures, while the Vale of York Hoard will be on show in its entirety for the first time since it was discovered by metal detectorists near Harrogate in 2007.