National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Exhibition review: Vikings! An Untold Story - Look, no horns! The Norse axemen get an image makeover

3.00

 

Asked to describe a Viking, most of us would reach for an image of a wild-haired, hulking Dane in a horned helmet, probably wielding a battleaxe. But we would be wrong on almost every count on the evidence of an exhibition mounted by the History Museum in Stockholm, now at the National Museum of Scotland.

For a start, the word Viking signifies a journey rather than a person. Women and children as well as men might sail off "on a Viking" on the perfectly peaceable premise of trading goods on distant shores (witness the little bronze buddha from the Swat Valley unearthed on a recent dig in Sweden, along with cowrie shells from the Red Sea).

A hulking Dane? – yes, possibly, though historians now know that the Norsemen settled as widely as Kiev in the east and Cork in the west, and almost certainly intermarried with local populations. And the wild hair and beards we imagine may well have been tamed. A comb, fashioned from bone or horn, often with its own folding case, is to be found in almost every Viking warrior hoard.

And finally, that horned helmet (those who prefer to keep their myths intact should look away now): it's a romantic invention of the 19th century, popularised by Wagner's Valkyrie. Excavations have only rarely yielded Viking-era helmets of any kind, but never one with horns – sorry. So, stereotype demolished, what's left for the imagination in this show?

Truthfully, not a lot. Whereas the ancient Egyptians (subject of a memorable exhibition in the same museum last year) seemed to have spent their lives calculating how to preserve their booty in death and beyond, the Viking culture took no such heed. The dead of high rank were often launched on a boat and burnt, along with the deceased's belongings, leaving little behind but the boat rivets. And there are heaps of those: the exhibition's designers have cleverly strung hundreds of iron nails together with translucent thread to trace the 3D outlines of a full-size Viking boat: beautiful as well as informative.

Silver brooches – weighty, fist-sized and used as fastenings – have survived, and strings of coloured beads – prettier than you'd expect from a culture traditionally depicted in shades of ash, rust and bone. Recent digs (source of most of the 500 objects on show) have also turned up bronze tweezers, a wash basin, a glass mirror – and, once more overturning the wild berserker image – delicate spoons of bone or horn.

The exhibition helpfully fills gaps where archaeological evidence is missing. Tunics and cloaks woven in heavy, scratchy wool are displayed for visitors to handle, while a light-hearted computer game offers the chance to "dress" a shivering mannequin. "Good choice! Thank you!" says his thought bubble as you select a warming woven wool hat.

Most instructive is a digital game in which you have to source the materials needed to build a Viking boat: 23 mature oaks for the keel timbers, 50 pines for the oars, 130 tons of wood for the charcoal to smelt the iron for rivets .... Now you know why Iceland has no trees.

To 12 May (0300 123 6789)

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Manager - £50,000

    £49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

    £48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

    VB.Net Developer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

    SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game