VIKINGS: The Exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum opened this past November and hails from the Swedish Museum of History. The exhibit is meant to touch upon miscommunicated notions about Norse, and brings forth Viking history in a new light.
On the outset, the exhibit is keen on highlighting that Viking objects enclosed within the gallery are products of archaeological finds—some recent and some old enough to share repeatedly.
Among the glass cases and walls of lengthy descriptions, I come across a variety of clothing hung up on a panel. Some appear as though made from animal skins and heavy wool dresses of some sort.
Vikings wore the same attire, seldom alternating them and usually getting dirty fast. With the piece depicting typical clothing wear of Vikings, there are two interactive podiums that allow museumgoers to actively learn more about what differentiates the outfits from one another. There are buttons across the bar labelled “Woman,” “Man,” “Girl,” “Boy,” and “Unfree”—clicking one of these would light up the appropriate piece of clothing that matched the person.
A flurry of artifacts are available at the exhibit, depending on what aspect of their lives were being focused on. There are objects that showcase how timber was cut down, and how they adapted to nature to use to their full advantage.
Many of them found in Sweden, the glass box next to it contained artifacts that I cannot recognize unless I read the descriptions provided. There was a pair of “scissors” that resembled modern day tongs. This pair of scissors was used to shear sheep. An older axe sat above it.
Viking helmets are present but scarce. One section gives in to the idea that these helmets are typical of Norse culture based on stereotypes, but the concept is largely inaccurate. Walking into the exhibit, one could expect these, plus rows of swords and war armor. This is typical of Viking culture but not the most significant aspect of it.
The most interesting and simultaneously repulsive evidence of a Viking’s meals lies in fossilised feces. In another segment of the exhibit, a case is reserved for the profiling of the fossilized feces. The feces is important because archaeologists get a sense of their eating habits and diets. They baked bread on a frying pan that was in the exhibit, along with wooden spoons needed to scoop up marrow from bones.
Next, I observe a small child’s grave that was uncovered in Sweden, where she was fully dressed as a woman and probably died of disease. Children played an important role in families, some even being depicted as small people with potentially special powers.
In our minds, Vikings are reckless sword-bearing, territory snatching barbarians. They live in armour, and inhabit ships their whole lives. The typical Viking is worried about the same things modern people find themselves addressing: survival, basic retailing, and family life.
Vikings: The Exhibition runs at the ROM until April 2.