They were known as savage seafaring marauders who travelled to the farthest reaches of the globe – from Newfoundland to Egypt, and from Iceland to India – but an expansive new exhibit at Victoria's Royal B.C. Museum goes far beyond one-dimensional stereotypes in its exploration of one of history's most mythologized cultures: the Vikings.
Touching down in North America for the first time, the exhibit delves into the culture of the storied Scandinavian people, and looks at their domestic life, their farming communities, their religious beliefs, their death rituals, their mythology and their ships – as well as their far-reaching exploits and influences.
The exhibition includes more than 500 artifacts – among them exquisite filigree-work jewellery, rune-inscribed spearheads, battle swords (one of which you can try lifting), silver embroidered silk fabric and the oldest-known crucifix in Sweden – many of which have never been seen outside Scandinavia.
Visitors will also pick up all kinds of facts (for example, the word "Thursday" comes from "Thor's Day," as in the Norse god of Thunder), and see beyond the many myths that surrounded the Vikings – one of which is the belief that they wore helmets with horns like opera stars or Hagar the Horrible.
"There are some ritualists that had headpieces that looked like horns and they were actually birds," says Royal B.C. Museum curator of archeology Grant Keddie. "But when it comes to raiding, they definitely did not wear any kind of horns. From purely a battle point of view, if you wore horns, somebody's sword would knock your head off. What you want is a helmet where the sword glances off. So the reality was they had more rounded tops."
Vikings also features talks, tours, courses in Viking archeology, Viking-themed sleepovers, summer camps and more, as well as plenty of hands-on activities in the exhibition itself.
"It's so well done and it covers such a variety of different aspects of life," Mr. Keddie says. "You say, 'Whoa, isn't that neat?' Then you go to the next area and say, 'Whoa, isn't that neat?' Every area is fascinating."