The Vikings have arrived in Times Square!
The term "viking" conjures some basic images, usually that of a fair-haired, statuesque male (think Marvel Comics' Thor, named after the Norse God of Thunder), either in combat or on a ship. It is a noun, a general term defining people from the regions we now know as Sweden, Scandinavia, or Norway, but between 750-1100 AD (well before the regions were named) it was also a verb, meaning “to travel.” Viking treasures have now traveled to New York, where they can be explored in the new Vikings exhibit, now open at Discovery Times Square.
The exhibit, organized by the Swedish History Museum in Sweden with MuseumsPartner in Austria, transports visitors to the Viking Age (8th through 11th centuries), with elaborate displays of nearly 500 ancient artifacts—many never before seen outside of Scandinavia. There are also numerous interactive displays and activities that are as fun as they are educational.
Many of the artifacts were only discovered in 1999, in Gotland, Sweden, ranging from keys and swords to intricately crafted brooches, belts, clothing, stone engravings, mini statues of gods and tools—many of which had been buried with individuals to bring with them to the afterlife.
The exhibit is broken into three basic sections: travel and trade, family and community, religion and rituals. Life expectancy was only about til 45 years, so a lot had to be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. Kids went to work at an early age. Women’s roles during the Viking era were from a position of strength, as they were held in equal regard to men. Women often displayed their power, with the distinctive keys for their farms worn on their waist. What distinguished one as occupying a station of power was not their sex, or wealth, but their freedom, explained Sophie Nyman, Director of Exhibitions. Many used silver—the most important form of currency at this time—as well as amber and fur to purchase slaves.
The exhibition provides insight into the significance of Norse craftsmanship, the power of the mythology, and the varying designs and purposes of ships. A highlight of the exhibition is the Gokstad II, a replica Scandinavian Viking boat (the river-sailing ship pictured below), based on historical and archaeological sources.
The exhibition also explores some of the misconceptions. For example, unlike the cartoon of Hägar the Horrible, Viking helmets did not have horns. This stereotype stems back to an 1876 opera, Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, where an evil character in the opera was distinguished by his horns. Viking imagery of soldiers in helmets and armor were also used later in German propaganda posters during WWII, as symbols of strength.
Vikings the Exhibition features a number of interactives, allowing 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.
Visitors will also learn that while yes, some Vikings may have been involved in raiding and pillaging, Viking society was much more complex and multifaceted; Vikings were skilled craftsmen, successful merchants, and hard-working farmers.
Vikings will run at Discovery Times Square until September 5, 2016. Advance ticket prices start at $20. Special savings for groups of 10 or more are available with reservations.
For tickets and information, visit discoverytsx.com.