The Vikings are coming to National Maritime Museum Cornwall


National Maritime Museum Cornwall is bringing the Vikings to Cornwall in a new major exhibition called Viking Voyagers, opening on 20 March 2015. The new exhibition, featuring nationally and internationally historically significant artefacts, explores what is behind the popular myth of the bloodthirsty raiders, what it meant to become a Viking and shows how their mastery of maritime technology was the secret to their success.

Ships and boats were vital to Viking expansion; they explored and colonised, were invaders and migrants and the seas and rivers were the highways and byways to amassing huge wealth and power through raiding and trading.

Their power was built on their knowledge of boatbuilding and their seafaring skills, enabling them to sail across the Atlantic’s icy waters to Newfoundland and Iceland, down to the warm Mediterranean to Istanbul and as far East along the river Volga as Ukraine and Russia.

Visions of horned helmets, unkempt beards and fearsome raiding fighters carried by longships that were dragon headed war beasts come to mind when thinking of Vikings. However, this new show dispels the myth and reveals that just like us they also wore jewellery, combed their hair and many were entrepreneurs, using smaller boats and ships to do business and seek new opportunities far from their Scandinavian homelands.

This new show invites you to encounter these Norse voyagers and the people and things they met along the way, contrasting the mayhem of the raiders, pillagers and ransackers with the resourceful trader, boat builder, craftsman and family man, woman and child.

The humanising of the Vikings is conveyed through engaging interactive displays that amplify what life was like as a Viking. With institutional and lending partners including the British Museum, National Museum of Ireland, National Museum of Denmark and Manx National Heritage and others, a stunning number of artefacts show a culture that enjoyed ostentation and hierarchy as well as ritual, religion and the simplicity of family life.

These archaeological finds, which are over 1000 years old, include weaponry, jewellery, household implements, slave chains and coins, richly showing the global reach of the Vikings and their ships.

Richard Doughty, Director of National Maritime Museum Cornwall says: “It is enormously exciting for National Maritime Museum Cornwall to be bringing the Vikings to Falmouth and hosting historically significant artefacts, in what is undoubtedly our most important exhibition to date. The Museum’s legacy of award winning work has now afforded us the opportunity to access national and international collections, securing loans with major partner Museums, and offering Cornwall and the South West a unique first in being able to see these items outside of these national and international institutions.”

“This new state of the art show has taken years to develop. You might think you know the Vikings but you will have never experienced them in the way this new exhibition promises. All I can say is watch out, the Vikings are coming!”

The theatre is provided by a beach market scene. A full scale replica of a 14m coastal cargo Viking ship, from 11th century Denmark, invites you to climb aboard and discover what it was like to sail and row in these awe inspiring vessels, and explore the wares they carried.

The iconic Viking small boat, a 6m Norwegian faering, built by ‘apprentice Viking boat builders’ from Falmouth Marine School, is the centrepiece of a ‘touch and feel’ boat builder’s yard. Visitors can hold tools and materials used to design these clinker-built ships with their shallow drafts, which allowed them to navigate inland rivers and conquer kingdoms.

The history of Britain and Ireland was transformed by the impact of Viking raiding and colonisation. We still utter their words in our everyday language such as starboard, berserk, kid and ransack. What began as small encampments up river grew to be Viking towns such as Dublin, which for a time was the centre of the European slave trade. Cornwall was very much part of the Irish Sea world, and the exhibition will reveal tantalising evidence for Vikings in Cornwall.

Dr Tehmina Goskar, Exhibitions Registrar at the Maritime Museum says: “The story of the Vikings is incredibly alluring. Not only have they left us with a legacy of beautiful storytelling in their Sagas but also an astonishing material culture. Above all, the Vikings were sailors, their men, women and children thrived because of their skills with boats and seafaring so with our harbour location, celebrating the sea and small boats, there is no better place to come to hear their stories.

“I am completely delighted to bring amazing Viking antiquities to Cornwall for the very first time, some of which have never been on display in any museum before. Working closely with our Guest Curator Dr. Gareth Williams of the British Museum, a world-leading expert in the Vikings and also an outstanding Viking re-enactor himself, has been an immense privilege and a lot of fun, and hopefully visitors will feel this from the way we tell the story of the Viking Voyagers in the show.”

The two year exhibition, funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a number of generous trusts and foundations, aims to show how the Vikings were a maritime culture, not an ethnic group but something you became when you wanted an adventure.

Ben Lumby, Exhibitions Manager concludes: “Aboard their ships Vikings reached further than any culture had before them and they have left huge legacies behind since the 300 years of the Viking Age from the 8th to 11th centuries. This atmospheric exhibition will evoke the Viking world through thought-provoking stories, stunning exhibits and engaging interactives which take you on an epic journey. We invite you to discover who the Vikings really were and what was the secret to their success. ”

Viking Voyagers runs from 20 March 2015 to 22 February 2017.

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