Review: The Vikings, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street

If you thought that the Vikings were only interested in pillage and warfare, then this enthralling exhibition will make you think again.

The Vikings

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street

* * *

The exhibition room is modernistic, with mood lighting and ambient music, making for a pleasant amble around the display cases. Though the area is disappointingly small, it’s crammed with more than 500 objects – most on loan from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

The displays and exhibits give a good overall background to the remarkable Scandinavians, covering their lives from birth to their entry to Valhalla, all explained by easy to understand and concisely written information boards. But while there is plenty of armour and weaponry on show that would confirm the impression most people have of the Vikings as a fearsome and bloodthirsty race, there are other exhibits that shed a different light on their religious and artistic side.

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Surprisingly, a number of myths about the fearsome Norsemen are dispelled at this National Museum of Scotland exhibition. For example, during the Viking period most men were actually farmers and traders.

They were also craftsmen, producing exquisite, intricate brooches, pendants and amulets – jewelry which was as rich in religious significance as it was in beauty.

Did Viking warriors really wear horned helmets? You’ll have to go along to find out.

The exhibition also reveals that the womenfolk played a large part in Norse society. Archaeological finds demonstrate that women ruled the households, and much of the farm business, often becoming influential and wealthy in the process.

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The exhibition also boasts 13 interactive activities and 11 audio-visual displays. You can even try your hand at a virtual archeological dig – though if a large number of youngsters attend then you may have to form an 
orderly queue.

There are a number of family events during the course of the run, including Viking-themed activities, 
table-top war games, and kids can even design their own longboats.

If the aim of this exhibition is to demonstrate that there was more to Vikings than the bloodthirsty warriors so often portrayed in school history books, then it has succeeded admirably.

• Run ends May 12

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