Sunday, 23 March 2014

Vikings at the British Museum

We weren't sure when we would be able to get to the British Museum to see the exhibition, so we hadn't bought tickets in advance. They'd actually organised it quite well - we had to queue for tickets at a main desk in the central courtyard, but there we were given a time slot to turn up at the exhibition - and it was so popular the slot we were given was in two hours' time.
This gave us time to slip away and browse the Atlantis Bookshop, where I bought a book of essays, Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon, about Ronald Hutton's work on the history of Pagan Britain on the tenth anniversary of its first publication.
Then we shot off down the road to Forbidden Planet for some rather more frivolous spending - Daredevil, and Captain Marvel (and she seems to be living in the top of the Statue of Liberty now, and dating Rhodey/Iron Patriot). I also found a copy of Neil Perryman's book Adventures with the Wife in Space, which is a companion to his brilliant blog. Basically, he got his wife Sue (who is not a Who fan) to agree to watch every single Doctor Who episode in order from the very beginning, and recorded her comments. The book is the background to the experiment - which went so well that they are now going through Blake's Seven in the same way!

Then it was back to the British Museum to enter the waiting area, where there was a member of staff with items from the stores that you could actually touch, including the hilt of a Viking sword (we asked if it was pattern-welded, and had to explain to her what pattern-welded meant, while she looked it up in her notes to find that, yes, it was).
Then we joined the slow-moving queue of people who were winding their way round the display cases in the exhibition itself. We didn't mind that it was slow-moving at all, because we wanted to examine every exhibit in detail, and talk about them in excited loud voices, which started a few interesting conversations with other people around us.
There were items there that I've seen in book after book about Vikings - and there they were, only a few inches away under glass, like the piece of wood with the graffiti of the Viking fleet (which is tiny!)! There were pictures of places around the Viking world, like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (where there's a bit of runic graffiti which says something like "Olaf was here" on a balcony). There were quotations on the walls from Viking texts, like the admonitions that a man should sip at his mead quietly and not gulp it down, and it was no bad thing to go early to bed.
There were hoards with coins from around the known world, and hack silver, and ornate brooches - and this was before we even got to the main hall.
That's where the ship is - Roskilde 6, 37 meters of Viking warship. Only 20% of the planking remains, but it has been displayed in a metal framework in the shape of the ship, so it's easy to imagine what it would have looked like originally.
It filled the hall, and there were display cases all around it as well, including a rowing boat burial of a warrior, and a sorceress's metal staffs, which resemble distaffs and may have had something to do with winding the thread of a person's life on them.
And in the corner - my jaw dropped. "That can't be the original!" I muttered. "It's got to be a replica!"
It was the Jelling Stone - and yes, it was a replica, brightly painted as it would have originally appeared, with Christ on one side and a monster on the other, with a lot of curly decoration and the inscription that Harald Bluetooth had raised the stone to honour his parents and to declare that he had made the Danes Christian. The original is outside a church he built, between two older pagan burial mounds.
Most of the stuff there was the real thing, though, and I don't think I've ever seen such a large collection in one place before. It was well worth the £16.50 to get in, and it took us two hours to get round, by which time our brains were starting to feel a little bit overloaded!
And then the shop (of course) followed by some much needed cake and coffee!

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