Vikings covered trans-Atlantic territory—from Turkey to present-day Newfoundland—voyaging aboard sturdy, lightweight ships. Courtesy of The Field Museum, Chicago

By Claire Walter

Originally published: March/April 2017

According to legend, merciless warriors known as Vikings plundered and pillaged a wide swath of trans-Atlantic territory—from Turkey to present-day Newfoundland—voyaging aboard sturdy, lightweight ships, and sailing under a square sail of woven wool that became a terrifying symbol of impending doom. Yet within this long-ago, mythologized culture, craftspeople created delicate and useful objects.

This contrast is on display throughout “Vikings: Beyond the Legend,” a breathtaking exhibition which drops anchor at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science from Mar. 10–Aug. 13, 2017. Don’t hesitate to immerse yourself in this long-ago, mythical culture, because you won’t find it many other places. Denver is just one of three cities in the U.S. to host it.

Produced by the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm and Austria’s Museums Partner, the exhibit makes the case—with more than 500 artifacts, most never seen beyond Scandinavia—that the Vikings were Scandinavian “celebrities.” The show-stopper is a “ghost ship,” represented in 3D by original iron rivets suspended from thin threads.

Technology enhances the experience. Use a touch-screen to virtually excavate a ship layer by layer—as an archeologist would—to uncover weapons, tools, and livestock that would have been aboard.

The show arranges artifacts in thematic displays drawn from the greater Viking narrative. Norse sagas intertwine with people’s everyday work, life, and even death. Runes and ornamentation, plus interactive elements, drill down into each theme in greater depth. While the exhibition’s design is modern and stylized, strong graphic impressions from the Viking period set the stage for costumed interpreters who assume Viking roles to bring this culture to life. Interactive features include a tethered replica sword to feel its heft.

The artifacts of skilled Viking craftspeople arranged textiles, wood, metal, bone, leather, glass and ceramics in intricate patterns.

The result of artefacts and digital display is a “landscape” that reflects a bygone with social values very different from ours.

Claire Walter is a freelance writer from Boulder and frequent contributor to EnCompass.