Of ships, stones and graves

Viking boat prows, Roskilde, Denmark

Viking boat prows, Roskilde Vikingeskibsmuseet, Denmark

This is part of a series by Curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum and the National Maritime Museum (including the Vasa Museum) in Stockholm, Sweden. He is working on several Viking Age and other maritime history and archaeology related projects.

This is the last note in this series of Viking ‘journeys’. After nearly three months in Stockholm, it was time to see some of the famous museums, burial sites and stone arrangements across Scandinavia. And some not so famous.

First stop was the island of Birka for a sail on Aifur, the reconstructed Viking Age vessel that travelled by sail, by oars on rivers and overland on wheels from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea in the 1990s. It was one of several important journeys of historical reconstruction that make it beyond doubt the Vikings could have travelled so far to the east.

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The walking dead – bringing 1500 year-old graves to life

dudes

This is part of a series by Curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum and the National Maritime Museum (including the Vasa Museum) in Stockholm, Sweden. He is working on several Viking Age and other maritime history and archaeology related projects

Recently, the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm was taken over by the walking dead for a weekend. Well, it seemed like there were a bunch of ‘viking zombies’ wandering the museum. Vendel zombies in fact – from the period just before the Viking Age, around 550 to 790 AD. A group of historical reenactors were there to give a seminar on their work in recreating historical artefacts, and what they had found out about them in the process.

The thing is, these reenactors have reproduced the individual grave goods of a person from a particular grave find, often a burial chamber. When talking to the public, the reenactors were referring to each other as ‘Valsgårde 8’ or ‘Vendel 14’ – the names for the graves as described by archaeologists. There was something quite eerie about this – like the dead had got up and started walking around the museum.

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What did you do for International Viking Day?

A Viking Age picture stone in the Gotlands museum

A Viking Age picture stone in the Gotlands museum

This is part of a series by Curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum and the National Maritime Museum (including the Vasa Museum) in Stockholm, Sweden. He is working on several Viking Age and other maritime history and archaeology related projects.

I didn’t realise there was an International Viking Day – until Facebook told me there was one. Apparently it falls on 8 May each year since 2013. It is a time to ‘get off the bedstraws, polish the swords and prepare the ships to visit friends and enemies near and far’, according to the Destination Viking Scandinavian tourism website at least.

Luckily, I was doing my bit for International Viking Day, roaming the Swedish island of Gotland researching Viking Age picture stones and ship stone arrangements.

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Maritime archaeology at the Viking Age site of Birka

A small selection of maritime Birka finds

A small selection of maritime Birka finds

This is part of a series by ANMM curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. He will be posting regular blog updates about Viking Age history and archaeology over the next few weeks under the blog category Journeys.

In my first week of a professional development fellowship based at the Historiska Museet in Stockholm I was pleasantly surprised to be handling Viking Age objects and assisting in selecting some for a display of maritime finds at the famous World Heritage site Birka.

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A sea serpent and a lightship

The sea serpent Jormungand arches its back over the entrance to Wetworld on the museum’s wharf. It looks as if Jormungand is talking with the red lightship called Carpentaria which is on display tied up at the museum beside Wetworld.

The sea serpent Jormungand arches its back over the entrance to Viking Wetworld on the museum’s wharf. It looks as if Jormungand is talking with the red lightship called Carpentaria which is on display tied up at the museum beside Viking Wetworld.

Gold and silver, blue and green – these are the colours of the sea serpent’s shimmering scales that arches its back over the entrance to Viking Wetworld, open at the museum until 2 February 2014. Continue reading

Box-board Vikings

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What’s in the box?

A warrior’s sword, a dragon’s treasure, a great castle, a fearsome sea serpent,  a beautiful crown…and a million other wonderful things…all you need is cardboard plus a little bit of imagination.

In case you also were wondering what to do with all those boxes left behind after the festive season’s gift giving, this month’s craft spot is inspired by cardboard boxes and our summer Viking Adventure!

Surely you have attempted the cardboard box car before…well here we have a how to on box-board viking armour and a wearable longship! Your little raiders and pillagers can wield their fearsome (but non-injury-causing and recyclable) armour while sailing the high seas in this swashbuckling creation. Cardboard box craft is always terrific fun and as a bonus these props will inspire hours of imaginative play- perfect for keeping them amused this school holidays.

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Vikings: Exotic goods and silver hoards

Viking activity extended from Asia in the east to Greenland and North America in the west, and from the islands far up in the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean and northern Africa in the south. During the Viking Age, exotic and exclusive goods flowed into the Viking homelands in Scandinavia and were made available, for those who could afford them, at trading places such Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang and others. Along with the material goods came ideological, political and religious currents.

A bronze pouch made fom fur, bronze and paper, currently on display at ANMM.

A bronze pouch made fom fur, bronze and paper, currently on display at ANMM.

Among the many exotic artefacts that have been discovered at Viking-Age sites are a Persian glass beaker, an Irish cross, an Indian statuette of the Buddha, a Coptic ladle from Egypt, and shells from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean intended to be made into pendants. Such artefacts are evidence of what great melting pots many of the Viking Age communities were. Much of what we call ‘Viking-Age culture’ was in fact created from encounters between norrænir menn and other peoples.

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Raiders and Reindeers- How to make Viking gingerbread

finished gingerbread scene

We may have gone a little bit nuts on all things Vikings and all things Christmas here but we are hoping you are as a much a fan of craft that’s equal parts beautiful and edible as we are.

If you’ve ever tried to make a gingerbread 3 dimensional anything ( house, boat, tree) as an activity with small children you will remember how difficult it can be to accomplish said 3 dimensional object with little hands whose strength are not quite up to the challenge of icing cement and building with easily breakable biscuit walls.

So here we’ve crafted our very own spin on this festive and fun activity in a more kid friendly and conveniently thematic design. These stand-up gingerbread forms are great for a holiday activity or can even be wrapped up to give as a gift.

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Vikings: Social Status

Viking-Age society had a powerful upper class, an aristocracy of magnates and chieftains, some of whom called themselves kings, though they ruled mainly over people, not territories, via alliances based more on personal loyalty than on ethnicity. But while the society was hierarchical, social positions were not always as fixed as we might imagine. It was possible for individuals to both improve, and lose, their social status.

Domestic objects such as this antler/bone comb from Björkö, Adelsö in Sweden feature in Vikings - Beyond the legend at the ANMM, telling us much about the daily life of people in the Viking Age.

Domestic objects such as this antler/bone comb from Björkö, Adelsö in Sweden feature in Vikings – Beyond the legend at the ANMM, telling us much about the daily life of people in the Viking Age.

A large proportion of the population – perhaps between 20 and 40 percent – was unfree, or thralls. Locally born slaves had more freedom that those who had been captured and forced into captivity. While some unfree people were simply labour slaves, others were given significant rights. A ‘housecarl’ on a farm or estate could, if he was lucky, advance to the level of ‘bryte’, a type of farm manager or overseer.

The trade in thralls or slaves for labour was highly profitable. Indirect evidence of the trafficking of thralls in Viking-Age Scandinavia comes from archaeological finds such as shackles, neck-irons and similar restraints.

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A Viking ship on Sydney Harbour – Invasion!?

The Jorgen Jorgenson ready for the exhibition opening ceremony under a full moon

The Jorgen Jorgenson ready for the exhibition opening ceremony under a full moon

As night fell and a full moon rose over Darling Harbour on Thursday 19 September, the Jorgen Jorgenson was readied to bring an invading force of Vikings in to the museum wharves as the centre-piece of the opening event for the Vikings – Beyond the legend exhibition. Continue reading

A Viking ship on Sydney Harbour – Australian Vikings

The Jorgen Jorgenson with the Oseberg style bow scroll in place.

The Jorgen Jorgenson with the Oseberg style bow scroll in place.

The Viking age reconstruction vessel Jorgen Jorgenson is nearing completion in time for the opening of the Swedish History MuseumMuseumsPartner exhibition Vikings – Beyond the legend at the museum on 19 September. The opening event will see the longship rowed into the museum’s wharves, at night, with a complement of Vikings on board!

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A Viking ship on Sydney Harbour – stepping the mast

The mast stepping team

The mast stepping team

Today, passers by at Darling Harbour in Sydney witnessed an event that has only happened perhaps a handful of times in the last thousand years or so – the stepping of a Viking age vessel mast.

The restoration of the Jorgen Jorgenson in time for the upcoming Vikings – beyond the legend exhibition passed a momentous milestone today as the mast was successfully stepped into the mast fish. This is how it happened..

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A Viking ship on Sydney Harbour – sea chests

The Jorgen Jorgenson gets some 'teeth'

The Jorgen Jorgenson finally gets some ‘teeth’

As outlined previously, the transformation of the reconstruction of a Viking age karvi the Jorgen Jorgenson continues apace by the museum’s Fleet staff and Pyrmont Heritage Boating Club volunteers. Now that the insides have been prepared, the paintwork continues.

Theresa McKinley from Allpoints Shipwrights is leading the painting of ‘teeth’ along the top strake of the vessel. This pattern of yellow triangles can be seen in the reconstruction longship Gaia. Continue reading

A Viking ship on Sydney Harbour – the mast fish

A Viking boarding party? The Jorgen Jorgenson alongside HMB Endeavour

A Viking boarding party? The Jorgen Jorgenson alongside HMB Endeavour

Early this morning while most people were commuting to work, a rare combination of 9th, 18th and 21st century technologies occured on Darling Harbour. The museum’s Fleet staff moved the Viking reconstruction Jorgen Jorgenson alongside the HMB Endeavour replica and used its block and tackle to winch the heavy mast fish (a partner timber to support the mast which has a fish shape to it) from the wharf onto the Viking boat.

Here’s how it happened… Continue reading

A Viking ship on Sydney Harbour – the artisans at work

The Jorgen Jorgenson at the museum's heritage wharf

The Jorgen Jorgenson at the museum’s heritage wharf

The decision to restore and fit out the Jorgen Jorgenson viking age reconstruction for the museum’s upcoming Vikings – Beyond the legend exhibition was a brave one. To get the vessel ship-shape in time for the opening night has meant a major focus for one of the important behind the scenes arms of the Australian National Maritime Museum – the shipwrights, tradies and volunteers who look after the floating vessels, known as Fleet Services, or just Fleet.

With the help of the Pyrmont Heritage Boating Club volunteers, Fleet have, pardon the pun, launched themselves into the project. Continue reading