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Vikings in Times Square

Entering the Discovery Museum on 44th street in New York City, opposite Shubert Alley and a few doors from Sardi's, I found myself in a passageway with huge displays ranging from Star Wars costumes to what I was looking for: a particularly striking Viking ship in full sail against a stormy sky.


Vikings in Times Square
It's not every day you can feel yourself back among the Vikings, right in the middle of Manhattan, but I definitely did so when I toured the Viking Exhibit, on display at the Discovery Museum through September 5, 2016.
After I entered the exhibit, I descended a flight of stairs to a darkened room with three large screens, giving a quick video rundown of what the Vikings were all about and, especially, how they explored the world at an ever-increasing pace from the 8th to the 11th centuries. During a short introduction to the exhibition itself, it also gave glimpses of Norse homelife, craftsmanship, burial ceremonies and more.
Moving to the next room, I was met with a replica of the Gokstad boat, a small version of the famous ship by the same name on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. In the room were also some runestones. “Memorials or Christian Propaganda” was the headline, and in the accompanying text I read that practically all of the over 3,000 runic inscriptions found in Scandinavia were Swedish. I knew that they were made to bring glory to dead kinsmen and to tell of important events; now I also learned that the inscriptions were originally painted in bright colors — which, not unexpectedly, has worn off.
Next came a small area dedicated to Viking myths. On one wall was a large screen with a bright rainbow, the bridge to Valhalla, home of the gods. A small bench was placed next to the opposite wall a few feet away; I sat down and was treated to three narratives, told in a soft voice with a British accent. I listened to the “Death of Balder,” then “The apples of Idunn,” and finally, “Thor takes a bite.” It was all quite captivating. Every now and then, new images would replace the rainbow. I recall silhouettes of apples and birds in flight.

Focus on exhibits, interactive elements
The exhibition continued on the floor below. Here, too, everything was in deep darkness, presumably to minimize distraction and bring greater focus to the exhibits. They were many and varied, and often included interactive activities. For example, you could test your strength by lifting a model of a Viking sword (I was surprised at how light it felt).
Here I learned about gods and giants, and of the Norse version of the creation of the world. Magical amulets and trefoil brooches were on display, as were any number of other exotic objects, transformed by the craftspeople of the north. Great attention was also paid to land, family and social status, considered to be at the heart of Norse society.
Two death skulls could be seen, adding a touch of the macabre, and somewhat connecting to the large section about burial customs, animal sacrifices and ship burials. As for interactivity, one site invited me to touch the screen and start digging up a late 10th century ship burial.
On a lighter note, in a corner where several articles of clothing were hung, people are invited to “Dress Torbjörn,” a half-naked cartoon figure to the upper right of a small screen. I tried. But several times I was rebuked by the cartoon figure for not handing him his clothing in the right order. He jumped up and down, obviously distressed and utterly displeased with my performance. It put a damper on my visit, but I was still happy I came.
After all, it’s not every day you can feel yourself back among the Vikings.

Text & Photo: Bo Zaunders
(Photography courtesy of Discovery Museum)

The Viking Exhibit
In this exhibit from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, you'll find artifacts from the Vikings' everyday activities, religious beliefs and family life in 750-1100 AD. Exhibits include beautiful jewelry and metalwork, objects made from glass and bone, and yes, also swords and armor. http://www.discoverytsx.com


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