The Vikings exhibition in Falmouth

Reproduction Viking spectacle helmet

A day out at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall

My longstanding interest in the Vikings whether historical or in miniature meant the Vikings exhibition at the NMMC in Falmouth was a must see! Because of the distance it meant little time to see the rest of the museum although we found time for the cafe funnily enough. Walking through the museum I did like the Viking inspired decoration of the learning area.

Dragon guarding the exhibition entrance

Dragon guarding the exhibition entrance

The Vikings in Cornwall

Most people think of the raids on the North East coast, York and Alfred burning the cakes when Vikings are mentioned. However, they really got around and that included Devon and Cornwall. The Great Army burnt down Exmouth in Devon where I live and some residents think they should do so again! In Cornwall there is evidence of settlement and trading which the exhibition included. The combination of interpretation, reconstruction and objects really brought this out clearly I thought.

Sea going chicken in a basket

Scandinavian sea going chicken in a basket

Vikings – raiders or traders?

This argument has a long history and I’ve encountered it since university days in the late 1970s. Coincidently this same argument applies to the Homeric world of the Iliad and Odyssey which I studied in the context of ancient banditry but that’s one for another blog.

I liked the way the exhibition clearly brought out both sides of Viking life. The combination of the large clear interpretation panels and related objects was excellent. Being able to handle objects was good too. My mother was amazed at the weight of a mail shirt and said being able to touch it really helped imagine it in use.

Reproduction spectacle helmet on top of the mail shirt

Reproduction spectacle helmet on top of the mail shirt

Including weapons and slave fetters illustrated the dark side of Viking life. Backed up with DNA research showing how many Icelanders are descended from Irish women taken as slaves. The Irish connection was well documented in the exhibition too.

Trading ship Walrus

My favourite part of the exhibition was the recreated Viking trader the Walrus. Visitors are allowed on this boat which was both fun and informative. Moving about on the deckspace really made both of us appreciate the skill and courage needed for sailing shallow draft ships on the high seas.

The Walrus from the bow

The Walrus from the bow

Speaking with a well informed volunteer about how the ship was made at the NMMC and finding out more about some of the recreated objects was really interesting. I didn’t know that the Vikings used hazel as barrel hoops which makes perfect sense in terms of time and resources. After all splitting hazel is quicker and cheaper than making iron hoops.

Hazel bound barrels on deck

Hazel bound barrels on deck

How the Vikings made things was a really strong theme in the exhibition. From nails for ships to rigging from intestines there was enough information to appreciate how preindustrial societies relied on skills, crafts, time and effort. I also learnt that saws were not used but a broad headed axe provided a means of splitting wood into planks.

Invisible Vikings

No, not some form of dark undead from the Sagas but women and children. Another strength of the exhibition was including women and children in the interpretation and the objects on display. A lovely object was a child’s toy boat and imaging it being played with really brought the past closer. Having a reconstructed trader’s booth with a female mannequin was a nice bit of trading interpretation. The clothes worn were plainer than often shown which seems sensible as the cost of fine clothes with tablet stitch decoration would make plainer working clothes more practical.

Basket work Viking woman

Basket work Viking woman

As you leave the exhibition

I enjoyed the display of modern items inspired by the Vikings. Everything from films to comics, toys to the Rover badge. A good assortment of souvenirs were in the shop although I didn’t buy anything. Most of the items were very reasonably priced as well which is always good to see.

Three men and a Viking boat

By odd coincidence a week after visiting the exhibition I was at Legionary, the Exeter Games Show, talking to a friend and a trader about Viking ships.

MDF model Viking ship

MDF model Viking ship

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About Rick Lawrence

Making models and playing tabletop games since the late 1960s, and still enjoying it! Now working in heritage and dabbing around with photography, with quality cafe time when I can.

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