"Vikings" is an exhibition worth plundering (for knowledge).
The Field Museum's latest exhibition strips away most of the violent imagery surrounding the Scandinavian people who have become known as Vikings (the word "viking" was originally a verb, used to describe a trip or raid). Yes, there are some swords and helmets contained within the nearly 500 artifacts on display, but the majority of the items in the exhibition are more commonplace, including jewelry, combs, coins and even some musical instruments. Organized by the Swedish History Museum, "Vikings" portrays its subjects as farmers, merchants and families instead of constantly warring, blood-thirsty barbarians.
Visitors are greeted by a replica of a Viking ship, which guards the entrance to an exhibit spread across three rooms. The first hall contains household items that were used by Scandinavian people, including textiles, crude utensils and a box with a primitive lock. One of the more interesting components of this section displays small collections of artifacts that were found in the graves of males and females from varying backgrounds, including farmers, warriors, peasants and aristocrats.
The precisely cataloged and arranged items on display are the exhibit's greatest strength—"Vikings" does an outstanding job of crafting a narrative through the use of artifacts. Displays trace the convergence of the traditional Norse religion and Christianity with religious artifacts dating back to 790 AD and demonstrate the evolution of Scandinavian craftsmanship through cases filled with intricate jewelry and wood carvings. A few interactive elements like an opportunity to lift a Viking sword and a chance to spell your name with runes are fun additions, but are ultimately superfluous diversions amid a sea of more interesting sights.
Tasking itself with humanizing its Scandinavian subjects, "Vikings" succeeds by blending the mundane with the ornate. Stereotypes like horned helmets (there's no evidence that they ever existed) and a war-obsessed culture (not more so than any other 8th–11th century culture) are quickly addressed and dispelled, allowing visitors to enjoy the amazing accomplishments of an ancient group of people. Whether you're looking to get in touch with your Scandinavian roots or just want a deeper grasp of the mythology referenced in the latest Thor movie, you should take the opportunity to plunder the knowledge contained within "Vikings".
BY: ZACH LONG
POSTED: FRIDAY FEBRUARY 27 2015