* Exhibition is museum's first on Vikings in 30 years
* Links into interest in Scandinavian "Nordic Noir"
* Reviewer mourns lack of gore, says "I felt like crying"
By Michael Roddy
LONDON, March 6 The Viking exhibition opening on
Thursday at the British Museum has axes, swords, helmets, dragon
figureheads and, as its centrepiece, a 37-metre-long (121-feet)
Viking warship that is the longest ever excavated.
What might be jarring, though, is that the dragonheads are
tiny ones on a brooch; only 20 percent of the wooden ship
survived centuries of immersion in the mud of a Danish harbour,
so most of what is on display is a huge stainless-steel frame;
and none of the helmets in the exhibition is fitted with horns.
"They didn't wear horns on their helmets," said project
curator Thomas Williams, 33, explaining one of the messages the
museum hopes visitors, especially schoolchildren, will take home
from its first Viking exhibition in 30 years.
Pressed as to how definite that is, Williams added:
"Archaeologists would never say never, but there's no evidence
whatsoever" for horns on helmets.
This is partly what has irked the British press, some of
whose reviewers have found the exhibition, given the Vikings'
well-earned reputation for rape and pillage, to be a little
colourless and bloodless.
Pretty much everyone educated in Britain knows about the
sack of the Lindisfarne monastery in Northumbria, on England's
northeast coast, invaded by Viking warships in 793.
Within hours, it is recorded, "the heathen miserably
destroyed God's church" and the surviving monks staggered about
amid the corpses of their brethren strewn along the beachfront.
"There's no stage-setting. No gory recreation of the
Lindisfarne raid, say, to get us in the mood," Jonathan Jones
wrote this week in the Guardian.
"Instead, cases of smallish, similar objects throw visitors
straight into some thorny problems of archaeology. How do Viking
artefacts compare with things being made at the same time by
Baltic and Slav peoples....I felt like crying."
Mark Hudson, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said the sombre
grey walls of the museum's new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery,
combined with a soundtrack of a voice speaking in old Norse,
lent the exhibition all the mystery of watching an episode of
the "Nordic Noir" crime drama "The Killing" in an airport
But if Hudson picked up a scent of "Nordic Noir", that was
exactly what the creators of the exhibition wanted.
"There's been this huge upsurge in interest in all things
Scandinavian recently, in particular the Scandinavian crime
dramas, the 'Nordic Noir', and I think to some degree that's
inspired people from this country to reevaluate the relationship
with Scandinavia," Williams said.
He spoke near a case displaying the skeletons and skulls of
Vikings who were slaughtered, and many decapitated, by
presumably some very angry locals in what is now Dorset on the
English south coast around the year 1,000.
"In some ways the Nordic countries are very similar to
Britain, and people perhaps are trying to think about why this
might be and seeing the historical connections," he said.
Those connections are partly linguistic - "egg", "window",
"sister" and "oaf" are all derived from old Norse - but they
also go further. DNA tests show close affinities between some
Britons, particularly in the north of the country and on the
Shetland and Orkney islands, and Scandinavians.
The exhibition, which runs until June 22, also differs from
the British Museum's last major Viking show in 1980 in having
had access to collections that at the time were behind the Iron
Curtain. So alongside a silver men's brooch from the Danish
museum is one from Russia.
Another case contains silver coins from Islamic countries,
showing that the Vikings' mastery of maritime technology,
manifested in the warship, allowed them not only to cross the
Atlantic to Newfoundland but to sail Russian rivers and the
Baltic Sea to Byzantium.
"The overarching theme of the exhibition really is cultures
and contacts, and a big part of that is the maritime technology
that is developed in Scandinavia that enables the Vikings to
become the first group of people who reach for separate
continents," Williams said.
The exhibition is a joint project of the Danish National
Museum, where it opened last year, and the National Museums in
Berlin, where it travels next.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)