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Where to see the Vikings...

detail from a Viking box on display at the British Museum

A viking artefact from the British Museum

© Jack Shoulder

    • In history, 700-1100AD in Europe is known as the Viking Age. The term ‘Viking’ comes from an old Norse word meaning ‘pirate raid’, so it is no wonder that when we think of Vikings, we tend to think of them as the vicious Vikings.

      What is often overlooked is that these people weren’t just marauding pirates. They were farmers, traders and craftspeople too. They made beautiful artefacts that you can see in museums all over the country. Here is Show Me's pick of our favourites.

      Sutton Hoo is the home of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. In the summer of 1938, excavation work started on the famous burial mounds that revealed all sorts of wonderful Viking treasures. You can visit Tranmer House to discover the story of Edith Pretty and how she helped uncover the hoard. There's a fantastic exhibition hall where you can see some of the things the archaeologists uncovered.

      Sutton hoo helmet at the British Museum© Jack Shoulder
      If you want to see more of the treasures from Sutton Hoo, then you should get yourself to the British Museum, specifically Room 41. There you can see the helmet that was discovered at the site, and an incredible reproduction of what experts think it could have looked like.

      The British Museum is also the home to a fascinating  Viking chess set known as the Lewis Chessmen. The complete set is made up of 78 chess pieces, 14 tables-men and a buckle to secure a bag.

      A photograph showing some of the Lewis Chessmen© Solipsis via Wikimedia Commons
      These pieces weren’t found as part of a burial mound, they were found on a beach. Experts think that they were buried for safekeeping. The British Museum holds 82 pieces of the chess set, whilst 11 pieces are owned by National Museums Scotland.

      The National Museum of Scotland also has other Viking treasures such as the fabulous Hunterston Brooch which dates from about 700AD, the start of the Viking Age. It is a truly outstanding piece of jewellery, with so many intriguing details like the runes that were added to it 200 years after it was made!

      Lindisfarne is probably one of the most famous places the Vikings landed. The Priory now lies in ruins, but it used to be a thriving monastery. When the Vikings came here, they were Vikings in the Old Norse sense of the word: raiders and pirates. Lindisfarne was the site of several grisly attacks, the kind that earned the Vikings the reputation of being vicious. You can see a stone that records these attacks at the visitors’ centre.

      If you can’t get to Lindisfarne Priory in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, you could visit the Lindisfarne Gospels in the British Library.

      Jorvik Viking Centre in York takes a very different approach to presenting the Vikings. As with Sutton Hoo, excavations by archaeologists revealed a wealth of detail about the Vikings. Between 1976-81 archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking Age city of Jorvik as it stood nearly 1,000 years ago. Jorvik shows us how the everyday Vikings lived.
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