Saturday, November 04, 2017

History of Scandinavia at the Royal Ontario Museum

Thor's Hammer Pendant  (ROM)
Blog has its privileges.  The other day I was an invited guest at the media preview for Vikings, the new exhibit that opens at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The signage for Vikings shows an armed-to-the=teeth longship surging through Toronto Harbour, CN Tower and the city lights in the background.  But the show itself eschews almost all the traditional Viking derring-do, the Skoal! and the Odin! and the horned helmets.  Here's what the Globe critic thought.

Indeed it might have been entitled Recent Findings of Medieval Scandinavian Economic and Social History. The exhibit began with Swedish museums, and draws heavily on recent excavations of settlement sites around the Scandinavian countries.  Particularly featured is material from the townsite of Bjorko, which is not a coastal site on some Atlantic fjord, but located on an island in a lake on the Swedish mainland north of Stockholm. It was a centre of trade, but not exactly one's idea of a Viking homebase.

The socio-economic contexts are lovingly described and many of the artifacts are remarkable.  But on the whole its a calm, serious, not-quite-austere display -- much to my taste, maybe lacking in blockbusterism except in the title. All credit to the ROM for taking it on those terms.  The ROM has also added a supplement about Norse contacts with Canada, which is fairly rote for those who know the state of the question, but does include THE bronze pin and THE spindle whorl, which at one time were pretty much the sum total of Norse artifacts from the L'Anse aux Meadows site.  I'd only ever seen them in pictures before.

Pop culture cred: The exhibit explains briefly the meaning of the Norse concept "Ragnarok."  It refers to the end of the world, which is probably why it works well for the superhero flick that just opened.  The ROM show will have less explosions for sure.
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