Viking Animals Opens!

On International Museum Day, Thursday 18th May 2017, the Viking Animals exhibition opened to the public!

The whole team (click here to learn more) worked extremely hard to get the exhibition finished and ready for the big day. Special thanks go to Ingibjörg Jara, Helga Maureen, Jón Páll and Palli for their hard work in the last few days.

At 5pm the Reykjavik City Museum hosted a special opening for the Viking Animals exhibition. Lara introduced the exhibit and led a packed out tour of people eager to get a first glimpse of the new exhibition. Over 70 people entered the museum at this time, and everyone seemed really happy with the new exhibition. Continue reading

Bone Maker

In this blog post we’re going to tell you about the cattle skulls Jón Páll expertly made from plaster.

In the exhibition there are bones from archaeological sites in Iceland, but there are also real animal bones for our guests to touch. The real animal bones were all sustainably sourced from a local butchers (thanks Matarbúrið!) once they were already slaughtered for meat.

We decided to make the cattle skulls rather than use real ones as it is exceptionally difficult to source these sustainably, and we wanted to ‘recreate’ the cattle skulls from the archaeological site of Hofstaðir in north-east Iceland. At this site cattle were slaughtered by a blow to the forehead. This blow would have produced a fountain of blood and it would have been very dramatic, smelly and fairly disgusting… The skulls were then hung on the walls of the hall. There have been many suggestions why that might be and we discuss it in the exhibition. If you are interested you might want to the superb academic book: ‘Hofstadir: excavations of a Viking Age feasting hall in north-eastern Iceland’ by Professor Gavin Lucas.

Luckily for us, Jón Páll is an expert in making authentic ‘props’, and had a long career in the theatre before joining the Reykjavik City Museum. With his expertise he was able to recreate the skulls based on real archaeological findings. These skulls look so realistic we bet you wouldn’t be able to tell that they’re not!

Work in progress: come & see the finished skulls in the exhibition!

Click ‘READ MORE’ to see the behind the scenes slide slow!

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Making an Exhibition

Proposing, designing and opening an exhibition can be quite a complicated process. It starts with an idea, preferably a good idea. The museum must then consider the practicalities; will people be interested? Is it financially viable? Is it possible logistically? Then a designer, who specialises in museum design, is selected to turn the idea into a visual spectacular (within budget!). Finally, a Project Manager has to oversee the progress, and to make sure everyone sticks to the plan. They have a challenging job of making sure everyone who is involved is happy and that their priorities and ideas are equally represented.

 A sneak preview of the exhibition designs! (credits: Ingibjörg Jara)

Who is working on the Viking Animals exhibit?

The idea for this exhibition came from Dr Lara Hogg, who had recently completed a PhD project on domestic animals in Viking Age Iceland. As well as pitching the idea she also wrote the text you will read inside the exhibit. Lara thought the animal theme would work really well in a museum as it is a subject lots of people can connect and engage with; who doesn’t like fluffy animals? The Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik was the ideal location due to the focus on archaeology and the early history of Iceland. It was perfect!

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Animals: The Secret of the Settlement

Without animals there would have been no Viking Age settlement of Iceland. Without sheep to provide wool there would have been no sails for the ships, and the settlers wouldn’t have even reached Iceland! The arctic fox was the only animal living in Iceland before the settlers arrived, so they needed to bring all their animals with them to start a new life on the island. Animals were key to the Viking Age settlement of Iceland.

At the Settlement Exhibition one of the most frequent questions that we are asked is, ‘what animals did they have?’. We knew our visitors were interested in this subject, we found the topic interesting and there had been a recent doctoral thesis on the subject. It therefore seemed a logical conclusion to set up a temporary exhibit, to complement the permanent Settlement Exhibition, with a specific focus on domestic animals. Given the increasing number of children visiting the exhibition and the increasing number of non-native Icelandic and English speakers, it was decided to make the exhibition very visual and family friendly.

When you visit the exhibition you will learn more about the archaeological data, and the existing later medieval documents. There is a focus on weaving, horse riding and Old Norse mythology. The exhibition is ‘hands-on’ and there will be opportunities to feel the difference between different types of wool, and identify real animal bones!

We look forward to welcoming you to the exhibit, and would love to hear your thoughts about the display. On this blog we will give you a glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ of the exhibition preparation, which we hope you will enjoy!

See you soon!