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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