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Posts Tagged ‘museums’

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The entrance of the exhibit challenges you to put aside what you think you know about Vikings.

At the end of February, I got a chance to visit the temporary  Vikings exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History.  It was a wonderful experience, and well worth traveling to if you’re in the region.  There are many permanent exhibits to check out when you’re done learning about Vikings, including a museum just for children and the iMax theater.

The Viking exhibit’s goal was to accurately portray this group of people and attempt to correct centuries old misconceptions.  Entering the dim room, you’re greeted by beautiful maps and photos of the land where the Vikings lived – the origin of the artifacts housed within.  Speakers softly played a very natural soundtrack – birdsong and trickling water.  While the purpose may have been to transport visitors to another time, the dim room also made it feel as if I were walking into a sacred space.

Glass cases housed numerous archaeological finds, and a few reconstructions.  As a parent, I greatly appreciated that they were low enough for my daughter to look into as well.  I didn’t expect her to be as fascinated as she was, and her interest truly delighted me!  Adding to the sense of reverence, one case held bones.  My daughter stared in awe at the skull.  My husband and I told her that that person may even be one of our ancestors.  We looked at a variety of weapons, yes, but of greater interest to me were the women’s artifacts – beads, pins, parts of drop spindles, and key talismans.  I hadn’t ever heard of the later before.  When I first saw one at the museum, I noticed that it looked like a skeleton key, but I couldn’t imagine it functioning!  Indeed, the descriptions described them as possible magical objects, offering protection and power.  They’re believed to have been carried by women of high status – those who ran the homes.  In other words, they may have been a symbol of power among women.  Since seeing them, I’ve been seeing keys, and dealing with interesting key-related scenarios, all over.  I’m still trying to sort through what this might mean to me…

There were various interactive elements in the exhibit.  A feasting table with a “true or false” game built in created an interesting communal area where young and old could learn more together and reflect on changing perceptions.  My daughter enjoyed learning about Viking clothing by pushing buttons to light up different articles and then dressing virtual dolls via a computer game.  Another computer game taught visitors how to play a favoriting Viking board game – Hnefatafl.  My husband and I attempted to play, but Bee insisted on moving all our pieces, much to our amusement!  It reminded me of the Japanese game, go, and I would like to try playing it again.

Other favorite areas in the exhibit highlighted the skilled artisans and craftsmen of the Viking age.  Once more, speakers added to the atmosphere by playing the sound of a hammer shaping a sword.  I got shivers looking at some of the metal deity figures.  Bee really enjoyed touching yarn, wool, and cow hide.  She moved puzzle pieces to see the colors created by different herbs in the dying process – an interesting interactive element that I hadn’t ever seen before in a museum.

Although a small exhibit, and only able to hold a toddler’s interest for so long, I enjoyed learning more about my Viking ancestors.  In particular, I feel that I have a better understanding of the women.  The key charms continue to haunt me, and we’ll see what that means for me in the future.

 

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I recently watched “Ghosts of Murdered Kings” on PBS.  If you follow the link, you’ll be able to stream it on their website.  This documentary focuses on the research surrounding the various bog bodies that have been uncovered throughout much of Northern Europe.  I was able to see some bog bodies in person, first one at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and then in the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland (which I blogged a bit about here).  The later has several on display.  I felt a bit odd typing the previous sentence because there is something deeply humbling and even troubling to me about displaying dead bodies, especially if they were meant to be in the bogs…  But on the other hand, they have taught us so much about the Celts and their beliefs.  They also communicated something almost ineffable about mortality that stayed with me after seeing them.

“Ghosts of Murdered Kings” is another wonderful addition to the NOVA library.  It explores the most recent theories surrounding these bodies.  The prevailing theory seems to be that the bog bodies were usually royalty sacrificed to the land following poor harvests which relates back to the old ritual marriages between rulers and sovereignty Goddesses.  Even having been exposed to this theory before in history books and the National Museum of Ireland, the refresher was welcomed.  I learned several new things about how these theories came to be which gave me a greater appreciation for the scientists who work so diligently.

I recommend this documentary but caution that children might be frightened by it as it shows real corpses and features some minor dramatized violence and discussions of “triple murder” and “overkill.”  It will definitely make you reflect on the practices of our Celtic ancestors and their relationship with the natural world.  Whether such a sacrifice was or still is necessary is not the point – rather, why aren’t we taking our relationship with the land as seriously?  Each of us is married to the land whether we like it or not.  If we fail to respect her while also meeting our needs, what we will we have to give up to change the situation?  What habits should we commit to the bogs to better ourselves and society?

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