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Exhibition argues Vikings more than hairy raiders

LONDON--They had names like Thorfinn Skull-splitter, Erik Bloodaxe and Ragnar Hairy Pants. No wonder the Vikings have a rough and bloody reputation.

A new exhibition at the British Museum strives to make people think again about the Scandinavian pillagers whose name means “pirate” in Old Norse. Through their ships, weapons, crafts, words and even skeletons, “Vikings: Life and Legend” aims to show how Viking energy and ideas redrew the map of the world.

“They were a global phenomenon,” exhibition curator Gareth Williams said of the bearded buccaneers who sailed forth in the 9th century to descend on terrified English monks, Irish villagers and Russian peasants. “They were raiders and they were traders and they were craftsmen and they were explorers.”

Above all, they were sailors and shipbuilders, whose huge longboats, powered by ranks of rowers, took them across the ocean as far west as Newfoundland. To the east, they sailed down the rivers of Russia to the Black Sea and Central Asia.

The Vikings triggered an era of what the exhibition gently calls “cultural interaction” — though it adds that many of those contacts “bloody and violent.”

Historian Michael Wood — who will host a live broadcast from the exhibition to 380 British movie theaters on April 24 — said the Vikings spurred a “formative, almost propulsive era” in European history.

“Dynastic politics, culture, language, economies — they changed the landscape,” he said.

Seafaring skills take the spotlight in the exhibition, which opens Thursday and runs to June 22. It moves to the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin in September.

The centerpiece of the show is the biggest Viking ship ever found. Dug up on the banks of a Danish fjord in 1997, it is 37 meters (120 feet) long and had 40 pairs of oars. Its scale is awe-inspiring even if only 20 percent of the ship's timbers remain.

But the most spectacular part of the display goes to its enormous range of Viking bling, including gold and silver brooches, necklaces and arm bands, some of astonishing size. One braided gold necklace on display weighs 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds).

Not Only Warriors

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A British museum employee poses for photographers behind a display of helmets at a new exhibition entitled 'Vikings: Life and Legend' at the British Museum in central London, Tuesday, March 4. The new exhibition strives to make people think again about the Scandinavian pillagers who raided and struck terror into English villages.

(AP)

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