Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


The newest rotating exhibit at the Museum of the Rockies offers a glimpse into the world of Vikings through their cemeteries and graves. It’s one of the first times the collection, “The Vikings Begin,” has been on display outside of Sweden, where the artifacts were excavated.

“Most of what we know about Vikings in general is from poetic eddas and sagas” written by Christian scholars hundreds of years after the fact, said Sidrah MG Watson, the volunteer coordinator at the Museum of the Rockies. “This (exhibit) is all about the artifacts.”

Those artifacts include swords, helmets and a piece of a burial boat and things that Vikings likely acquired through battle, piracy, trade, colonization or even wedding gifts: pieces of silk from China, glassware from Northern Italy and coins from the Byzantine empire.

“The Vikings Begin” exhibit is based on research by Dr. Neil Price, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Johnson and John Ljungkvist and is produced by the Gustavianum Uppsala University Museum in Sweden.

“Everybody’s heard of the Vikings, the Scandinavian peoples whose expansions would change European history,” said Price, a professor of archaeology at Uppsala University in Sweden. “But how did the Viking Age begin, why did it happen? That’s what this exhibition is about.”

All of the artifacts in exhibit come from Pagan graves in one cemetery north of Stockholm, called Valsgärde, which was excavated during the 1920s through the 1950s. The cemetery the artifacts come from was used by a maritime community between A.D. 300 and A.D. 1150 and had at least 97 graves, including 15 boat graves.

MOR Viking Exhibit

A replica of a burial boat, two thirds the size of the original, found at a Viking cemetery in Sweden is on display at the Museum of the Rockies from May 29 to Sept. 19. Boats were essential to Viking culture. Museum of the Rockies Volunteer Coordinator Sidrah MG Watson says that "the vikings wouldn't be who they were without boats."

“It serves as this amazing lens to these people telling us things through death,” MG Watson said. “If you were buried in a boat, it says everything about your identity.”

The Vikings had no written language beyond runes, so by looking at what they wanted to take with them after death, historians can see what was important to them, she said.

Boats were a big deal to the Vikings — making just one sail for a large boat could take up to five years even with multiple women or slaves captured during battle working on it. But boats were the only way they could travel, raid, expand trade routes and colonize other areas of the world, which is what they’re arguably best known for.

Being a “Viking” wasn’t usually a lifelong affair, nor was every man alive in the area at the time a Viking.

“We think Vikings are all these warring men,” MG Watson said, “But ‘Viking’ could be seen more as a verb than a noun.”

For instance, people living in the Viking era who inherited a family farm would likely remain there and be a farmer. But if someone was a third or fourth brother who won’t be receiving an inheritance, they may “go Viking” in search for their own land or riches, she said. Often, they would remain where they traveled, colonizing another part of the world and expanding the vast Viking diaspora.

MOR Viking Exhibit

A helmet from a Viking boat burial is on display at the Museum of the Rockies from May 29 to Sept. 19.

“The Vikings Begin” opens on Saturday and will remain on display until Sept. 19.

Beginning on Saturday, the Taylor Planetarium will host a twice-daily “Northern European Skies” show that compliments the “Vikings” exhibit and shows what the sky looked like to the people of Northern Europe during the Viking era.

Also opening on Saturday is the museum’s Living History Farm, which will remain open through Aug. 31.

The museum’s pandemic protocols have been scaled back and summer hours are beginning, Director of Marketing Alicia Harvey said. Reservations are no longer needed for museum visits.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.