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A new exhibition at the British Museum unites the longest Viking ship ever found & grisly remains of warriors
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The longest Viking ship ever discovered and the recently unearthed remains of some of the warriors who once roamed in the swift and sure vessels have stormed into London's British Museum. Vikings: Life and Legend which opened earlier this month brings together many artifacts that have never left Scandinavia, as well as some fragments of skeletons found in a mass grave in England.
The centerpiece is without a doubt the Roskilde 6. Along with eight other vessels its timbers were found in the harbor of Roskilde, Denmark in 1996, and the bits of the oaken vessel are the longest intact Viking ship ever found at 117 feet. Only 20% of the hull survives, and the rest is structured with a metal skeleton, but through the collage of history and reconstruction you can get the time traveling sensation of the terror the Viking warriors once inspired as their curved vessels approached foreign shores.
The installation of Roskilde 6 at the British Museum in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, January 2014 (© Paul Raftery)
Of course, the Vikings as violent raiders is only part of their story. Much of the contribution to their legacy of grisly rampages is that their history was oral, so the written accounts of the people collectively known as the Vikings between the 8th and 11th centuries was predominately written by the people they attacked (people with whom they happily traded were much less verbose in their accounts). Thus you get poems like this which is included in the exhibition:
“Men will quake with terror
Before the seventy sea-oars
Are given deserved respite
From the labours of the ocean.”
Nevertheless, the warrior side of the Vikings isn't entirely myth, as the exhibition shows. The Roskilde 6 was equipped with 40 pairs of oarsmen and probably served to transport troops over the North Sea. In the British Museum's new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, it is surrounded by axes and swords and even pieces of actual Vikings.