Misconceptions abound when it comes to Viking culture because most people assume their lives focused entirely on adventurous voyages across the sea and violent raids. But for the most part, this rich Scandinavian society flourished by raising animals and their political success was carried out through a sophisticated warrior aristocracy.
The exhibit, featuring 300 unique artifacts, originally premiered at the Smithsonian Museum in 2000. At that time, Hillary Rodham Clinton made this statement regarding the importance of such a presentation: "The discovery in 1960 of what scholars believe is Leif Eriksson's base camp in northern Newfoundland proves beyond any doubt that Nordic peoples explored and at least briefly settled in North America 500 years before Columbus arrived. This Viking exhibition will remind us that there are places on our own continent where one can see traces of human exploration and settlement that date back 1,000 years."
The exhibit begins by introducing the sagas of Erik the Red of Greenland and his son Leif Eriksson. Erik the Red set sail for a new home in 982 after he was banished from Norway. He discovered land, which he called "Greenland" in order to entice others to settle in that area. Greenland became a thriving colony for Erik the Red to raise his family. His son, Leif Eriksson, traveled as well and landed on the North American coast between 997 and 1003.
Numerous artifacts give viewers a sense of Viking life. There are full-sized models wearing metal armaments of war as well as the dress of daily farm life. The warrior outfit on display proves, contrary to popular belief, that Vikings did not in fact, wear helmets with horns. This notion, scholars think, initially grew from Wagnerian opera and was the impetus for the public to identify Vikings as barbaric conquerors.
In addition to Viking apparel, the exhibit also features Viking treasures such as brooches, necklaces and coins - all over 1,000 years old. Other unique relics can also be seen that testify to the Vikings' attacks and plundering on British and Scandinavian soil; contrasting with these riches are the peaceful images of their homes and the countryside that they inhabited.
"Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga" is a lengthy exhibit because so much information is presented about this mysterious culture. Following the exhibit, there are mini-workshops to impress the young and old such as weaving, woodturning, and metalworking.
During opening weekend, Viking impersonators sold unique hats and horns as well as build-your-own Viking necklaces and bracelets. The museum promises to continue these unique educational experiences with guest speakers throughout the month of March.