Exhibit shows Vikings beyond history as warriors

Published 7:55 am Thursday, May 23, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — Most of our current ideas about Vikings are based on the stereotype of the warrior savage, raping and pillaging from coast to coast during the early Middle Ages.

That reputation doesn’t do justice to the Vikings’ rich culture and accomplishments, said archaeology professor Neil Price. Yes, Vikings led many raids, and could be brutal warriors. But he said they were also expert traders, craftsmen and farmers.

“What the project that I’m running is trying to do is answer a relatively simple question: Why do the Scandinavians start expanding into the world at just this time — with violence, with trade, as explorers, as colonists? Why is all that happening? And obviously to find out how something starts, you have to go further back.”

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Price is one of a team of researchers at Uppsala University Museum near Stockholm who worked on “The Vikings Begin” — the latest exhibition at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. It presents some of the key findings from a burial site in Valsgarde, an ancient city located just on the outskirts of modern Uppsala, Sweden. The Viking era is generally thought to have lasted from about 800 to 1066 A.D. But the artifacts found in Valsgarde date as far back as 650 A.D.

“What you find in a burial is there because someone deliberately put it there. Most things we find, somebody dropped, or threw away or whatever, but burials are constructions they deliberate their ideas,” he said. “And what we’re seeing at Valsgarde is a community defining itself — the living defining themselves in how they bury their dead.”

Some of the items in the exhibit are what you might expect from the Vikings — ornate swords, shields and helmets. But others are more surprising: a delicate miniature set of scales used for trading goods and a roman glass vessel, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.