Archaeology Magazine Archive

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At the Museums: Three Cheers for the Vikings Volume 53 Number 4, July/August 2000
by Judith Lindbergh

When most people think of the Vikings, savage, horned-helmeted warriors and blond-braided maidens generally come to mind. Seemingly invincible in the annals of their Christianized victims, the Vikings explored, conquered, and exploited lands as far as their ships could carry them. They penetrated Russia, following waterways to the Black, Caspian, and eastern Mediterranean seas. They tormented the British Isles, terrorized Paris, and defaced a marble lion at the Greek port of Piraeus. But it was in the west, at the hands of Native North Americans and finally, more subtly, at the mercy of unpredictable changes in a fragile Arctic environment, that the Norse met a most poignant and unexpected fate.

Drawing on archaeological and environmental evidence uncovered in the last 30 years, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's groundbreaking exhibit, Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, weaves a tale of true Viking adventure. More than 300 objects from nine different countries trace Viking migration from a homeland in modern Scandinavia, to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faeroes and Iceland, Greenland, and finally North America.

An exquisitely produced catalogue with more than 500 illustrations and 31 chapters by some of the most respected scholars in the field supplies extraordinary accompaniment to the exhibition. The museum has also launched an extensive website (, with more information to be added over the next several months.

The exhibition will be at the National Museum of Natural History until August 13, after which it begins a two-year tour.

Judith Lindbergh is a writer and photographer who is writing a novel, Bibrau's Saga, about women in the Norse Greenland settlements.

Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of current exhibitions.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America