Do you like Vikings? Who doesn’t like Vikings? Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the Minnesota football team. I’m talking about a group of Norse people from days long gone. Well, maybe the inhabitants of the towns they ransacked weren’t too thrilled with them, but there is considerable debate about whether the Vikings really were as rapacious as they are often portrayed. So, it’s a case of “he said, she said,” when neither he nor she are still around. Then again, Vikings did do a fair bit of invading, barbarically or not, so they might not have been the most welcome visitors everywhere.
But I digress.
When I went—and presumably now too—the Viking exhibits at the Swedish History Museum included weapons, ruin stones, skeleton fragments, drinking glasses and beakers, picture stones, recreations of actual finds of Viking clothing (presumably the original clothing would be a bit threadbare by now), burial objects, graves stones and a burial boat. (Yes, a boat. Used for a burial.) There was also a not-nearly life-size model of a Viking ship.
There was also a detailed 3D model of a real Viking town, Birka. Obviously, the model was not life size because you would have a hard time fitting something like that into an enclosed museum in the midtown area of any city. Indeed, the model was even farther from life size than the model of the Viking ship mentioned in the previous paragraph, but the model of Birka was still fairly large as these things go. There was interpretive text and a “push this button to light up that building/section” feature accompanying the model.
One section of the museum was dedicated to Swedish prehistory. I know what they mean when they say “prehistory,” but, to be a stickler, how can there be a “prehistory?” “Prehistoric” sounds like a more appropriate word to me. History happens whether or not it was recorded and whether or not those records are available to modern historians. If someone finds documents, or maybe cave drawings, describing a period that was, prior to that find, before the earliest recorded history about that area of the globe, does prehistory magically become history?
“Historic,” on the other hand, means important or famous in history. Something can’t be considered to be famous or important unless it’s existence is known. So, something can’t be historic unless it’s in some recorded history, even if those records are only the sketchiest of sketchy. Thus, to me, the word prehistoric makes more sense than prehistory in this context.
That having been said, the dictionary I checked does define “prehistory” and “prehistoric” as synonyms meaning before written history, so it’s not the museum’s fault. Nevertheless, it sounds incorrect to my ears. English can be weird at times, can’t it?
But, again, I digress.
The “prehistory” section contained pottery, rocks with carvings on them, tools, weapons, ornaments and jewelry. If you enjoy the macabre, there were also full skeletons, along with bones that were presumably parts of full skeletons at one point in their lives because individual bones rarely travel alone while they are part of living beings. Even if you don’t enjoy the macabre, the skeletons and bones were still there. There were other archeological artifacts as well. At various points in this section of the museum, there were video images projected on the walls that I could take in as I walked through.
The basement of the museum housed the gold room. Here there were gold and silver coins, jewelry, ornaments, weapons (because you wouldn’t want to be caught dead killing people with a lesser metal, would you?), religious symbols and more. Some of the artifacts were pure gold, while others were just covered in gold foil.
Yes, it was called the gold room. And, yes, there were some silver coins there despite silver not getting billing in the gallery’s name. Silver gets no respect when it’s in the company of gold, does it?
After each of the main galleries, there were often smaller galleries that raised questions and presented discussions that strived to stimulate thought about what you just saw.
Timeline: Millennium Past, and More
One gallery of the museum contained a timeline depicting the past millennium of history in Sweden, including well before it became Sweden. When I say “timeline,” I don’t mean that metaphorically. There was a backlit line snaking along the floor of the gallery between the exhibits to give you your chronological bearings.
Well, OK, it was much wider than a line because a true line has no width, but work with me here. I didn’t make a note about it at the time, but, if memory serves, this “line” was about a adult fist’s width wide, assuming that adult didn’t have small hands. Printed on the line was the year associated with the artifacts in the displays beside that point along the line.
Whimsically, the line continued on into the future. If you were to keep going past its end you would walk out a second-floor window at 2032. Therefore, if you visit the Swedish History Museum I recommend that you don’t try to peer any farther into the future than 2032 because the breaking of the window, coupled with the fall might kill you. That would probably be sufficiently novel to be reported on in the media, which would make you part of Swedish history. However, being dead, you wouldn’t get to see yourself when you become an exhibit in the Swedish History Museum. But, yet again, I digress.