12 reasons you have to visit the Vikings exhibition at Norwich Castle this half term
PUBLISHED: 17:08 06 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:38 18 February 2019
David Kirkham/Norfolk Museums Service
Star exhibits from the British Museum and York Museum join some of Norfolk’s most significant recent Viking and Anglo Saxon finds – on show for the first time.
1 The first chance to see the fabulous Hingham Hoard. Four silver brooches and 23 silver pennies from St Edmund’s reign were discovered by a metal detectorist in 2012. It is the largest hoard of King Edmund coins ever found, each with his name and an intricate Christian cross. One of the brooches includes stylised animals in sinuous, interwoven lines, with four glinting glass eyes each, a pair facing forwards and another backwards. The hoard of treasure was buried by Anglo Saxons in the 860s as Viking armies terrorised East Anglia.
2 The York Helmet. The world-famous York Helmet is one of just five Anglo Saxon helmets ever found, and by the far the best preserved. Discovered in 1982 during excavations for the Jorvik Viking Centre it is made of richly decorated iron and brass. Animals are entwined in an intricate pattern along the nose-piece, with a prayer in Latin, and the name of the owner, Oshere.
3 The Vale of York Viking Hoard. More than 600 coins and 70 pieces of jewellery were buried in a gilded silver cup near York almost 1,100 years ago. At first glance the metal detectorists thought they had simply unearthed a ballcock from a toilet. It was only when they noticed coins spilling out of it they looked more closely – and saw one of the most significant Viking discoveries ever made in Britain. As well as Anglo Saxon coins, the 2007 hoard includes money from continental Europe and Arabic countries, plus ingots. Treasures from the immense Cuerdale Hoard, buried a few years earlier, and the Bedale hoard discovered in 2012, are also on show.
4 The Gilling Sword. A nine-year-old boy found this beautiful silver and iron sword beside a stream in the 1970s. The double-edged sword has a silver handle decorated with patterns and plants and would have been made around 1,200 years ago.
5 A Lewis chessman. A total of 93 chess pieces, made in Norway in the late 12th century, were found in a sand dune on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. The elaborately carved walrus ivory and whale tooth include seated kings and queens, and pawns in the shape of obelisks. The chess piece at Norwich Castle is a knight – complete with armour and weapons and mounted on a horse.
6 A Viking brooch. A bearded man stares from a piece of bone. This is picture of a Viking, made by a Viking person, and particularly important because it shows how Vikings saw themselves. Most of our images of Vikings were created much later, and are not necessarily realistic.
7 Burnham Market disc brooch. An intricate pattern of tiny, stylised animals, perhaps dogs or bears or mice with wide eyes and rounded ears, circles a tiny brooch. A remarkable amount of gilding survives making this one of the best brooches of its kind in Britain. Archaeologists know it is Viking jewellery because of the third lug on the back, which would have been used to secure a string of beads or a safety chain.
8 Aethelred coins. Only nine coins from the reign of King Aethelred have ever been found, two of them near Bracon Ash, near Norwich. All we know about this king is from his coins as there is no written record. It is thought that he was a puppet king reigning after the Vikings killed King (and Saint) Edmund in 869. His name suggests he was Anglo Saxon but the Vikings would have been in charge.
9 A unique gold brooch found in Attleborough. This intricate piece of early 10th century gold jewellery would have been worn by a woman of very high status and was possibly made in Scandinavia before being brought to England – the only known brooch of its kind.
10 A 9th century gold pointer to guide readers’ attention along a page. Only about 10 of these ancient equivalents of the modern-day laser pen have been found in Britain. This one has an animal head and would have probably been associated with a church. Of Anglo Saxon craftsmanship it might have been buried to hide it from Viking raiders. It was found by a metal detectorist in Garboldisham, between Thetford and Diss.
11 A map highlighting East Anglia’s Viking heritage. See where Viking and Anglo Saxon treasures were unearthed and find out about some of our connections with the invaders – from the winter camp they set up in Thetford to the ghosts of their language hidden in Norfolk place-names and everyday words.
12 The exhibition is called Rediscover the Legend and while it focuses on the Vikings of 1,000-plus years ago it also brings some modern artefacts to Norwich Castle to show another side of the way we are still connected to the Viking legacy. Tim Pestell, senior curator of archaeology at Norfolk Museums Service, admits to a life-long love of Viking history and his own hoard includes a mug with runes on, a Hagar the Horrible book and an (entirely inaccurate) horned helmet.
Viking: Rediscover the Legend traces the story of the Vikings in England, from the first raids of the 700s, through invasion, slaughter, looting, and then settlement, right the way through to a new conquest in 1066. Visit Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm, Sunday 1pm to 4.30pm. Entry is free with a castle admission ticket.