Vikings return to York

Eleanor Mills, 12.04.2017
Jorvik Viking Centre has reopened to fanfare
The Coppergate site in York was first excavated in 1976, with key archaeological work being conducted there until 1981. The thousands of finds that York Archaeological Trust preserved from the site helped towards the creation of Jorvik Viking Centre, which opened in 1984.

Loved by anyone who visits, the centre has been a cherished attraction since its opening, but sadly suffered major damage from the floods in December 2015, and for over a year, visitors to York have had no immersive Viking experience.

Though inflicting major costs of repair and renovation, the floods gave Jorvik a reason to get on with a grand revisualisation of the attraction, something the centre had been notionally planning to do for a while.

Jorvik Viking Centre reopened to the public last weekend. What’s new? More audiovisuals, more interactives, new research, advanced animatronics, and a more rounded experience on the whole.

The newly renovated Jorvik has been able to display more of the 40,000 Viking artefacts found at Coppergate, with research that was not previously interpreted for visitors. The centre has developed fantastic interactives looking at Viking skeletal make-up, examining diet and health, and demonstrating the extensive worldwide trade networks the Vikings fostered.

The jewel in Jorvik’s crown remains the time-capsule ride around Viking Jorvik. The level of detail in this reconstruction of Viking urban life in AD960 is phenomenally impressive. Visitors see animatronic figures of a Viking hunter, a comb-maker (archaeologists found lots of intricate combs on the Coppergate site), slave traders, a blacksmith, cobbler, and notably there are more women than Jorvik’s previous incarnation. Of the 22 new animatronics (there are 31 in total), there are 12 that are animals – the pigs and rats are particularly good.

Jorvik has also cleverly thrown in a couple of real Viking re-enactors to fool visitors on their way around too. They tricked me – these actors have mastered imitating animatronic actions.

Whether real or models, Vikings mutter old Norse to each other as visitors are maneuvered around, and various realistic smells provide a mild olfactory assault throughout the experience.

Two details that I found particularly impressive are that one of the animatronics is based on the real skeleton of a disabled woman found on site who had migrated from Norway to live in Jorvik; and that the muddy streets have been moulded by someone actually padding up and down in replica Viking shoes to make Coppergate’s streets as realistic as possible.

Of course, the volunteer guides dressed up as Vikings really add to the whole experience – enormously informative and fun to have around, these guides add so much to an already fantastic attraction.

I learnt so much from my few hours at the Jorvik centre, testament to the interpretation and Viking volunteers. Here are my takeaways: the Vikings were only properly settled in England for 200 years, from 866 until 1066 when Harald Hardrada was killed at the Battle of Hastings. They had a very healthy diet of fish, fruit, meat and vegetables.

The consumption of herring (a typically Scandinavian food stuff) increased during the time Vikings were on our shores. So far, no proof of a settlement the size of Jorvik has been found in Norway, meaning it may well be the biggest Viking settlement that existed. They traded across the Arab world, North America, Iceland, Europe, Russia, and all the way to China. But most of all, for just a 200-year rule in northern England, the Vikings’ legacy is impressively enormous, and still captures the imaginations of children, adults and academics alike.

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United Kingdom, Yorkshire