The Dynna stone (mid-11th century), raised by Gunnvör in memory of her daughter Astrid, ‘the handiest maiden’. My photo.

I went to the Viking exibition at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, entitled ‘Víkingr’, which is the word in its Old Norse form.

The exhibition showcases a variety of objects from the Viking Age from the museum’s collections. As appropriate, many of them are not originally from Scandinavia: especially some of the more splendid objects were brought to Norway from Ireland, Britain or the Continent by Vikings, though whether they arrived through trade or pillaging is impossible to say. Although the exhibition is not very large, there is something for everyone here: swords, coins, jewellery, and the famous Viking helmet from Gjermundbu, which is the only helmet preserved from the Viking Age.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

There is a good balance between items associated with people from different walks of life, but I was particularly happy to see the amazing Dynna stone from Gran in southern Norway, which is only about an hour’s drive from where I live now. The Dynna stone, raised in the mid-eleventh century, is unique in Viking history: it was sponsored by a woman, Gunnvör, in memory of her daugther Astrid, and not only does it have a runic inscription praising the girl’s skill in textile work, but also a carved depiction of the Epiphany scene. The stone gives us an insight into Gunnvör’s religious views relatively soon after Norway’s conversion to Christianity, and how she wanted her daughter, and by extension, herself, remembered. We can draw the conclusion from the existence of the stone itself that Gunnvör had the means to pay for the raising and carving of such a stone. Runestones like the Dynna stone give us tantalising glimpses into life in the Viking Age beyond the stereotypical raiding warriors bringing home looted treasures, and prompt us to think about women’s roles in society and the economy, and their perspectives – what they thought was important and wanted to state ‘out loud’.

Visiting the exhibition is overall a pleasing experience: the objects are well curated and beautifully presented in glass cases with generous space between them and lighting that highlights the objects’ beauty and craftsmanship. The exhibition catalogue can be downloaded here.