This summer, the Historical Museum in Oslo is laying on a daily series of guided tours in English around the unique artifacts that form part of its Viking exhibition, Víkingr.

Every day at noon and 2 pm (not Mondays), until August 27, as part of the standard price of your admission ticket (NOK 100, discounted NOK 70, under-18s free), an expert will be illuminating visitors about the glittering displays held at this national institution.

This includes the world's only perfectly preserved Viking helmet, swords, jewelry, and an amazing runestone taller than the average person.

You don't need to book in advance; simply arrive at the Historical Museum in the center of Oslo at the designated tour times. Further details are provided below.

Admire Viking bling and Roman gold

As you can see from this English-friendly video presented by Professor Marianne Vedeler, there will be plenty to take in. Víkingr comprises 19 display cases, most of the objects examples of exquisite craftsmanship discovered in Viking graves. 

As Professor Vedeler explains, those who were buried with such treasure would have been members of the elite from among the higher echelons of Viking society.

Professor Vedeler first takes us to a hoard of silver treasure, explaining that these shiny scraps would have been used as payment and, most interestingly, they were not minted in Norway but carry inscriptions in Arabic.

This so-called hack silver would have been brought back from various voyages to the East or the Mediterranean.

There's gold, too, all 2.5 kilograms of it, discovered on a farm in Buskerud, a place we shall return to. Gigantic neck rings, "almost bling," as Professor Vedeler enthuses, Arabic coins made into gold pendants and beads of many colors show the far reach of the Viking world, from Great Britain to North Africa.

A remarkable three-armed brooch that once adorned a sword belt at the Carolingian court may have even been worn by Charlemagne himself. This artifact, now in Norway, stands as a tangible symbol of status and connection to the illustrious past. 

The differences in styles between the intricate jewelry fashioned by the Carolingians, Frankish nobles from the 700s, and the more austere designs preferred by the Vikings who followed, can be clearly appreciated in the collection.

While Carolingian items are ornate and feature complex plant motifs, the Scandinavians preferred simpler designs that depicted animals – although the Carolingian influence is apparent.

There are even objects from Roman times, an engraved gemstone reset in gold and used as a pendant. We also learn how ladies' accessories changed during the Viking era, becoming more elaborate, such as the brooches worn on each shoulder strap of a dress.

This gilded copper alloy weathervane from ca. 1050 was mounted as a ship's vane (skipsfløy) on a ship's prow and later moved to the spire of Heggen medieval church in Buskerud. Photo: Wolfmann / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Helmets, swords, and runes

We then arrive at the exhibition's pièce de résistance - the famed Gjermundbu helmet. This artifact, named after the farm where it was uncovered in 1943, represents a significant historical find.

Gunnar Gjermundbu, the farmer's son, stumbled upon a considerable cache of objects on the family farmstead near Haugsbygd, northwest of Oslo. Recognizing the potential importance, he immediately alerted a local historian, setting in motion a discovery that would unveil a rare glimpse into the Viking era.

The helmet, found in nine separate fragments, was later expertly reassembled to reveal its original form. As Professor Vedeler clarifies, crafting such a helmet would have been an expensive endeavor. With a weight of 1.5kg, the helmet would have been heavy to wear and was clearly designed for an elite warrior. 

The helmet's unique features, including extra protection around the eyes, almost like glasses, and a pronounced spike at the top, add to its distinctiveness and hint at its former owner's elite status.

But the exhibition doesn't end here. There are spurs, one of pure gold, horse bridles, and swords, some marked with the inscription "VLFBERHT."

This signature, possibly linked to a specific workshop in Germany, adorned a series of renowned swords from the 9th to the 11th centuries. Known for their exceptional quality, the Ulfberht swords were made from carbon-rich steel, making them superior to most contemporary blades and highly sought after in their time.

The most mysterious object on view is a skull, later identified as belonging to a young woman of around 18-19 years old, buried with a sword she may not have been able to wield easily. Experts are still trying to work out the relationship between the young woman and her weaponry.

After passing a glittering weathervane of the type used on the prow of Viking ships and atop stave churches, we finish with a fantastic runestone, dwarfing Professor Vedeler by being almost twice her size. 

We learn that it comes from Dynna in Hadeland and perfectly illustrates the local transition to Christianity.

On one side, we see images of the Christmas story, including the Three Wise Men on horseback, Mary, and the Baby Jesus in the crib. Interestingly, the houses depicted around them resemble those found on the Oseberg tapestry, which was discovered on board the Oseberg ship in 1903.

On the other side, an elongated inscription outlines that the stone was made in memory of Astrid, daughter of Gunnvor, and describes her characteristics.

Designed by famed Oslo architect Snøhetta, the Víkingr exhibition is strikingly presented yet not overwhelming, allowing visitors time to take everything in. All it needs is a guide to show you around.

English-language guided tours, each 50 minutes in length, are available every day at noon and 2 pm (not Mondays) until August 27.

Historical Museum, Frederiks gate 2, 0164 Oslo, Norway. Open Tue-Wed, Fri-Sun 10 am-5 pm, Thur 10 am-6 pm.

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