After a crash course in scholarly approaches to the Viking Age, we had the opportunity to become Viking travelers of a sort as we followed a spring-break itinerary through heritage sites in Denmark. Our journey began at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, where I had spent time as a researcher years before. Although the ships were out of the water for winter maintenance and safekeeping, the staff welcomed us and introduced us to four major facets of the museum—an exhibition of ships excavated from the Roskilde fjord, reconstructions of Viking Age ships based on the archaeological remains, workshops where artisans rediscover the crafts needed to build Viking Age ships, and the research and curation of maritime heritage in Denmark and abroad.
Through a remarkable collaboration of museums, we were able to see a similar sweep of archaeological re-creation at nearby Lejre. The site was in use for a kingly hall well before the Viking Age and might well have inspired the stories that lay behind the Old English poem Beowulf. We visited an exhibition of finds from the site and spoke with both a visitor guide and an archaeologist to explore two very different views. We then toured the place where a hall once stood and explored the surrounding landscape. Then we headed to Sagnlandet (Land of Legends), an open-air museum and research center less than a mile away. We spoke there to a director of the museum about their choices in constructing a building based on the Lejre finds, providing an opportunity to compare and contrast similar choices made at the Viking Ship Museum.
We spent the remainder of our stay in Copenhagen. The National Museum recently opened a new permanent exhibition on the Viking Age with a temporary component focused particularly on raiding. We spoke with curators and senior researchers about choices both big and small behind the exhibition. While the Viking Ship Museum and the Lejre Museum were essentially built around finds from single sites, the National Museum contends with having a vast collection that it must maintain and curate while only being able to present a small slice of it to visitors in its exhibitions. To conclude our trip, we then visited the conservation labs to see some of the objects that are not on display but are nonetheless invaluable artifacts for researchers. Our visit focused on the conservation of waterlogged finds, especially wood and textiles, providing an apt bookend to a trip that had started with a focus on woodworking and sail-weaving at the Viking Ship Museum.