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Published February 21st 2020
Step back in time to the age of the Vikings
"We're tearing up this place tonight
We're gonna set this sleepy town alight
We'll kill and steal and burn and drink
'Cause us Vikings don't care what you think."
From Horrible Histories' "Literally (the Viking Song)"
The very name 'Viking' conjures up some pretty vicious images in our imagination. Their infamous reputation for killing, pillaging, burning, raiding and raping has raged throughout the centuries since they first set out from their lands in what would later become Scandinavia.
But there's so much more to the Vikings than all the raiding and burning and looting and attacking poor, innocent monks. The Vikings settled into many of the lands they travelled to, including England, Ireland, the Scottish Isles, the lands around the Baltic Sea (Russia, for example, was founded by the Vikings) and France (William the Conqueror and his Normans-or 'Northmen'-who invaded England in the famous year of 1066 were descended from the Viking settlers of Normandy).
In England, the Vikings have a long history of settlement. They built houses and towns and they farmed and fished and had markets and traded with other towns and setttlements. Jorvik (York) was one such settlement. Formerly the capital of the independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, York had been captured by a Viking Great Army in 866 CE (Christian Era).
Between the years 1976-81 archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust uncovered the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-age city of Jorvik as it stood more than 1,000 years ago. You can visit this amazing site today and experience for yourself what life was really like in this Viking city in the year 960 CE.
The Jorvik Viking Centre stands on the site of the Coppergate Dig, an archaeological excavation by the York Archaeological Trust (YAT). It's a groundbreaking visitor experience where you take a journey through the reconstruction of Viking-age streets and experience life as it would have been in 10th century York. There are three parts to the Jorvik Viking Centre: Discover Coppergate, Jorvik-the Viking City time car ride experience, and the Galleries.
1. Discover Coppergate. Here you will see a reconstruction of an area of the Coppergate dig as it appeared to the archaeologists who worked on it. You'll also hear the stories of the archaeologists. There is a huge glass floor in this first part and under it you'll see a replica of part of the excavation.
2. The time car ride through Jorvik. In this part, visitors go on an immersive, multisensory ride throughout this bustling city, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the Viking Age. In fact, all that you see during your visit is based on actual archaeological evidence found during the Coppergate excavation, with emphasis on recreating every detail of the experience, from the flora and fauna growing in the ground to the breeds of animals portrayed and even the splashes of natural dyes found in one of the backyards. And you'll smell the Viking age city too, from the woodsmoke coming from homes and the damp ancient forest smell at the city's outskirts to the not so fragrant smell emanating from a Viking age backyard toilet.
You'll also get to meet animatronic characters along the way who will share with you the fascinating stories of their lives. The characters speak a variety of languages including Old Norse, Old English, Old Irish, Middle Welsh, Latin and Sogdian. York in 960 CE was a busy, bustling, populous, multicultural and prosperous trading centre, home to a mixed group of people, some of whom had arrived from overseas. Such as Hakim, a trader of silks from from faraway Samarkand.
And the unfortunate Bronach, who had been captured in a Viking raid on her home in Leinster, Ireland. Her captor, Blanda, is trying to rush her to market to make a quick sale after which she could be transported as a slave to a more distant location.
You'll also meet Leoba who left her native Norway when she was very young. She is an older inhabitant of Jorvik trying to cross the road whilst struggling to walk with a crutch. She is around 46 years old and is based on the analysis of one of the two human skeletons found at Coppergate.
And there's the blacksmith sitting on a bench outside his home teaching his young ten year-old son how to sharpen the knife he has just made. Both members of the family speak in Old English showing that they have lived in Jorvik all their lives.
You'll also meet Lodan the priest administering last rights to a dying woman, whilst her grieving husband looks on. The first Vikings who came to Britain were not Christians and worshiped their pagan Norse gods, but they seemed to have adopted Christianity quite quickly. There is lots of evidence for there being a Viking-era church just behind Coppergate and there were many other new churches built in Jorvik at this time.
3. The Artefact Galleries.
Once you have completed your time car journey, you get to walk through the galleries. It's your chance to get up close to some of the stunning artefacts uncovered at Coppergate, and to learn more about the customs and cultures of the Viking world.
The Galleries also house two Viking-age skeletons which had been excavated from the cemetery of the long vanished church of St Benet. This skeleton is that of a female aged 26-35 years. The reasons for her death remain unclear, although bone analysis has shown inadequate nutrition or disease as a child and degenerative joint disease in the spine and hips. The other skeleton is that of a male over 46 years of age, and it has been remarked that certain characteristics of his skull suggest African or mixed ancestry.
More than just bloodthirsty, looting killers who loved to attack monks, the Vikings also settled into many of the lands they travelled to, built prosperous settlements, and led peaceful lives.
The Jorvik Viking Centre is a truly unique and fascinating place where you can learn more about one of these settlements and the everyday life of its people.
The Jorvik Viking Centre is located at Coppergate Shopping Centre, 19 Coppergate, York.
Opening hours are: April – October: 10am-5pm (last admission) and November –March: 10am-4pm (last admission). JORVIK is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Opening hours on New Year's Eve: 10am-2pm, New Year's Day: 11am-4pm.
Tickets cost £12.50 per adult, £8.50 for children aged 5-16, and £10.50 concession.
When visiting JORVIK Viking Centre, it is recommended that you pre-book online or by calling 01904 615505. However, don't worry if you haven't pre-booked, as you can still purchase your tickets on the door on arrival and experience all that JORVIK has to offer.
For more information about the Jorvik Viking Centre, please go to their website here.