Saturday, 8 December 2012

Jorvik Centre & Coppergate Helm

Last week I went to the Jorvik Centre in York.  I'd been there before as a child, but as that was a very long time ago, I thought I'd give it another visit.  It's a museum based on the Coppergate digs, which have yielded artifacts mostly from the mid to late 10th century, but with several from before that.  It's mainly Viking focused, although there's a good smattering of Anglo-Saxon and other influences too. 

The Jorvik Centre good way to spend an afternoon, though it is definitely oriented towards school groups as it features a ride that you have to go on in order to get from one part of the museum to the other.  I have to admit to not taking any pictures during the ride because it includes moving, talking, mechanical people and I don't know about you, but those things creep me the hell out.  At least one of them has been pooping in a corner since I was a kid.  I think I'm good for pictures of that, thanks...

It's pretty dark inside Jorvik, but I did get a few decent pictures of one or two items.  The exhibits largely give an insight into the day to day life of your average person living in York during this time period; the average, day to day folk -- not berserkers or warriors, but folk.  I kind of like that.

 Bone and antler combs found in the Coppergate area of YorkThese were really common objects, however, the evidence points to a crafter making combs at Coppergate as many half-finished combs were found.  The teeth were finely spaced so as to take care of nits and lice.

Having said that, the museum also houses a few skulls and skeletons, with some of those people noted as having "likely died in battle".  One chap in particular had 16 bone crushing or damaging wounds, so "likely" is probably not the word.  I did find myself contemplating exactly how he died, as grim as it sounds.  It is easy to picture a lone Viking warrior, unaware of the line having folded to both sides, being swamped by the oncoming tide of enemy.  His skeleton told the story of someone who'd been a career warrior; I hope his death was at least quick.  It was certainly violent.

Jorvik also houses a reproduction of the Coppergate Helmet (the original being housed at the Yorkshire Museum).  This helm is awesome.  It's an Anglo-Saxon helm from between 750-775AD which was partially dismantled and stashed so that someone could return for it at a later point.  It would have belonged to someone of pretty high status because it's iron, brass and bling:

Reconstructed it it's original glory:  The bar running up the forehead bears the inscription "IN NOMINE:DNI:NOSTRI:IHV:SCE:SPS:DI:ET:OMNIBVS:DECEMVS:AMEN:OSHERE:XPI".  In short "In the name of our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God:  and to all we say Amen/Oshere/Christ".

All that's known about the helm's original owner is that he was a Christian Anglian called "Oshere".  He likely had a lot of money but even if he was royalty we'd likely never know, given how short a time some of the kings of York stayed in power at this time.

Detail of the nasal bar. Makes you wonder if the guy had been wearing it rather than stashing it, if he'd have been capable of revisiting the well at some point.

The helm reminds me of a later, Romanised version of the Vendel helms from Sweden -- these were also laden with scroll work and usually had a a boar crest where the inscription on this helm lies.  As much as this was an Anglian helm, other influences are definitely apparent, which is appropriate given just how multicultural York was during this period.

As I said, it was a nice way to spend the afternoon and as a bonus, the gift shop is quite good too.  On my way out though, I couldn't help but snap a picture of this:

Now that would be a great way to spend an afternoon...  ;)

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