For Utahns, the new “Vikings: Beyond the Legend” exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah should be more than a casual stop between the dinosaurs and the lapis lazuli.
Given Utahns’ special interest in family history, the exhibit may give attendees a chance to return to their roots. Nearly 1 in 7 people in the state identifies as Scandinavian-American, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, making Utah the state with the fourth-highest percentage of Scandinavian-Americans.
That, in fact, is part of the reason why museum directors chose to bring the exhibit to Utah. The exhibit, which was co-produced by the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm and MuseumsPartner in Austria, previously toured in cities throughout Australia, Europe and North America. Salt Lake City is the fifth and final U.S. city on its itinerary.
“This is our special exhibition gallery,” said Patti Carpenter, the Natural History Museum’s public relations director. “We look to bring a variety of high-quality interactive exhibits to the state, so we’ve brought anything from horses to chocolate to Vikings. We just felt like there were a lot of Scandinavian folks here in the state.”
This summer, museum attendees can discover if they are among the 14.9 percent of Utahns with Scandinavian ancestry. In July, the Natural History Museum of Utah will bring in representatives from Family Search to help museum-goers research their genealogy.
Even casual guests, though, will learn plenty about Vikings from the exhibit. For one, they’ll find out they didn’t really call themselves “Vikings.”
“That’s the 19th century construction of the time,” said Sophie Nyman, the director of the Swedish History Museum. “They would rather call themselves something like ‘Thor from Westfold.’ The area where you grew up or had your community. You wouldn’t call yourself ‘Viking’ or say you were from Scandinavia.”
Viking, said senior curator Lena Hjell, wasn’t something people were; it was something people did.
“You went out to go viking,” she said. “You wanted to have some more wealth and money, so you’d go away trading to get stuff (to bring) back home.”
The exhibit will take guests thematically through the Viking period, which occurred roughly between 750 and 1100. Attendees can browse eight themes highlighting early Scandinavian home life, religion, craftsmanship and business. The exhibit is interactive, and guests can build a virtual boat, test the balance of a sword and play a Viking strategy game that predates chess.
The Natural History Museum of Utah has planned several festivals and events to run concurrently with the exhibit. More information about events can be found at the museum’s website.
“Vikings: Beyond the Legend” will run until Jan. 1, 2018.
If you go
What: “Vikings: Beyond the Legend”
Where: Natural History Museum of Utah, 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City
When: May 27-Jan. 1, Thursday through Tuesday, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.
How much: $9.95-$14.95