Vikings conquer Disney World

Disney World wants to showcase artifacts from the NTNU University Museum

A man holding an ancient buffalo horn, which may be one of the Viking artifacts at Disney World.

Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem / NTNU
This buffalo horn, probably from the Middle Ages, may soon be on display at Epcot.

Steinar Brandslet
NTNU Gemini

A ninth-century sword, a magnificent drinking horn, a stunning hammer of Thor, a fearsome spearhead, fishing-related objects, and a horse rattle to keep trolls at bay and scare the enemy are all items being offered for display at Disney’s Epcot Center.

“We’ve been working with Disney for 11 to 12 years now. This is the third exhibition we’re preparing with them,” says Associate Professor Jon Anders Risvaag at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)’s Department of Archaeology and Cultural History, which is affiliated with the NTNU University Museum.

The new items are scheduled to appear in an upcoming show at the Epcot theme park at the Disney World Resort in Florida. Norway has its own pavilion there.

Odin the warrior
The final selection of items to be loaned has not yet been decided, but a number of objects are good candidates. The 1,000-year-old sword got a grin when a Disney representative recently visited the museum and commented, “I feel like I’m 11 years old again!”

Risvaag says he recognizes that feeling himself. Although he has every reason to be a bit blasé after handling many of the museum’s historical objects for 20-some years, Risvaag still gets excited when he comes across something particularly special.

Now a new audience will be able to experience this excitement. Epcot welcomes more than 11 million visitors a year. About four million of them visit the Norwegian pavilion.

A sword to be included in the exhibit symbolizes the warrior Odin and is from Talsnes in Midtre Gauldal municipality. The sword is relatively solid for being over 1,000 years old, which is one of the reasons it’s actually allowed to make the trip to the U.S.

But Disney didn’t have carte blanche in selecting objects from the museum’s digital collection. “We have some of the items on exhibit here in the museum,” Risvaag says.

The brutal spearhead offered for the Disney exhibition is a reminder that some of these artifacts weren’t used for particularly pleasant purposes, but despite this fact—or maybe because of it—they fascinate people.

Buffalo horn
One of the most beautiful of the museum’s 27 drinking horns—a decorated buffalo horn—has been made available for the exhibit. Norway once imported buffalo horns specifically to make drinking horns.

This particular horn is newer than the Viking era, probably from the period 1300 to 1600 C.E. But although its history has disappeared over the years, it was made in much the same style as in earlier times. According to Risvaag, the horn was probably made for “drinking Yule,” an expression for a midwinter festival of feasting and drinking, as related in a 13th-century Icelandic saga.

This horn looks like it could still be used, unlike many of the older horns that are in much worse condition.

A hammer and a rattle
Another item offered is a beautiful hammer of Thor discovered northeast of Trondheim a couple of years ago. The object has such beautiful detail and is in such good condition that it could just as well be used today.

A metal rattle may seem benign just lying in place, but its use as described in the sagas tells a different story. We can’t quite know how it sounded when new, because it no longer clangs, but we know that Vikings attached rattles to horses’ harnesses to create a sound that would scare their enemies.

Increasing interest
The exhibition at Epcot is intended to show how the Norse gods were part of everyday life. The gods also had plenty in common with human beings.

“They were neither good nor bad. They could be vengeful, they fell in love with each other, and they dealt with each other—they were a lot like human beings and represented a lot of different qualities,” says Risvaag.

Risvaag praises Disney for its professionalism. The company’s knowledge and attention to safety are top notch. Items in an exhibition about Sámi culture that has lasted four years will soon be returned.

The interest in Vikings and Norwegian cultural objects is on the rise with popular TV series like Vikings and Game of Thrones.

But Disney can claim much of the credit for the increase with the great success of its film Frozen. Last year, the “Frozen Ever After” boat ride opened at Epcot’s Norwegian Pavilion. Objects from the NTNU University Museum will soon be joining it.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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