Tuesday, 6 June 2017


Exhibition poster
It is thirty-seven years since I went to the great Viking exhibition at the British Museum (and again when it came on tour to the provinces and I saw it in York). At the time the display was hailed as groundbreaking as it presented the Vikings in a less war like manner. In those days the Viking settlement of Coppergate in York was still being excavated and the visitor experience was several years away from opening.

Viking exhibition catalogue, 1980
Now there is a new touring exhibition in York and I am eagerly anticipating my planned visit for Saturday. I went to the museum today to see if I could acquire a copy of the exhibition catalogue ahead of my visit but, unlike in 1980, there is no catalogue for this current show.

Coppergate wood & oyster shells from the Viking waste pits
There seems to be a resurgence in the study of history of Viking Britain and archaeology, and this, combined with the contemporary documentation, has located the winter camps of the micel here, or great army, as it swept through Britain; 871/2 London, 872/1 Torksey (Anglo Saxon Chronicle “Her nam se here wintersetle oet Turcesige”), 873/1 Repton, 874/5 by the Tyne. The last of the camps, the one of the winter of 875/6’ is thought to be on the outskirts of York, a site in the literature known as “Ainsbrook”, a portmanteau name made up from the names of the detectorists who initially located it, or also “Arsny” an acronym of a riverine site north of York.

Ainsbrook finds
The winter camps are not just military establishments entirely garrisoned by men; they are, apparently, functioning mixed gender settlements becoming a hive of economic activity if the preponderance of recovered weights is anything to go by. It would appear that the weights would have been used for, amongst other things, weighing the hack silver and gold, the cut up and sometimes remelted remains of precious metal that includes dirhems, silver coins from the Arab world.