Will Burnham

Will studied for a BA in History and Archaeology and an MSc in Archaeological Materials at the University of Sheffield. He has worked with both commercial archaeology units as well as voluntarily around the UK and internationally in Iceland. His areas of academic interest include Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian material culture, and experimental archaeology. He joined the Jorvik Group in February 2015 as a Visitor Experience Host.

 

Valhalla Touring Exhibition

Valhalla - In Search of the Viking DeadI was thrilled to be able to work on one of the Trust’s resilience projects. The Valhalla Project is a travelling installation exhibiting Viking artefacts and remains.

My responsibility which I shared with Faye Greer was to locate many of the objects needed for display from our archaeological Resource Centre and create themes and narratives for each of the cases to be displayed. There are many thousands of boxes of artefacts at the Centre so we had to find an effective way of getting to the finds we needed. Using the existing digital database we narrowed our search extracting possible Anglo-Scandinavian finds and created an excel document IMG_0479of artefacts we wanted to consider for display. York Archaeological Trust have worked on hundreds of sites around York and farther afield, and there were thousands of possible artefacts we could have considered, however sorting through all this information would not have been practical. We therefore decided to concentrate on a few sites such as Coppergate and Hungate from the centre of York where we knew many interesting finds had been unearthed. We wanted to show many of the objects Vikings used day to day, processes for creating these objects as well as typical grave goods. Once we created the short list we had to individually assess each object’s suitability for display. We looked at objects of various materials including iron and non-ferrous metals, bone, antler, leather and even rare textile objects. It was decided that I would concentrate on the iron and non-ferrous objects as I specialised in this during my masters and that Faye would look at bone, antler and textiles.

A Viking longship and grave goods within the Valhalla Exhibition In most cases it was impossible to assess the quality of the finds from the database alone so the next stage of the project was to locate each individual object, and examine it. This allowed us to whittle down our list of objects to a more manageable quantity. Many of the objects were too delicate or not fit for display and physical examination allowed us to condense our list down, taking photos of all the objects we thought fitting. I have to admit this was a particularly exciting part of the assignment. Not knowing what I was about to find and being able to handle delicate artefacts not usually seen was a fantastic opportunity. I was particularly surprised and amazed by the quality, complexity and variety of Viking keys. There was a massive variety and some were as complex as modern ones!

Once we had our shortlist we had to create themes for how to present each case. Whilst we had had some initial ideas before we started we had to wait to see the quality of the artefacts available. There were also a number of other considerations, the cases that we were to be displaying in, their size and dimensions, certain materials require specific environments. Iron for instance cannot stand high humidity The Valhalla Exhibitionwithout causing corrosion so we needed to keep these objects well protected. With all these restrictions in mind we sized out the shape of each case on a table and came up with multiple ways of displaying the objects. Alongside the objects themselves I wrote small descriptive plaques to be placed along side. This was particularly challenging. Attempting to get a continuous tone throughout the cards whilst making the information concise and interesting was a challenge. It took multiple redrafts and a lot of consultation of various academic sources and fascicules to balance content and accessibility.

Throughout I was delighted to be able to work with Anglo-Scandinavian finds from York Archaeological Trust’s collection. I would not have been able to do any of it without the guidance and advice of the staff at the Archaeological Resource Centre. Their help allowed me to further my knowledge of collections management and handling in a meaningful and practical way. I hope to be up there again soon and look forward to seeing the Valhalla Exhibition on display soon!