Re-imagining JORVIK

First visitors to the re-imagined JORVIK Viking Centre

First visitors to the re-imagined JORVIK Viking Centre

JORVIK Viking Centre, based on our excavations of Viking age Coppergate, re-opened on Saturday, 8th April 2017, 16 months after closure due to flooding; on time, on budget and having raised almost £1.25 million towards the £4.5 million rebuilding costs.

Over the opening weekend alone JORVIK welcomed almost 4,000 visitors - all keen to experience the newly re-imagined sights, sounds and smells of Viking-age York. From the outset we were determined to see our disaster as an opportunity to refresh JORVIK, introducing new themes and research collected since our last refurbishment in 2000.

In the introductory gallery, we have again partially reconstructed the Coppergate excavations underneath a glass floor, but used even more realistic theming to portray the damp soil conditions and embedded some of the 1,000-year-old timbers, to recreate the walls of the Viking houses. To provide further information memories, images, videos and memorabilia of the original excavations are projected on to the gallery walls, creating an immersive ‘scrapbook’ that introduces our visitors to the importance of the archaeological work and offers a starting point for investigating the Viking city.

The introductory gallery focuses on the 1970’s Coppergate excavations that uncovered the remarkable Viking remains presented in the centre.

The introductory gallery focuses on the 1970’s Coppergate excavations that uncovered the remarkable Viking remains presented in the centre.

The reconstructed Viking streets are the best known element of JORVIK and were largely destroyed by the flood.

Now our visitors go back in time, using images and sounds, to be welcomed into the Viking city of Jorvik by a hunter speaking Old Norse, with his dog growling and the smell of damp ancient forest.

Arab silk merchant visiting Jorvik from the eastern Mediterranean

Arab silk merchant visiting Jorvik from the eastern Mediterranean

In total, we have 22 new animatronic people and 12 new animatronic animals. Each character speaks Old Norse, Old English or Old Irish and each costume has been handmade using colours, trims and accessories based on archaeological evidence. All of the animal breeds are based on detailed osteological and environmental research.

Travelling into Jorvik, visitors see traders occupying the wharf, including a silk merchant from the eastern Mediterranean and a slave trader from Dublin. Away from the riverside, visitors encounter craft workers who left their mark on the city, such as the antler worker, blacksmith and pole lathe worker.

Pigs, rats, cats and replicas of many of the objects found in the Coppergate excavations add depth to the experience, which is also enhanced by new smells, sounds of Viking-age voices and glimpses inside the houses.

Visitors can view 3-dimensional images of some of the objects seen within the city on new screens that have been added to each seat in the ride capsules. This new technology has added 15 languages to the ride, plus a children’s version, an audio descriptive version and closed captions. Each capsule is also now equipped with a hearing loop and we have also improved accessibility for the wheelchair accessible capsule.

Visitors travel around our recreation of Jorvik in capsules, meeting real Vikings along the way!

Visitors travel around our recreation of Jorvik in capsules, meeting real Vikings along the way!

At the wharf we have added a new dimension, with ‘live’ Vikings appearing on the boat pulled up from the river. Our interactive staff have all been trained to speak in Old Norse and Old English, conversing with themselves and the visitors as they pass by.

Figure based on woman’s skeleton found in the original excavations

Figure based on woman’s skeleton found in the original excavations

On Coppergate itself, visitors can now see, hear and smell the bustling market street as never before - a potter, leatherworker and food seller all vie for attention. At the end of the street we have created an animatronic figure based in detail on one of only two complete Viking-age skeletons found within the Coppergate excavations. The skeleton of this woman can also be seen later in the galleries.

A new theme has been introduced at the end of the ride, exploring the importance of music, saga-telling and poetry in the Viking world. For this scene, we recorded a number of musical pieces played by specialists in ancient music (this can also be explored in an interactive display in the galleries). By a hearth a storyteller enhances the music, recounting an Old Norse poem (from the Poetic Edda) that tells the story of Ragnarok (the end of the world), while animations from the story shoot out of the fire.

This gives a flavour of some of the developments on the new, extended ride around Jorvik that now takes 16 minutes, (previously 13 minutes) and has been enhanced by new sights, sounds and smells creating a richly detailed cityscape, which we hope visitors will want to explore again and again.

The refurbished galleries incorporate 28 new cases, over 800 objects, new and enhanced security and environmental monitoring and a series of interactive stations. Themes are explored through stunning new displays of the objects, succinct panels and informative labels. All of this material is enhanced by our team of costumed Viking hosts, who populate the galleries, exploring and explaining the objects to our visitors.

The new artefact galleries display over 800 objects including objects on-loan from the British Museum and other institutions, meaning that there is always something new to see in JORVIK.

The new artefact galleries display over 800 objects including objects on-loan from the British Museum and other institutions, meaning that there is always something new to see in JORVIK.

The display of three human skeletons enables the exploration of diet, disease and migration. The skeleton of a woman found in Coppergate is interpreted via a touch screen using data compiled by an archaeological study and CT scans by York Hospital.

Newly commissioned stained glass panel derived from a 12-century manuscript, showing the arrival of the Vikings

Newly commissioned stained glass panel derived from a 12-century manuscript, showing the arrival of the Vikings

Other interesting elements in the galleries are two specially commissioned art works: a stained glass panel, created by York Glaziers Trust, based on an illustrated manuscript image from the Life, Passion and Miracles of St Edmund (AD 1130) that shows Vikings arriving by boat; and a carved copy of a Viking age stone cross from St Andrews Church in Ryedale, completed by the Minster Stoneyard, which shows us how these crosses would have looked when newly carved 1,000 years ago.

Our fourth re-imagination of JORVIK since the centre opened in 1984, we hope that it will spark visitors’ imaginations and encourage them to explore and discover more about the past.

Supporters include:

  • Arts Council - £283,095

  • Wolfson Foundation - £250,000

  • Garfield Weston - £250,000

  • LEP - £100,000

  • Charles Haywood Charitable Foundation - £50,000

  • Ready to Borrow Grant Scheme (ACE) - £50,000

  • Yorventure - £31,191

  • The Hobson Trust - £20,000