Faye is currently a second year student studying BA History at the University of York, and has worked for YAT since May 2014 (She actually began working whilst still studying for her A-levels at the Joseph Rowntree School). Faye used to volunteer for York Museums Trust as part of their Hands on Here! section, where she displayed WW1 and WW2 biochemical weapons and protection. Faye has a particular interest in the Late Medieval/Early Modern period, although she says that she does find the Viking period fascinating!
In Search of Valhalla
I work for the York Archaeological Trust as a Visitor Services Host, so my two week secondment at the Trust’s Resource Centre was a pleasant change. Not only was I given the opportunity to see our collection and handle 1000 year old finds, but also meet colleagues, interns, and volunteers whom I was unlikely to have met in my usual role.
During my secondment, my primary role was to assist Matt Thompson’s selection and presentation of the finds that will be displayed in our touring Valhalla exhibition. My first task was to select a large number of finds from Periods 4a to Periods 5b (the late 9th century to mid-11th century), which were discovered during the Trust’s excavation of 16-22 Coppergate between 1976 and 1981. The Valhalla exhibition aims to showcase life and death within Viking-age York. Therefore, we not only selected finds that were just aesthetically pleasing, but also finds that had a practical use within Viking life, and finds that had been worked or discarded as waste. This allowed us to, eventually, mock up cases that displayed the craftsmanship within Jorvik (with the transformation of bone, antler tine, and metal ore into their finished products), Jorvik’s international trading network, and the goods used within Viking burials.
It was mocking up the cases where we faced our most difficult challenge, because we had to narrow down the hundreds of finds we had selected into, approximately, three dozen! At this stage I began to truly appreciate the care and complexity that goes behind the creation of displays, because it was not as simple as choosing which finds look best in which position, but thinking about the conservation needs of each find, and their needs in relation to the other finds they were being displayed with. Subsequently, we sadly needed to put aside some of our favourite finds, as they were unable to be displayed. Personally, my favourite case was our bone and antler processes case, as it contains some beautiful antler combs and a tiny bone skate that belonged to a toddler!
My final task was to use the Trust’s database (IADB) and numerous catalogues to discover as much information regarding our selected finds, and Viking-age production methods in order to write the labels needed for the display. Perhaps, the most interesting method of these was the production of antler combs, as the amount of painstaking detail and precision involved in creating these ornate objects is astounding.
Valhalla has been challenging, educational and very interesting. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with my colleagues in the Finds team, who have taught me so much, and I hope to get involved with similar projects in the near future!