The Vikings in Cincinnati

Despite the construction and fences surrounding the 84-year-old Union Terminal, its iconic architecture was still as grand as ever. For a moment, the Art Deco style of the museum lobby took me back in time to the height of the Jazz Age. But as I stepped off the elevator and into the exhibit hall, I would soon be going much further back in time; thousands of years, in fact, as I experienced a glimpse of life through the rich culture of the Vikings era.

Upon entering a dimly lit room, a slender, soft-spoken museum curator guided us to have a seat as she told us a little bit about the exhibit. I could hear the enthusiasm roll of her tongue as she spoke about the Vikings, sharing some brief history while also excitedly noting it was the largest exhibit the Cincinnati Museum Center had ever had.

We stepped into the next room, still dim but surrounded by lit, glass display cases full of millennium-old artifacts. A wooden boat in the corner caught my eye and I immediately gravitated toward it. It was slender and shallow and smelled of oak. Though only a replica, I found it interesting how the craftsman used the same tools, materials and techniques that the Vikings would have used to recreate it. Naturally, everything was handcrafted piece by piece; no saws or heavy-duty tools were used.

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I wandered through the exhibit, carefully examining each artifact and developing my own inferences and conclusions. The main point I noticed was how surprisingly advanced the Vikings culture was.

From modern-style belt buckles made of iron to ornate hair combs made of bone/antler and bronze, I was astounded by the contemporary tools that dated as far back as 750 CE. Their colorful, beaded and intricately designed jewelry looked like something I might wear in today’s 21st century.

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As I made my way into the next section of the exhibit, I was overwhelmed by the vast space that greeted me. While the first portion primarily consisted of smaller artifacts, I had no idea I would get to witness firsthand just how magnificent the Vikings culture was with their expansive longships that sailed across the seas.

One of the most unique replica ships was the “Ghost Ship” represented in 3D solely by the boat’s original iron rivets hanging in meticulous form, showing the shape of the boat.

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However, by far the most breathtaking display was the massive 122-foot Roskilde 6, the longest Viking ship ever discovered, originally built in 1025 CE. That’s nearly a third of the size of a football field.

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The expansive ship was displayed with a metal frame, with wooden boards strategically placed throughout the ship where they likely originally laid. Only about a fourth of the nearly one-thousand-year-old wooden ship remained. Sadly, the panorama photo (above) does not do the enormous ship any justice.

It was so difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that something so large, so magnificent, could be built by only human hands — and parts still survived the course of a thousand years.

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