This sword is from CE 900s. That got a grin from the Disney representative . Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem, NTNU

Vikings conquer Disney World

Disney World wants to showcase archaeological artefacts from the NTNU University Museum for millions of Florida visitors.

DISNEY: A 9th-century sword, a magnificent drinking horn, a stunning hammer of Thor, a fearsome spearhead, fishing-related objects, and a horse rattle to keep trolls at bay and scare the enemy are all items being offered for display at Disney’s Epcot Center.

NTNU associate professor Jon Anders Risvaag with the sword found in Steinkjer municipality, which may be going on tour to the United States. Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem, NTNU

“We’ve been working with Disney for 11 to 12 years now. This is the third exhibition we’re preparing with them,” says Associate Professor Jon Anders Risvaag at NTNU’s Department of Archaeology and Cultural History, which is affiliated with the NTNU University Museum.

The new items are scheduled to appear in an upcoming show at Epcot in Florida. Epcot is a theme park at the Disney World Resort that focuses on international cultures, where Norway has its own pavilion.

Odin the warrior

The final selection of items to be loaned to Disney has not yet been decided, but a number of objects are good candidates. The 1000-year-old sword got a grin when a Disney representative recently visited the museum and commented, “I feel like I’m 11 years old again!”

Fishing hooks and a beautiful hammer of Thor are being offered for the Disney exhibit. Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem, NTNU

Risvaag says he recognizes that feeling himself.

Although he has every reason to be a bit blasé after handling many of the museum’s historical objects for 20-some years, Risvaag still gets excited when he comes across something particularly special. And now a new audience will be able to experience this excitement.

Epcot welcomes more than 11 million visitors a year. About four million of them visit the Norwegian pavilion. The space lends itself beautifully to displaying the museum items.

A sword to be included in the exhibit symbolizes the warrior Odin and is from Talsnes in Midtre Gauldal municipality. The sword is relatively solid for being over 1000 years old, which is one of the reasons it’s actually allowed to make the trip to the United States.

But Disney didn’t have carte blanche in selecting objects from the museum’s digital collection. (See them here.)

“We have some of the items on exhibit here in the museum,” Risvaag says.

The brutal spearhead offered for the Disney exhibition is a reminder that some of these artefacts weren’t used for particularly pleasant purposes, but despite this fact– or maybe because of it – they fascinate people.

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A buffalo horn, probably from the Middle Ages. Beautiful and maybe on display at Epcot soon. Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem, NTNU

Buffalo horn

The museum also has 27 drinking horns. One of the most beautiful in the collection – a decorated buffalo horn – has been made available for the exhibit. Norway imported buffalo horns for a period of time specifically to make drinking horns.

This particular horn is newer than the Viking era, probably from the period 1300 to 1600 CE. But although its history has disappeared over the years, it was made in much the same style as in earlier times.

According to Risvaag, the horn was probably made for “drinking Yule,” an expression for a midwinter festival of feasting and drinking, as related in a thirteenth–century Icelandic saga.

This horn looks like it could still be used, unlike many of the older horns that are in much worse condition.

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Hammer, fishing catch and a rattle

Another item offered to Disney is a beautiful hammer of Thor discovered northeast of Trondheim in Steinkjer municipality a couple of years ago. The object has such beautiful detail and is in such a good condition that it could just as well be used today.

The hammer of Thor, along with several objects associated with fishing, clearly represent the Norse god Thor. Thor is known for the greatest catch of all time – or at least the greatest fish story – since he caught the Midgard serpent. The serpent was so enormous that it encircled all of Midgard, the realm of human beings in Norse mythology.

The sound of this rattle was designed to scare enemies. It was attached to a horse’s harness, says Associate Professor Jon Anders Risvaag. Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem, NTNU

A metal rattle may seem benign just lying in place, but its use as described in the saga literature tells a different story. We can’t quite know how it sounded when new, because it’s probably a little too agèd to clang anymore, but we know that Vikings attached rattles to horses’ harnesses to create a sound that would scare their enemies.

A beautiful trefoil brooch from Møre og Romsdal county may make its way to the United States as well. It was packed away when we came to visit, but you can see it here.

A small bone spindle with a dragonhead comes from Dønnes in Nordland county. You can see it on this page.

Increasing interest

The exhibition at Epcot is intended to show how the Norse gods were part of everyday life for people. At the same time, the gods also had plenty in common with human beings.

“They were neither good nor bad. They could be vengeful, they fell in love with each other, and they dealt with each other – they were a lot like human beings and represented a lot of different qualities,” says Risvaag.

Risvaag praises Disney for its professionalism. The company’s knowledge and attention to safety are top notch. Items in an exhibition about Sami culture that has lasted four years will soon be returned.

The interest in Vikings and Norwegian cultural objects is also on the rise with popular TV series like Vikings and Game of Thrones.

But Disney can claim much of the credit for this increase in popularity with the great success of its film Frozen. It’s the most profitable animation ever – at least if you don’t take into account the price increase.

Last year, the “Frozen Ever After” boat ride opened at the Norwegian Pavillion. And now objects from the NTNU University Museum will soon be joining it.