The sights and sounds of a Viking army camp have been brought to life through state-of-the-art virtual reality at the Yorkshire Museum in York.
Visitors will be able to see what life was like in a Viking camp in Torksey, Lincolnshire, in AD872-873, as the Vikings waited out the winter months preparing to conquer vast swathes of England.
A virtual reality mask has been created by researchers at the University of York working with the museum’s digital team.
Academics from the archaeology, electronics and interactive media departments have created immersive views of life in the camp, including Vikings repairing ships on the shore, melting down stolen loot and playing games, manufacturing and trading.
The Viking World is part of a major new exhibition, Viking: Rediscover the Legend, in partnership with the British Museum, which runs from tomorrow until November 5.
Gareth Beale, research fellow at York’s Centre for Digital Heritage, said: “Virtual reality allows us to engage with the past in entirely new ways.
“Using CGI technology we were able to produce a series of vignettes of Viking life which enable people to immerse themselves in archaeological interpretation. They can look around and explore the world as archaeologists believe it existed.
“The masks themselves are beautiful things, they are inspired by Viking design and style but also by seaside telescopes and toy 3D viewers. They invite users to put on the mask and step into the Viking world.”
The exact location and scale of the camp at Torksey, which included women and children as well as warriors, has been the subject of academic debate, but researchers at the universities of York and Sheffield have revealed it was probably at least 55 hectares, bigger than most towns and cities of the time.
More than 1,000 archaeological finds have been made at Torksey, including more than 100 Arabic silver coins, which would have come to the area through established Viking trade routes, and more than 50 pieces of chopped-up silver, such as brooch fragments.
Professor Julian Richards, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: “These extraordinary images offer a fascinating snapshot of life at a time of great upheaval in Britain.
“The Vikings had previously often raided exposed coastal monasteries and returned to Scandinavia in winter, but in the later ninth century they came in larger numbers and decided to stay. This sent a very clear message that they now planned not only to loot and raid – but to control and conquer.
“All of the virtual reality scenes visitors will see are based on real objects found by archaeologists and metal detectorists at Torksey.”
The virtual reality images are accompanied by a soundtrack and conversations in a mixture of Old English and Old Norse developed by Damian Murphy, at the University of York’s Department of Electronic Engineering.
Dr Murphy said: “Our research explores efficient implementation of plausible virtual acoustic scenes in the context of architectural design, environmental soundscape and creative audio applications.
“This work can be applied to virtual reality for entertainment and digital heritage projects, as well as applications for health and well-being. For this project we were able to combine research into virtual reality and digital heritage with fieldwork in archaeology, to create a very unique experience for museum visitors.”
This is a great example of how virtual reality can contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage. With the help of virtual reality people can explore different monuments/areas of the past (the Viking’s camp in this specific case) like they were really there. Due to the full immersion that virtual reality offers, the feeling of Presence (a field that is studied by the Thematic Area 4 of the ViMM project, alongside with Storytelling and Gamification), is enhanced offering a very realistic virtual experience to the people.