Our first full day in Reykjavík was filled with seeing the sights, buying some sweaters, and visiting museums. On our agenda was the Settlement Exhibition, a museum showcasing archaeological ruins excavated in 2001. Whilst digging around Adalstraeti, a street in downtown Reykjavík, some of the oldest remnants of human habitation in the city were discovered. The star attraction is a longhouse dating from the tenth century and a building dating back to circa 871. Rather than moving the ruins to another location, the museum was built around the site and will continue to preserve the ruins.
The entire museum is housed in one room. In the centre is the longhouse surrounded by stories and objects displaying Viking life in Reykjavík. A beautiful panorama image runs the entire circumference of the exhibition. Similar to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, I was amazed at the integration of digital technology. Whilst there were thematic panels and object labels, they were relatively short and only gave a brief overview of the history. For those wanting further information, technology came to the rescue.
My favourite part of the exhibition was the reconstruction of the longhouse. After viewing the entirety of the ruins, visitors can enter into a small darkened side room. Inside is a touch screen and a projected image of the ruins. By moving a circle around what looks like a maze, you are able to transform the image on the screen. The ruins turn into a fully reconstructed house that you can explore. This was quite fun to play around with especially since it complemented the ruins and gave them new life.
Another piece of digital technology that was great were two touch screens near the end of the exhibition. They basically provided a lot more information on the Vikings including a timeline of their arrival into Iceland and a summary of their practices and customs. I felt it was pitched at just the right level – the information was not too basic yet not too comprehensive.
Finally, and also near the end of the exhibition, there was a huge digital touch board. On the screen was a picture of the longhouse. Sections of the longhouse were highlighted when visitors placed their palms on certain areas of the board. Short videos and information panels explained what section you had highlighted and its significance. Although not a huge exhibition space, these digital technologies allowed for more information to be disseminated.
All in all, we spent around an hour and a half exploring the museum and the digital Viking history timeline. It would have been great to see more touch screens. We saw quite a few people waiting then give up and walk away. Granted they aren’t exactly cheap!
I just wanted to quickly mention that digital engagement wasn’t the only strategy utilised. Inside one of the glass cases were two pieces of white engraved rock. The question was posed “what do you think these are?” The actual, or perceived actual, answer is unknown. Whilst this can generate some great discussion, there was no way to record or voice your answer. Unless you physically left the exhibition space to find a member of staff.
Overall, it was a very pleasant museum that provided a great overall history of Iceland in the Viking Age. Even if you don’t decide to utilise the technology, you will still leave with a solid basic idea of Iceland’s history as told through its material past.