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Virtual reality Vikings: First immersive experience of Viking world revealed

Posted on 17 May 2017

Researchers at the University of York have re-created the sights and sounds of a Viking army camp using a specially-designed virtual reality mask.

Working with the Yorkshire Museum’s digital team, academics from archaeology, electronics and interactive media created immersive views of life on the camp, including ships being repaired on the shore, Vikings’ melting down stolen loot and playing games, manufacturing and trading.

The ‘Viking World’ will feature as part of a major new exhibition, Viking: Rediscover the Legend, at the Yorkshire Museum in partnership with the British Museum from Friday 19 May – Sunday 5 November 2017.

Visitors will be able to wear a specially-designed virtual reality mask, created by a team from York’s Digital Creativity Labs, to see what life was like in a Viking camp in Torksey, Lincolnshire, in the winter of AD872-873.

Historical debate

The exact location and scale of the camp has been debated for years, but researchers at the Universities of York and Sheffield have revealed it was likely at least 55 hectares in size - bigger than most towns and cities of the time.

Here, thousands of Vikings, including women and children, set up temporary camp as they waited out the winter months preparing to conquer vast swathes of England.

Dr 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.”

Real objects

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.”

Over 1000 archaeological finds were discovered 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.

Authentic audio

An accompanying soundtrack and authentic conversations in a mixture of Old English and Old Norse are also included in the experience.

Dr Damian Murphy, at the University’s Department of Electronic Engineering who developed the soundtrack, 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 wellbeing. 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.”

Further information:

  • For more information about the exhibition and the Yorkshire Museum, visit: The team will be running a series of events to help audiences go ‘behind the scenes’ and understand how the virtual reality scenes were built.
  • Virtual reality scenes were designed and created by a team including Dr Gareth Beale (Department of Archaeology), Dr Guy Schofield (Department of Theatre, Film and Television) Dr Jonathan Hook (Department of Theatre, Film and Television) and Dr Nicole Beale (Department of Archaeology). For more information about the Digital Narratives for Archaeology Project (DiNAR), visit: 
  • An accompanying soundtrack was created by Dr Damian Murphy, Lewis Thresh and Kenneth Brown from the AudioLab at the University of York’s Department of Electronic Engineering.
  • Exhibition conversations in a mixture of Old English and Old Norse were translated and voiced by Dr Matthew Townend at the University’s Department of English and Related Literature, and several of his students from the Centre for Medieval Studies.
  • To read more about the research visit: ‘The Winter Camp of the Viking Great Army, AD 872-3, Torksey, Lincolnshire’

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