The People of JORVIK

Who will you discover when you meet the people of JORVIK?

Step aboard our reimagined Ride Experience at JORVIK, where you’ll travel back in time to Viking-age York. Populated by a diverse array of authentic characters from across the Norse world, each person you encounter has a complex life story grounded in world-leading research by the York Archaeology team. Drawing on discoveries from Coppergate and other key Viking sites, these men, women, and children – brought to life through cutting-edge animatronics – represent over four decades of rigorous academic work, contextualizing them within the broader historical and cultural landscape of the period. Each has their own tales to tell…

Torgils the Hunter and his Dog

As you enter Jorvik for the first time, you encounter Torgils the Hunter. Hailing from Norway, Torgils greets you in Old Norse, welcoming you to Jorvik. Dressed in typical Viking fashion, he wears a woollen tunic over a linen shirt, embellished with tablet weave. His filed teeth and tattoos enhance his rugged Viking appearance.

Torgils carries a traditional English ‘D’ bow and the hare he caught for supper. His dog, about the size of a modern Alsatian, accompanies him, restrained by a chain and collar modeled on a 10th-century find from a boat grave in Uppsala, Sweden.

Dog skeletons commonly appear in pagan Anglo-Saxon graves, reflecting beloved pets accompanying their masters to the afterlife. Similarly, Viking graves often contain one or more dogs. The Tjängvide image stone, for example, depicts a dead warrior arriving in Valhalla, greeted by a Valkyrie while his faithful hound waits behind her. Like many modern English-folk, heaven would not be complete without dogs.

Hakim the Arabic Trader

The discovery of silks and a cowrie shell in York suggests trade connections with Central Asia and the Red Sea. Historical accounts, such as those by Arab scholar Ibn-Fadlan, describe 10th century Norse trading expeditions to the major Islamic center of Baghdad. To represent this intercultural contact and commerce, we have included an Arabic Trader character, Hakim, who may have journeyed to the Viking settlement of Jorvik from the Near or Middle East. Hakim carries a supply of silks that he aims to sell in Jorvik. Archaeological finds from the Coppergate site include a silk cap and a small silk reliquary pouch, further evidence of these far-reaching trade networks.

Blanda the Slave Trader and Bronach the Slave

The Vikings frequently raided the Irish coastline, seizing valuable goods that could be easily transported by ship. These spoils often included people, livestock, and precious metalwork from churches. For instance, when the Vikings attacked Howth, County Dublin in 821 AD, the Annals of Ulster recorded that “a great booty of women was carried away.” Furthermore, the 9th-century Life of Findan suggests some captives were sold as slaves in British colonies, though recent DNA studies indicate many were taken to Iceland instead.

At the wharf on the River Foss, a wealthy Norwegian slave trader shouts at his Dublin slave in Old Norse. The slave master Bronach is ordering his slave Blanda to disembark the newly docked trading ship. Bronach’s expensive attire and jewelry clearly contrast with Blanda’s simple clothing, reflecting their stark difference in status and wealth.

Grummi the Blacksmith and Svein his Son

On a bench outside his home, the blacksmith Grummi teaches his ten-year-old son Svein how to sharpen a newly made knife. Their use of Old English shows that they have lived in Jorvik all their lives.

Archaeological evidence from Coppergate highlights the smith’s importance in Viking society. Excavations uncovered around 220 knives, hone stones, needles, nails, and intricately crafted padlocks, all made by local smiths. Inside the house, Grummi’s wife Inga prepares supper over the hearth.

The detailed research on iron artifacts from Coppergate demonstrates the wide range of products manufactured by the smiths who lived and worked there. All other crafts and industries in Viking society relied on the smiths to provide essential weapons, tools, fixtures and fittings.

Eymund and Karl the Fishermen

By the wharf, two fishermen discuss their day in Old English, indicating they have lived in Jorvik all their lives. Karl laments his poor catch and needs to mend a broken net. Eymund sympathizes as he guts a fish. This fisherman is one of two reconstructions based on actual Viking-age skulls on the ride.

Samples from the mid-9th to early 10th century found at Coppergate show Jorvik’s impact on local fish stocks. Remains include eels, pike, perch, salmon, trout, smelt, and carp. By the end of the Viking period in York, two-thirds of the samples were herring. Few other marine fish reached the city as local river fishing increased, leading to more pollution.

Asgerða the Loom Weaver

In one of the reconstructed timber houses, a woman named Asgerða hums as she works at her loom. Asgerða wears a linen hangerok (a type of dress) and an underdress, with a cap covering her hair.

Across Coppergate, spinning, weaving, and dyeing took place within homes. Scattered among the building plots were shears, wool combs, and spindle whorls used for spinning woolen thread. Based on the many sheep lice found during excavations, wool was likely cleaned inside the houses.

The early looms were warp-weighted, using fired-clay loom weights. These were later replaced by two-beam vertical looms introduced from abroad.

The people of York dyed their own textiles, using plants like madder, dyer’s greenweed, and woad to produce reds, greens, blues, and yellows. They may have also used flax (vegetable fibers) to weave white linen for undergarments, which they then finished using the glass linen-smoothers found at the site.

Mord the Leatherworker

Mord, Jorvik’s skilled leatherworker, diligently sews together the pieces of a shoe at his Coppergate stall. We can see he is also selling his wears of shoes and scabbards. Unfortunately, Mord suffers from Dupuytren’s Contracture, a genetic condition also known as “Viking’s disease,” which hinders his work. This disorder, more common in middle-aged men, has caused his fingers to become clawed and impaired. Reportedly, the condition originated with the Vikings and spread across Northern Europe as they traveled and intermarried.

The leatherworkers of Jorvik produced a variety of footwear, including simple slip-on shoes as well as laced boots and shoes secured with leather straps or toggles. During the Coppergate excavation, archaeologists uncovered a highly unusual and remarkably well-preserved single-piece leather shoe. This distinctive design, featuring a central sole section with the sides folded up around the foot and then sewn together, has not been found elsewhere in Britain, suggesting it may have been brought by a foreign trader or slave.

Leoba the Woman with a Crutch

At the end of Coppergate you can see an older inhabitant struggling to cross the road while using a crutch. Leoba is around 46 years old and is based on the analysis of one of two human skeletons found at Coppergate. She has a range of defects in her hips, legs, spine, ribs, shoulders, knees, hands and wrist. This creates a picture of a small middle-aged woman with a pronounced limp using a crutch due to a genetic problem with her right hip.

Leoba was found in a shallow pit close to the River Foss. Due to later ground works her legs are missing. She was possibly buried towards the edges of a group or in a cemetery outside the excavation area. She may have been an outcast since we found no other burials in the area.

Analysis tells us that she was robustly built standing at 5 ft 2in (s.1.59m) but had a degenerative joint disease. Through isotopic analysis of the lead, strontium and oxygen levels in her bones and teeth we can tell where she grew up and her diet. Based on these findings we know that she was not originally from Jorvik. She likely spent her childhood by the coast, probably South-west Norway or the Northern tip of Scotland.

Loðan the Priest

In one of our houses, a priest administers last rites to a dying woman as her grieving husband watches. The first Vikings who arrived in Britain were not Christians, worshiping their pagan Norse gods instead. However, they quickly converted to Christianity. Evidence suggests a Viking-era church stood behind Coppergate, and many other new churches were built in Jorvik during this time.

Loðan wears a simple alb, superhumeral, and woven belt. He has a maniple with an embroidered cross over his arm and a stole around his neck, signifying his priestly status. A small, pink silk reliquary pouch hangs from his belt, based on a discovery in the remains of a building. The embroidered cross implies it once held holy relics that have since disappeared, leaving their contents a mystery.

Ragnar the Storyteller

In our final house, Ragnar, a skilled storyteller, recounts the Völuspá, the first and best-known poem of the Poetic Edda. This ancient Norse poem tells the story of the creation of the world and its impending demise at Ragnarok. As Ragnar speaks, he conjures vivid images of serpents, whirling stars, and wolves, all set against a backdrop of evocative music played on harp and panpipes.

The rich traditions of saga-telling, music, and poetry are deeply rooted in Scandinavia and Iceland. Archaeological evidence from Coppergate reveals how Vikings in these regions may have spent their leisure time, including the discovery of musical instruments, board game pieces, and ice skates. Most notably, a syrinx, or panpipes, made of boxwood was found in a 10th-century pit – the only known example of such an instrument from the Viking era. This five-note scale, ranging from top A to top E, suggests the possibility of an even more elaborate original design with perhaps seven tubes.

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