Yesterday, two totally unrelated events converged and seguéd in my mind into a grand and impossible fantasy. First was the arrival (several weeks after it was sent) of a postcard from members of the Mystery Book Club who were on a visit to England. Second was a visit to Middle Village/Station Camp at McGowan – a ‘field trip’ with the visiting Cuzzins.
A month or so ago, as the book club (in which I was a founding member and a founding drop-out) were preparing a long anticipated trip to the UK, they mentioned that York was on their itinerary and Nyel and I said (as you do to friends off on an enviable adventure), “Try to visit the Jorvik Center while you were there.
That’s over-simplifying, of course, because we couldn’t think of what the place was called – only that it was a Viking “experience” – sort of a historic Disney ride which was created back in the 1970s on the site of an archaeological dig. We had visited there in the mid-1990s and had a clear memory of the place, if not its name.
The Jorvik center came about when a factory in downtown York was demolished and excavations to the site by the York Archaeological Trust revealed the well-preserved remains of the timber buildings of the Viking city of Jorvik. In addition, workshops, fences, animal pens, privies, pits and well were discovered, along with durable materials and artifacts such as pottery, metalwork and bones – even wood, leather, textiles and plant remains. All in all, over 40,000 objects were recovered dating from about 900 AD.
After recovery of the artifacts, the Trust excavated part of Jorvik on the site, and brought the Viking village ‘back to life’ with sights, sounds, smells (including those of pigsties, latrines and a pigsty) and moving figures through innovative interpretive methods. All of it has lingered in my mind as a real-life Disneyland ride back through time.
No sooner had the postcard picturing one of the animated ‘workers’ at Jorvik arrived, than we took Cheryl and Virg to the newest of the National Parks’ Lewis and Clark sites along the river. To compare the two experiences is hardly fair but I just couldn’t help it. How wonderful it would be if ‘our’ Middle Village/Station Camp site could be interpreted by really ‘taking’ visitors on a trip back in time!
The missing ingredient to that fantasy, of course, is money – ten or twenty million dollars, or maybe more, judging by the reported investment the York National Trust made to recreate and interpret the Jorvik site. Even so, our conclusion at the end of our visit to Middle Village/Station Camp was that the interpretive signage could have been much, much better. At the very least, the information (even as limited and repetitive as it was) could have been better written and less biased.