6th April 2001 at 01:00
LOOKING FOR VIKINGS CD-Rom. National Museums of Scotland pound;19.99. LINDISFARNE GOSPELS CD-Rom. The British Library pound;9.99.

There is no shortage of resources to help pupils study the Vikings, but the Looking for Vikings CD-Rom deserves serious consideration. It is well organised with a logical structure. The main menu divides the disk into key areas - Images of the Vikings, Raiding and Trading, Ships and Death. From here on it starts to show its real value. It is easy to navigate and the language is accessible to younger pupils. This is a particularly worthy achievement because the content is grounded in impressive research and sound methodology.

The CD-Rom's creators have drawn on research and evidence from Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland. These areas were key elements of the Viking world; realms such as the Orkneys and Dublin often fail to get the attention they deserve in studies of the Vikings. The constant references to evidence are impressive and welcome.

There are fascinating analyses of Viking games, cup handles, ornaments and many other objects. Just as fascinating are the descriptions of how experts have used these objects to work out what Vikings looked like.

Pupils using this disk will also see what experts think about Viking beliefs, the technology of their ships and the question of whether Vikings were rabid pirates or misunderstood traders.

Perhaps ost interesting of all, the creators have put their hands on a collection of 19th-century representations of Vikings and encouraged users to question where these interpretations came from and how far they are supported by the evidence. It's powerful stuff, particularly because the evidence behind the statements is referenced and explained. Just as importantly, the CD takes care to explain how the evidence was used to reach those conclusions. It all makes for an interesting, accessible and impressive resource.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is stunning. If you do not have the opportunity to see the original at the British Library, this CD-Rom is well worth the money. The Turning The Pages technology alone is worth a look. As the CD-Rom starts you are presented with the book's cover. The format allows you to turn the pages on screen and see the astonishing illustration and decoration. You will be transported back to the lives of the monks in their cells on Holy Island, and left marvelling at their depth of vision, artistry and faith.

It's difficult to see this as a curriculum resource, but as a counterpoint to the traditional views of the early medieval period as the "Dark Ages", it has its uses. Maybe its primary value would be as a resource for students of art and art history. Certainly the extensive and authoritative notes would inform teachers and pupils.

Ben Walsh

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