Images of hairy savages with horned helmets have been ingrained in the national psyche since the Vikings staged their first recorded lightning raid on the undefended monastery of Lindisfarne in June AD793. The Vikings have had a bad press ever since.
But a new Liverpool-based environmental project, ecoVikings, is working to completely revamp their image by celebrating the green credentials of the invaders.
EcoVikings is part of a project run by transport operator Merseytravel, the UK partner of the EU-supported Climatlantic project, and is touring schools this month, aiming to raise young people's awareness of green issues and help them reduce their carbon footprint. Archaeologists from Big Heritage have been brought in to highlight today's big issues by linking them to Britain's "awesome" past.
The Vikings had some of the greenest credentials in history, building houses with turf-insulation roofs, harnessing wind and wave power, and producing some beautifully crafted items by recycling things as varied as pilfered treasure and old cow bones. We are hoping to encourage children in Merseyside to "live like a Viking" and become more environmentally aware.
The centrepiece is a full-sized, 16ft-long oak and larch reproduction of a Viking boat, inspired by the recently discovered Ardnamurchan boat burial in Scotland. Handcrafted in traditional "clinker" style, the boat features an authentic Viking steerboard and sail. The boat is a great reminder of how the Vikings mastered the wind and waves to power their lifestyles - something that is now firmly on the UK's green energy agenda.
Children are encouraged to pledge to change one aspect of their behaviour, from turning off lights to walking to school. Encouragement comes in the form of a "mean but green" ecoViking, who swaps pledges for gifts such as woollen bracelets and replica Viking pennies.
"EcoViking" (also known as Steve) is a Hiberno-Norse warrior who was cast out into the Irish Sea from Dublin in the 10th century and forced by the god Odin to drift for 1,000 years as punishment for stealing silver. He was offered a reprieve, however, when the gods agreed to return his loot in exchange for encouraging 21st-century Anglo-Saxons to change their polluting ways.
Towards the end of last year, the ecoVikings team visited the Museum of Liverpool, giving more children the opportunity to meet EcoViking and his boat. We hope to offer more activities like this again this year.
And EcoViking and the team will soon be available for additional UK school bookings. We also offer free videos and useful resources, so you can run your own Viking-inspired eco-activities.
Dean Paton is an archaeologist and managing director of Big Heritage, a social enterprise that uses British history and archaeology to tackle current social issues. For more information visit www.bigheritage.co.uk
Try rubyshula's Viking-friendly resources, including Viking history and activities. bit.lyVikingFriendly
Are humans in charge of the world? How can everyone contribute to the worldwide debate on the environment? Discuss these questions and more with A Short History of the Environment, a documentary from BBC Class Clips.