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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


The Atomic Apocalypse, by the Linares family

The Atomic Apocalypse


Atomic Apocalypse

Atomic Apocalypse






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The Atomic Apocalypse is a modern installation by the Linares family of Mexico City. It was created in 1983 and is part of a Mexican tradition, which celebrates the annual festival of All Saints and All Souls with a humorous and sometimes satirical commemoration of the dead. Suspended on wires from the ceiling, above the heads of visitors, are four papier-maché sculptures, representing the four elements of the Biblical Apocalypse in skeletal form.

There are different images for each of the four.

In the centre of the installation is a globe, with the land masses painted in red ochre and fringed in green. The oceans are pale blue, with the currents picked out in darker blue. Cloud formations swirl over them, some in spiralling hurricanes. The polar caps are splashes of white at the top and bottom. Seated on the north polar cap is an almost life-size model of a human skeleton, its white bones outlined in black, its jaws gaping. It wears a crown cut out of gold paper, and a white paper cloak with grey stripes hangs stiffly at its back. In its right hand is a white missile with blue fins and warhead. In its left, a scythe with a curved silver blade. The skeleton is Death.

In its orbit, but unmoving, the three other apocalyptic curses are vividly brought to life.

Famine rides a giant locust. The locust is green, with the sections of its underbelly picked out in yellow. Its slender antennae quiver, its head, with black, segmented eyes, dips between the jointed forelegs. The powerful jumping back legs are stretched behind it. Its rider, Famine, is another white skeleton with black outlines defining his bones. He wears a tall black conical hat, like a witch's hat, and a purple cloak streams down his back. His teeth are set in a deadly grin and he holds out a loaf of bread in his right hand, while his left grips the reins of his insect mount.

The third skeleton, Pestilence, rides a giant black turkey. The bird's wings are spread and its grey, scaly legs end in vicious talons. Its pink, mottled, un-feathered neck and head are curved to strike, its yellow beak open and sharp. Seated between its wings is Pestilence, yellow bones outlined with brown. Pestilence wears a tall black magician's hat with a narrow brim and a white crescent moon on the front. His cloak ripples around him, pale and dark grey. His claw-like right hand raises a weapon, ready to hurl it down towards the globe. The teeth are bared in a ghastly laugh of triumph.

The fourth skeleton represents War. Like its Biblical counterpart, this creature rides a red horse, but this horse is a demonic fusion, with the head of a dragon. Its skin is blood red and the surface is painted with lighter red swirls so that it seems to seethe and churn like an atomic blaze. The eyes are yellow with black pupils. A spark of white makes them glitter cruelly as they stare down at the visitor. The jaws are open, showing sharp white fangs, and a long pointed tongue flickers out, like a serpent's. The beast's long mane and tail are the red and yellow of flames, flying out behind it as it gallops through the sky, its legs stretched, black hooves poised to thunder down onto the ground. War rides bareback, white bones standing out starkly on a background of scarlet, his right hand gripping a sword. On his head is a silver helmet with curving black horns. His cloak is the red-brown of dried blood. He wears a drooping grey moustache and a pointed grey beard on his fleshless skull, and lines painted onto his empty eye sockets give him an expression of savage rage.

On display: Room 24: Living and Dying