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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


Bark shield

Australian bark shield

Face of shield

Back of shield

Back of shield

From Botany Bay, New South Wales

Length: 97 cm
Width: 29 cm



Collected on the first voyage of
Captain James Cook (1768-71)

AOA Q78.Oc.839

This bark shield has been identified, reasonably convincingly, as having been collected in 1770 on Captain Cook's First Voyage in HMS Endeavour (1768-71). It is, to date, the only Australian artefact in the British Museum that has been ascribed to the voyages.

The shield has very few distinguishing features, but these do seem to tally with a contemporary illustration and description. The naturalist Sir Joseph Banks wrote in his journal: 'Defensive weapons we saw only in Sting-Rays [Botany] bay and there only a single instance - a man who attempted to oppose our Landing came down to the Beach with a shield of an oblong shape about 3 feet long and 1½ broad made of the bark of a tree; this he left behind when he ran away and we found upon taking it up that it plainly had been pierced through with a single pointed lance near the centre.'

Such a hole, close to the handle, is visible on this shield. There is also a sketch by John Frederick Miller dated 1771, after the sketch by Sydney Parkinson, the Endeavour's official artist, which depicts a shield with a hole in it, just like this one.

On display: Enlightenment: Trade-Discovery