Scholars, archaeologists and other experts from Europe and North America will arrive over the next week to take part in the 17th Viking Congress.
The event, which begins on Sunday, will take place largely in Mareel, with additional visits to historical sites and places of interest throughout the week.
Well over 100 delegates from outside the isles will be in attendance, together with another 30 local representatives.
The Viking Congress is an international conference usually held every four years, either in Britain or one of the Scandinavian countries. The very first congress took place in 1950 in Lerwick Town Hall, and this is the first time it has returned to the islands since then.
According to chairman Jimmy Moncrieff, it is “a tremendous honour and privilege” to be hosting the event again.
The visiting academics will “present the very latest research on the Viking world,” said Mr Moncrieff, with a variety of themes forming the backbone to the event. The themes chosen for this year’s congress are “Shetland in the Viking world”, “mapping the Viking world”, “Viking identities and traditions”, “Viking islands” and “Viking homelands”.
“We’ve been planning it now for a couple of years” said Mr Moncrieff. “It’s a major undertaking. It’s probably the biggest international conference that’s been held in Shetland for a very long time.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for Mareel. It’s too big for the museum alone. There’s 120 delegates coming from outside Shetland; there’s another 30 local delegates. So we needed the main auditorium in Mareel for it to work. We’re doing it between the two centres [Mareel and Shetland Museum and Archives]. It’s a very good partnership arrangement, and it’ll be a good pilot to demonstrate that we’re capable of doing these sorts of things.”
Mr Moncrieff explained that the programme for the week is extremely diverse: “There’s 70 different speakers and it’s very wide ranging – there’s something for everybody there. Unfortunately the whole thing is not open to the public … But there is a full day of public lectures on the Sunday, and that’s the stuff that’s of more popular appeal anyway, and we encourage folk to come and see that.”
Sunday’s public event includes lectures on “death and wealth in Viking age Shetland”, “Norway in the family sagas” and “Gotland and the eastern connection”, about the Norsemen’s journeys into Russia. The day will conclude with a lecture by Dr Patricia Sutherland about her recent discovery of a Norse settlement on Baffin Island in Arctic Canada. This is only the second such settlement to be found in North America, and is a hugely important event. Mr Moncrieff described this particular piece of research as “dynamite stuff”.
Overall though, he said, the congress was “very much about putting Shetland firmly on the Viking map”.
“It’s quite appropriate because we were the first [place to host] the Viking Congress. So it’s really tremendous. There’s been a lot of developments since that first one. And it’s a tremendous opportunity to showcase Shetland to all these visitors … So it’s just fantatic I think.”
The public event on Sunday begins at 8.45am.