OREN FALK: I'm very happy again to introduce Neil Price, professor of archeology at Aberdeen University for the second of three messenger lectures. So you'll have one more chance to catch him tomorrow. And he'll actually be talking again on Friday on a different topic. I'll advertise that tomorrow.
Back in 2007, when Aberdeen University was renovating itself, it had the brilliant idea of starting up a new archeology program and endowing a chair in early Medieval archaeology and picked just the right person to fill that chair. As we'll see today in Neil's talk about life and afterlife, dealing with the dead in the Viking Age, there's both a lot of material culture and in Neil's hand, also a lot of what happens between people's ears and not just in the materials they handle.
NEIL PRICE: Thank you, Oren. And once again, thank you all for coming. And I'd like to say what a very, very great pleasure it is to be here, here at Cornell. Before I say anything else, can you hear me all right? We turned the volume up a little bit. Is that all right to hear? If you have a problem hearing what I say or I start to mumble or something, just put up a hand and I'll try to speak more clearly. OK?
I'm going to dim the lights, so feel free to sleep. There you are. Well, yesterday I looked at the worlds within which the Vikings understood themselves to move and also at the rather weird and wonderful beings that they believed shared those worlds with them. And as Oren said, what I want to do today is to move very firmly into the world of the living. Though I want to do that by looking at how the living dealt with the dead.
And for archaeologsists-- you know I'm an archaeologist-- the evidence of funerals, of mortuary ritual, is one of the best ways of accessing those ancient views of the world that I'm interested in-- ideas about mortality, about the nature of life and death. Because each excavated grave has the potential to preserve the material remains of those beliefs. And for the Viking Age, we have a really marvelous potential to do that.
You might remember, those of you who were here yesterday, throughout my talk then, I emphasized how I was going to be focusing on stories and the importance of stories and storytelling in the Viking mind. This is a theme I'm going to maintain through all the lectures, and today is no exception. And I want to start today's talk also with a story. But unlike the mythological tales that I was talking about yesterday, this one has a very different basis. It's a story that comes purely from archeology, from things that we actually dug up from the Viking Age itself. So it's very securely dated. We can go back to it. We can look at all the bits and pieces and put it together many times.
And it concerns something remarkable that happened over 1,000 years ago on the banks of a Norwegian fjord. We're going to this place down here near the entrance to the Oslofjord in southern Norway. Here's Oslo, the capital. Here's the site we're going to be looking at. And it's called Kaupang. It just means market. So it tells you what it's for.
Here's what it looks like today on the little Viksfjord, an inlet at the mouth of the Oslofjord-- as you can see, gently sloping soils reaching up to low woodland behind. This is what it looks like today. But in the Viking Age, the water level was a bit higher, which meant the water was deeper. You could get deeper draft ships in there, which makes it ideal for a trading community. So this is a little market where ships were coming from all over the Baltic and further afield.
And it would have looked something like that. So you have rows of little booths and shops and warehouses along the water's edge with jetties going out into the water. And if you go down to the water's edge, you'd have seen something like this, a rather bustling trading community. But this isn't what I'm going to look at. I'm going to take us just outside the edge of this picture to look at the cemeteries that surrounded Kaupang. Obviously like any settlement, people died occasionally. And they buried their dead in burial mounds around the edges of the settlement and on the islands around it.
I'm going to be looking at one grave in particular, or rather several graves. And it calls into question-- you'll understand what I mean in a second-- what a grave actually is. For us, it's a rather simple concept. A grave is where you bury someone who's died. But when we look at the little story I'm going to tell now, I think you'll see why the concept of the grave itself is much more difficulty to define at the time of the Vikings.
This one begins rather simply in the late 9th century. This is the late 800s. We have a man buried very simply on his side in a grave with a few of his possessions. He's dressed in his clothes. He has a blanket drawn up over his legs, as if he's asleep. And that's about it. Not terribly spectacular. It has its own intrinsic interest, but in a wider sense, not very remarkable.
What's really fascinating is what happens next about 50 years later when a 27-foot boat is buried exactly on top of him, which means apart from anything else, they remembered where his grave is. The keel of the boat is exactly aligned with his body. And inside this boat are four people and several animals. So let's look at that a little bit more closely.
If we go first to the prow of the boat, there's a man and a woman buried, as you can see, head to head like this. They've got pillows. They're laid out on blankets. They're very well-dressed. And the woman, bundled at her hip, has an infant, a baby. And the woman's hand is resting on the child's head.
They have all sorts of objects around them, different household items. I don't want to say too clearly that such and such an object belongs to the man or belongs to the woman because we don't know. They're laid around them in the boat. If you look at the man up here, he's surrounded by weapons. He has a sword. There's some spears, axes, and three shields. And also things laid around on those objects.
So on this shield laid flat, you've got a series of nested bowls. You probably can't see the detail here, but on the scabbard of his sword are a number of spindle whorls that you use for spinning thread. They've been placed very carefully along the line of his sword. So everything you see here is very deliberate. Nothing about this is random. They haven't just thrown a lot of stuff into a boat.
And then if we move [? a midships, ?] to the center of the boat, we find a horse that's been treated rather unfortunately. It's been decapitated and also dismembered. So they've taken off its limbs. And then they've tried to reassemble it in roughly anatomical position. This was excavated quite a long time ago in the 1950s. So the records are not that complete, but it seems there were other animals around as well, especially birds, though we don't know exactly where they are in the boat.
But if we move towards the stern just behind the horse, we have a dog. And the dog too has been very roughly treated. I'm sorry to be a bit gross about this, but the Viking Age is not for the squeamish, I'm afraid. So I hope you don't go pale or anything. But the dog has been kind of pulled apart. Its front legs are missing. Its back legs have been sort of moved out of their original position.
And then if we go a little bit further back, right into the stern, we find a second woman who is sitting up in the stern of the boat. And from the position, she seems to have the steering ore of the boat in her hands. She's dressed in a very unusual costume made of leather-- which is very unusual in the Viking Age-- with quite wealthy jewelry, things like that. As you can see, she has a shield propped up behind her. On the deck next to her-- you might just be able to see here-- is an ion staff under a rock.
Now I'll talk a little bit about those staffs tomorrow. But just for now, I can say this is a type of object that's often been associated with a Viking Age sorceress. So it implies that she's some kind of a witch, perhaps. And then on her lap is a big bowl. And in it is the head of that dog that was down here.
Well, you might reasonably ask, what on earth were they doing on the banks of a Norwegian fjord in the early 10th century? You have a burial of four people in a boat, itself placed on top of another grave a few decades old. We can ask are the man and woman a couple with their child or not? What relationship do they have to the woman in the stern? How did they all come to die at the same time? Are we talking about some kind of illness or something more deliberate?
Who owned all these things? Who owned the animals? Who owned the objects? Who owned the boat? How much does that relate to the people in that grave and the people who made it? I think one thing is really certain, and that's that this does not resemble any kind of funeral that's familiar to us. And we'll be revisiting graves that look a little bit like this several times in this lecture.
I said just now that the events leading up to the creation of this grave were remarkable. But in a way, what's really striking about them is that they're not really remarkable at all. In their uniqueness, they're in fact rather typical of the infinite diversity of Viking Age burial rituals. No two graves are the same. And I'll give you some examples of that in a second.
When we move through the whole of not only of Scandinavia but that vast region that we looked at very briefly at the beginning yesterday, through which the Vikings moved, we find this enormous variation in burial ritual. Again, no two graves are the same. There are about half a million known graves from the Viking Age. We've excavated is a few tens of thousands. I say we-- no it's not we. All the work I've done for years. This is over a very long period of time-- lots of people, of course.
But we've got about a few tens of thousands of excavated examples. And broadly speaking, they do fall into some basic patterns. With a few exceptions, the people of Viking Age Scandinavia either burned their dead-- they cremated them-- or they buried them in graves. There's some geographical patterning. In Sweden, we find almost only cremations. In Norway and Denmark we find a mixture of cremations and inhumations. There are few exceptions, but broadly speaking, that's what it looks like.
But beyond those basic structures, that's where the variation begins. If we look at the exterior, the external appearance of the cremation graves, the most common form we find is the burial mound, the barrow, a big earthen mound piled up on top of the burn remains of the dead. And you'll see from these in Norway, they're very visible. You can't miss these things. You know where your dead are buried. They can be of varying size. The lowest ones are barely visible at all, so sticking this much above the ground. The very biggest are something like three times the height of this room-- very, very big indeed.
You find them on their own, in small clusters, maybe 10 or 15 burials, and on a sliding scale all the way up to cemeteries of thousands. This is the Swedish town of Birka. This is the area where the town is. This is the town cemetery. And in oblique light in the snow, you can see all these mounds. If I could somehow expand this image on the same scale, the cemetery, if you follow the light, continues sort of like this-- so thousands and thousands of graves.
And these burials can be marked by stone settings with raised stones in circles around the edges of the grave or on top of them or on the sides, in pretty much any pattern you can think of to make with raised stones. Some of them are very regular like this. Others appear to have no discernible pattern they draw-- lots and lots of different permutations.
You also find a single standing stones like this one here without any decoration and others like this on the Baltic island of Gotland covered in carved pictures. You can see how elaborate this burial monument is. To give you an idea of its scale, if I stood next to it, I come up to about there. So these are very spectacular pieces.
If we look at the inhumations, where they bury the body of the dead, again, an immense variation-- all sorts of different kinds of graves full of objects buried with the dead. To give you some idea of how varied they can be, this is an example from Gotland. This is that island with the picture stone that I showed you just now. One might also reasonably ask what on earth is going on here. You have a very young man buried with his fingers clutching a spear. We didn't quite dare to reconstruct it like this, but I think the spear might be in his throat. And laying over him is an old man with a stone on his feet. And the young man has a stone on his stomach. And you could make of that what you will because we don't know.
I won't leave this on the screen very long. This is a particularly unpleasant one from Birka, a woman buried with very, very rich clothing. This is not a poor person at all. As you could see, her head has been removed. So has her lower jaw. And instead of her lower jaw, we have the lower jaw of a pig up here. And you could speculate what that might mean as well.
Here we have a chap from Denmark who's been buried face down with lots of rocks on top of him. And if you think this seems, well, disrespectful, this is perhaps treating someone who's been bad or whatever, we also find grave goods, objects, buried with the dead even in graves like these. Some of them can be very complicated. This double grave from Ordrup in Denmark, you have a woman here with lots of very large rocks on top of her. Next to her is a spear. She has a knife and various other kinds of things. And then on the other side of the grave, you have a man rather squashed up to get him in the grave, with very simple clothing. Very strange gestures, both of them have one hand behind them on their buttocks and the other hand between the legs. Whether this means anything, we don't know. But again, these are very, very deliberate graves. You can see that nothing that I've shown you is random. There must be meaning behind all of this.
And we find the buried dead in all kinds of containers. They could just be laid in the grave or wrapped in shrouds or in coffins or in boxes. You may find that strange. There's a number of really quite alarming graves from Gotland where you have people buried in a rather sort of relatively normal way. And then at the foot of the grave is a box about this big. And inside it is another person sort of folded up. I imagine it's a bit like packing your suitcase. [INAUDIBLE]. Very odd.
And sometimes in the bodies of wagons, this is what you see here. Wagons in the Viking Age, you could lift off the cradle part tat you load it up with things, made it much easier to unload and load it again. So you can just lift it off the cradle of the wagon itself. And sometimes we find these wagon bodies used as coffins for women of very high status. So this woman is buried in one of those wagon bodies. You can see how curved it is here to take the cargo.
We also find coffin boxes. That's a term that I've invented because I can't think of anything better. This is not actually a coffin. It's too big to carry. But it's something like a coffin that's constructed in the grave with a wooden floor and and wooden walls, so much bigger than a normal coffin. And in this example, the women in it is laid out is if she's asleep in a bed with a pillow and blankets and lots of objects.
And we can find something very similar made of stones, the same kind of idea. This is a variant we find in Norway, where the dead person is laid out on mats of birch bark that have been unrolled. And then the dead person laid out on them, but the same idea as those coffin boxes.
They may find chamber graves. These are quite literally underground wooden rooms. You can see they can be quite big. But the very biggest ones, if one corner was here, they'd stretch something to about here maybe in a square. It takes an awful lot of effort to make one of these. They're about six, seven feet deep. You could get a lot into them.
We find them mostly, apparently dug in the summer-- very difficult to dig one of these in a Scandinavian winter. Though occasionally we find winter objects like crampons, the things you put onto your feet to stop you slipping, which implies that they were digging these in the winter as well. This reconstruction is rather bare because it focuses on things that have been found in an excavation. But when we do have exceptional preservation conditions, we find that these cambers can be completely full of things that normally decay because they're made of wood or leather or perishable items, including, of course, food. This gives you all you need to go wherever it is you're going.
And in them, you can find the dead, again, in all kinds of body positions, just as we have with the inhumations, in this case, a woman laid out on her back with objects all around her. In some of the deeper chamber burials-- rather common, actually-- we find the dead sitting in chairs. This is particularly common at that town that I showed you, the one under the snow with all the thousands of burial mounds. And in that case, the burials always of women sitting in chairs are positioned so that as they sit in the chair, they look out towards the center of the town. So wherever they are around the edges of the settlement, they're looking back to the place they've come from.
Lots of different kinds of things in these graves. This woman has a pile of blankets. There's a sort of foot stool, dressed in all kinds of splendor. These particular women are both wearing dresses woven with gold and silver thread. They would've shimmered as they moved, very spectacular things.
Then we can move to burials you've certainly heard of, the famous ship and boats burials of the Vikings. The ones that we tend to focus on are the burials in ocean-going vessels, the great long ships themselves. But actually, we find people in any kind of the vessel that would float-- small rowing boats like this. We find them in dugout log canoes and sometimes in graves that are just shaped like boats but don't have a boat in them.
Other times we find bits of boats, just a few planks laid out along the side of the grave. It references a boat but actually isn't one. And then we find things that just look like boats, boats shaped out of standing stones like this. And in them, these black dots here, we find spreads of chromated bone. They can be buried in the middle, around the edges, at the ends, outside, or just the stones themselves, so very complicated things.
And some of these monuments are very spectacular indeed. Here you can see one on the cliff top, in Skane. This is the ship setting of [? Ales ?] [? Stenar. ?] And these little dots you can see here are people, which gives you an idea of how big this thing really is. This is the size of a real long ship, one of the biggest.
And what I've shown you here is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many others. But I've given you the basic outer forms of the burials. So we've looked at, perhaps-- what is it-- about a dozen different kinds of burials. What gets really interesting is when you go inside them and see exactly what is in each chamber grave or each burial mound or each boat or whatever. Exactly what are they doing for this grave?
What I'm putting on the screen now is one of those pieces of work that's very simple to present. It's just a map. But the amount of effort that's gone into creating this is absolutely vast. It's the work of an archaeologist called Johan Callmer who has gone through the museum archives of every museum in Scandinavia, describing the details of the burial rights from the Viking Age and mapping them. And what you see in this map, every dot on there-- and if we could zoom in on these particularly dense areas of settlements, the dots start to separate out-- every dot represents a different burial custom. In other words, this variation is absolutely total. This map pretty much represents the settlement pattern of Viking Age Scandinavia, focusing on the arable soils, the rivers, and so on. So you have this regional and local variation down to the level of individual villages and even within that to individual graves-- tremendously varied. And of course, the main question is what does that mean?
One of the difficult things about this is the way in which archaeologists have tried to approach this question. Traditionally, we've been analyzing burials as collections of things. You've seen all those reconstructions that I showed you. The graves don't just have dead people in them. They're full of objects. And we call them grave goods, the cargo that's been sent off into the next world, perhaps with the dead person.
And traditionally, we find archaeological reports that describe graves in terms of dead woman perhaps with and then a list of objects. She's got one of these, three of those, and so on, which is all very well, but when you think back to those illustrations I've told you, it tells you very little indeed about what they actually did at that funeral. Because what you really need to get to is the-- and I've put inverted commas around them-- the rituals, the ceremonies, that accompanied all of that. That's what we're really interested in, what went on at a Viking funeral. How did those things that we see in the graves come to look the way they did? In other words, a sequence of actions.
And when you go into the archeology in detail, you can often get that sequence. You can see which things are on top of other things. If you have something particularly large, it had to put in either very early or very late. You can trace sequences. You can start to map out what is going on. So if you combine the two, then you can start to get back to what is really going on inside those graves.
And I'd also just stress a little bit, the reason why I've shown you so many reconstructions-- and I'll show you some more as well-- is that really, that's what we're trying to get back to. We're not trying to look at archaeological drawings and technical sketches of where things are in the graves and photographs of excavations. We're trying to get back to what was there originally. I will show you some excavation pictures. But it's this original aspect of the burials that we're trying to get to.
So that's a brief look-- an initial look-- at the archeology. Do we have any other ways of finding out what actually went on at a Viking funeral? And the answer is yes, we do. We're fortunate in having an absolutely unique eyewitness description of a Viking burial. Those of you who've worked with medieval studies in any form will be very familiar with this. But even for people who read this before, I hope to be able to add something to it. For some of you, this may be completely unfamiliar.
What we're dealing with is this man, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan who was a soldier sent as part of a diplomatic mission from the caliph in Baghdad. And he was sent very far to the north to the town of Bulgar which is on the Volga River. It's at the point where the Volga bends as it turns into the steppe. And I'll show you a map in a second.
And this was a mission sent out on partly diplomatic, partly religious grounds, a kind of mission that we can recognize from today's diplomacy, actually. He's essentially trying to reach trade agreements with this power up in the north. While he was there in 922, he meets the group of merchants from Scandinavia who've come from the west and the north to trade because they're also interested in the mercantile possibilities of this place, Bulgar.
Ibn Fadlan gets to know these people. He shares their food. He's inside their buildings. He spends a lot of time with them. And one of the things he does is write a sort of report on his mission in a document called the Risala, which you see down here. And this is why we know about it. The Risala has become famous today and very important for Viking specialists because of an event that happened while Ibn Fadlan was with the Scandinavians on the Volga.
One of their chieftains died. And he writes, "I'd heard that the funerals of these men are very spectacular, so I decided to have a look." And we're very glad that he did. It's not just any funeral. It's, as I said, a funeral of one of their leading men. And it involves the burning of his body in a long ship, so a really spectacular event.
This just sets the scene a little bit. This is where we're talking about, at Bulgar in the heart of the steppe. You see where we are here. Here's Scandinavia. Here's the Mediterranean. So Ibn Fadlan has journeyed to the north through the empire for Khazars to here, and the Scandinavians have come down the river systems along the Volga there.
Ibn Fadlan's account of this ship burial is very long. I can't possibly give it to you in enormous detail, but I can draw out some of its key points. As I do that, I'm going to show you some images from archeology, not the archeology of this place, but the archeology of other places in the Viking world that is an exact match for what he's describing. Sometimes the things that we find in the excavated graves are so close to what Ibn Fadlan is describing they could be the same thing. It really makes the hair rise on the back of your neck when you read this thing and you see through his eyes.
The first thing that happens is that this burial is so complicated, it's so difficult to put together, it takes such a long time to do all the things that they need to do, that they have to find something to do with the dead man while they get on with the funeral. So they have to start by giving him a temporary burial. And we've been found these in the archeology. This is a site from northern Iceland called Littu-Nupar. This is after the excavation has removed all the objects. Here is a place where a boat has been. And next to it is a temporary grave that seems to have some kind of post-construction over it, and we can see from this [? sutrigraphy ?] this is the sequence of the layers inside the grave that this was occupied for a very short space of time. Then the person in it was exhumed and you can match some of the objects and things and was transferred into that one, exactly what Ibn Fadlan describes.
But even this temporary burial is not just a hole in the ground. The dead man is put into it, in Ibn Fadlan's account, with three things. He's put in with food, alcohol, and a musical instrument, which sounds very much like something to pass the time with while he's waiting for the burial. It implies that he's in the grave active in some way. And he's buried in the clothes, the temporary burial, in the clothes that he died in.
And what follows then are 10 days of preparations. This is a 10-day funeral. And I think we should see it that way. It's not 10 days of getting it ready for the big day. I think the funeral itself is that process and perhaps going on after it as well.
One of the things I should say about Ibn Fadlan's account is that it's in Arabic. And there are very, very few Viking specialists, certainly including me, who can read Arabic. None of us can do it, really. So we're very much reliant on secondhand translations. In the last couple of years, though, there's been a renewed attempt to get to grips with Ibn Fadlan's text. And it's brought out a lot of details, very precise wordings, that he uses that I think give us some really remarkable insights into what he saw.
One of the things that is happening in these 10 days of the funeral is the manufacture of special clothes for the dead man to be buried in. And the implications of this are quite alarming for archaeologists because we tend to reconstruct the life of the Vikings from the stuff that's in their graves. But if that stuff is made to go in the grave-- so that's a bit worrying, isn't it-- but it also tells us something about what they're doing for the burial. And what you see here are two reconstructions, very accurate as far as we know and rather magnificent, of the high status male clothing that's come out of graves. The one on the left is from a ship grave [? from ?] Vendel in Sweden. And the one on the right is from a big chamber grave of Mammen in Denmark.
So one of the things that Ibn Fadlan says is that they spend a third of the dead man's money on making these special clothes. And the quality of the clothing that he describes-- he describes in great detail the furs, the gold, and so on-- we're talking about someone being buried in the cost of a farm or more. This is not everyday wear. It's an enormous investment. It's important what these guys are dressed in as they go into the grave.
Another third of the dead man's money is spent on alcohol. And when you imagine that this man is one of the leading men of his community, that's a lot of alcohol. We find drinking horns and glasses in the graves. These are actually examples from England, mainly because the ones we got from Scandinavia are not particularly photogenic, I'm afraid, but never mind. We find buckets with traces of mead inside, up to 200 liters. I'm afraid I don't know what that is in gallons. It's about 400 pints, something like that, 300 pints. It's a lot, anyway. There's a lot of alcohol in these graves.
There's a kind of stereotype that's attached to Ibn Fadlan here. A lot of people have interpreted-- they interpret his description as a party and then linked that to the cliches of the Vikings. Here they are, these serious Viking raiders up for a good time that we'd expect. And it's not like that. His description, when you get into it in detail, he's actually rather uncomfortable. People are drinking and drinking and drinking for 10 days. He says sometimes people die from drinking at these funerals. This is not about enjoying yourself. These are people getting into a distinctly different frame of mind.
And one of the things that is very rarely considered when we look at the archeology, we kind of assume that these things are created by people who are sober. And that may not have been the case at all.
This may have been part of what a Viking funeral was. So a third of his wealth spent on this. And throughout these 10 days of preparations, everybody is drinking. Everybody is eating. And it seems that very large numbers of people are having sex as well. Ibn Fadlan mentions this with a degree of scandal. The whole community is involved in this funeral.
At the same time, one of the dead man's slaves volunteers-- and we don't know to what degree this really is volunteering-- but she supposedly volunteers to be sacrificed as his funeral and accompany him into the next world. And all the while this is going on, the dead man's ship is being prepared for burning. It's been drawn up onto the beach on a huge pile of logs. This is one that obviously wasn't burnt from Oseberg in Norway.
Some of you have asked me about the picture that I've got as a title page at the beginning of the lectures. That's a reconstruction of this boat as it was buried. But I'll talk about that tomorrow. Never mind. But this is the kind of ship we're talking about. And they prepare it for burning.
Ibn Fadlan goes on to say that the man is placed in a special chamber, like a room, built in the middle of the boat. And here's one from another ship burial. This was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century. You can see it's an old photograph. And you can see the gunnels of the boat here and then this wall there, and they're making this chamber in the middle of the boat.
And Ibn Fadlan has this wonderful description. It really is an eyewitness account. He says, it looked like a tent made of wood. And this is that same grave chamber reconstructed. And that's exactly what it looks like. And we even know what Viking tents looked like because there was some in this grave. These are their tent poles. There's a pair of these at either end. You mount these with a wooden frame at the base and then put canvas on top, and it would've looked exactly like that, in other words, exactly as Ibn Fadlan described.
The dead man is then placed sitting up on a bench surrounded by cushions. I think he might be asleep, actually. We're accustomed to lying down when we go to sleep. The Vikings sat up in bed. Their beds a very short. Measure from this side of the lectern to perhaps about here. You sit up in bed with lots and lots of cushions behind you and go to sleep like that. So when Ibn Fadlan says that he sits inside here, I think he might be asleep.
At this point, they also start to fill up the chamber and the decks of the ship around it with objects. I don't have time to get into them all now, but it's the dead man's weapons. It's food, lots of other kinds of things. In a very precise sequence-- first they did this, then they bring that, then they bring things that smell nice. Then they neighboring flowers. Then they bring food. Then they bring drink, and on, and on, and on.
And while they're doing this, people are singing, and moving around, and chanting. And frustratingly for us, Ibn Fadlan says, I have no idea what was going on. Damn!
Also at this time, and this is where it gets gross again, I'm afraid. Forgive me. Large numbers of animals are being killed in very precise ways. This is a reconstruction of a ship burial excavated from Ladby in Denmark. In Ibn Fadlan, they kill two horses in a very particular way. They run them until they're blown and lathered and covered in sweat and tired. And then he says two men attack them with swords. And this is often translated with the words for slaughtering animals when you kill animals for food. But if you go to his Arabic in detail, he uses the words for fighting. In other words, this is not that kind of gesture. These guys are really hacking at these animals with swords.
And I'm sorry to be gross again here, but I think it's important to bring in what we might call the audio visuals. You don't do this quietly or cleanly. So when we see these Viking ships reconstructed in the museums, they don't look as clean and tidy as that. Think of the blood. Think of the smell. Think of the flies and all the rest of it. These are very, very dramatic immediate events.
And if we go to the archeology, at some of those ship burials I just showed you-- Oseberg, Gokstad-- that's the one with the chamber. But Oseberg, there are 13 decapitated horses. Gokstad, there are 15 horses. You find in one of them there's a heap of seven dogs. You can't do this to these animals in a way that is tidy. And if you start trying to decapitate one horse, the other 13 are going crazy. These are not funerals as we would think of them today-- very, very dramatic.
They also involve other animals. There's cows. Horses I've mentioned, dogs. In Ibn Fadlan's account, birds are very important. They pull birds to pieces and then throw the pieces in different parts of the grave, to one side of the ship and then the other side, very, very complex actions.
While this is going on, the slave woman that I mention who volunteered to be sacrificed, is going around the tents of the men of the camp, and there are a lot of people here. And she's having sex with each of the men in turn. And again, this is not anything to do with any normal context that we might think for that action. After each of these acts, the man in the tent shouts out so everybody can hear, "Tell your master I only do this out of duty." And this is going on all the while while they're killing the animals, filling up the boat, and so on.
This slave woman then performs a very complicated series of rituals. She's lifted up on the hands of the men to look over a structure that's been erected in the open air. He says it looks like a door. And she looks over the top of it into some kind of unspecified other place. And she has visions and said, when she's lifted up over the door, "I can see paradise. I can see my master. I can see my family." She talks about what she sees in this other world.
Finally, she enters the ship by walking on a staircase made at the hands of the men. So they stand in a line with their hands like this. So she walks up their hands onto the deck of the ship. There the dead man's closest male relative, six men, first rape and then strangle her at the same time as a woman, who's been directing all of these proceedings, a kind of funeral director, stabs the slave to death. And this, again, is something we have in the archeology.
I'll just give you one example, but there are very many. On the Isle of Man-- this is an offshore islands to the west of England-- We find in some ways a rather typical burial of a young man surrounded by weapons, laid out in a grave with a mound over him. That's fairly normal. On top of a mound is the skeleton of a 20-year-old woman who has been killed with a blade striked to the back of the head. This is her skull. And her body is then covered with a very thick layer of cremated animal bone.
This is a lot of animals-- several [? cat ?] cows, several horses, dogs, and other things. So they're burning these animals somewhere else and then covering her body with a layer of animal ash and then sealing that inside another mound that encloses the first one. And we find several of these kinds of sacrificial killings or executions or whatever you want to call them, in connection with Viking burials.
A particularly odd and very unpleasant aspect of this-- and again, these are the kinds of things we have to get into to reconstruct these funerals-- as you can see, the very large piece of her skull that is missing here really is missing. They remove it from the grave. And then in other sites-- I'm not making a connection between the two-- but other places, for example, Ribe in Denmark, we find pieces of human skull from the back of the head that have presumably been carried away from somewhere else. This particular one has a hole drilled in it so it can be suspended perhaps as a pendant and in ruins has the name of Odin inscribed on it. So it gives you an idea of the reality behind what Ibn Fadlan is describing.
To go back to his account, when the slave has been killed, the boat and its occupants and all this fabulously rich clothing and all the amazing things they put on this boat are set on fire. The process itself is very dramatic. Again, the closest male relative to the dead man approaches the boat backwards. He's completely naked. Ibn Fadlan says he takes great care to keep all the orifices of his body-- his nose, his mouth his ears-- turned away from the boat. And as he's backing towards it, he covers his anus with his hand. In other words, I think he's afraid of something coming out of that boat and going into him. And as he approaches the boat, he then puts in the first torch. And when he's lit the pyre, then everybody else can approach it. And it's somehow safe to do so. And they throw tortures onto it. Sorry to flippant.
This thing you see here, this is from a Viking festival that's held every year up in Scotland. We do this all the time in Scotland.
But it also is linked to the archeology. For example, here's a reconstruction of the ship cremation from Myklebost in Norway, where a massive long ship, bigger than any that we've excavated in any preserved way, was set on fire. And the remains of 54 shields have been found that were strung along its sides, a really enormous ship cremation.
After that, finally, when the ashes get cold, as he says, they raise a mound over what's left, and they put a post in the top on which they carve the name of the dead man and the name of his ruler. And again, from the archeology, we find post constructions around graves. They're starting to come up more and more now. Other things here, this is the main grave.
So it looks like in different parts of the Viking world, they're putting up freestanding posts or little shelters or roofs or even buildings around graves. So you get this constant emphasis on the grave as a place to go back to. And that's something that I'll talk about rather more tomorrow.
And this whole 10-day process, as Ibn Fadlan describes it, is accompanied by music and singing and people coming to and fro from the grave. So I think by now you understand what I meant at the beginning by questioning, what is a funeral? What is a grave in the Viking context?
And I have to emphasize that what I've just told you is the brief version. Ibn Fadlan's account to the burial, this is a 19th century Polish attempt to reconstruct it with all the different things I told you about squashed into one, a bit sanitized, but there you are. This is one of those romantic visions of it. Ibn Fadlan's account is pretty laconic. And if I were to just simply read it to you, it would take pretty much the whole lecture, so enormously detailed.
We know that Ibn Fadlan is describing the burial of an elite, someone important, someone with a lot of money, someone with a lot of money to spend on their grave. And the burials of people like this are much easier and more accessible for us to interpret because they leave more things for us to think about than the kinds of burials you find for regular people. But even so, there are patterns to be discerned. There's information to be got from all of these graves.
And in one way or another, they are telling us something. This is a point I know I've repeated several times, but there is nothing random about these graves. You've seen it in the archeology, in the reconstructions, in Ibn Fadlan's description, very, very deliberate. They know what they're doing.
So what we have when we look over the range of Viking burials is a finite repertoire of outer forms. And I've summarized those for you-- burial under mounds, in chambers, in boats, in those coffin boxes, as cremations, and so on. But within that, Viking funerals were almost infinitely varied. When we're talking about tens of thousands of excavated examples, and presumably all the other ones that we haven't excavated, the big question, of course, is what does that mean?
These are clearly complicated, intricate events. They last a long time. We have that from Ibn Fadlan's account but also we look at the archeology-- you simply can't do these things fast. And in some of the cases, you find environmental evidence that the bodies themselves have been lying in [? state, ?] we might say, for quite some time, certainly days after death, which implies, again, that these things are taking their time. So you have this variation within a finite range of forms and very clear evidence, both archaeological and textual, for complicated events, complicated sequences of actions. What does that mean?
Well, you know that all through yesterday's talk and today's, I've been emphasizing this idea of stories. And what I'd like to leave you with today is the suggestion that when we see these archaeological documented examples, when we see them reconstructed like this, when we look at the textual descriptions of people like Ibn Fadlan-- and there are others, just not quite as detailed-- there are also descriptions of burials from the Icelandic sagas, even some of the poems that we've mentioned yesterday, I'd like to put it to you that these funerals are themselves stories. There must be a narrative to all those actions, to all those sequences of events.
We know that it must have meaning. And if it's a coherent, sequential meaning, I think they're telling a story. And this is a literally dramatized story. They're acting it out, because they're doing it. This isn't a theme for a funeral. It is the funeral.
And those stories, presumably, concern the dead. They presumably, I think probably rather more likely, concern the living, because it's the living who are making them. And that's the idea that I want to pursue a little bit tomorrow. I also want to extend this to the individual in the Viking Age.
I've been talking about a range of examples. I want to bring this down from the first lecture where we looked at the shape of the worlds, this lecture where we look at how people are dealing with the dead, to the final level of the individual person and their place in this Viking mind, again, pursuing this idea of stories and seeing how that plays out, firstly in burials, then back into the settlements, and finally down to the individual person in the Viking Age. And I hope you can join me then. Thank you.
You asked about the explanation of the example with the four people and so on. I will talk a little bit-- not specifically about that grave, though I might mention the symmetry again tomorrow. I think it's very hard to-- this is prefiguring a little bit what I'm going to say tomorrow. But it's very hard to get a detailed answer to each individual grave. With a few exceptions, I don't think we're ever going to be able to do that. But I think we can get into the general ballpark of what they're talking about in those stories, what kind of things they're referring to, and particularly the idea of a continuing story from one grave to another within a cemetery and presumably within the community that created that cemetery.
If you don't mind, I'm going to leave it there because that's what I'm going to talk about tomorrow.
OREN FALK: Madam?
AUDIENCE: What happened if the weather didn't permit these elaborate funerals when the person died?
NEIL PRICE: You asked me about what happens if the weather impacts on the funerals, and so on. The simple answer is we don't know. When we have seasonal weather, so winter conditions, there are some graves which are very roughly made. Well, they represent what happens if you try to dig in semi-frozen ground. You can't get straight lines and so on. The earth is fragmenting. So we can see that evidence of weather conditions. And it certainly makes it more difficult.
In some of the graves, the dead people and even the animals are fitted out for winter. So I mentioned crampons earlier. Animals had them as well. So there's a special kind of crampon that fits on horses' hooves for example. You find these in the graves. So it makes you wonder whether these are winter graves, whether when they're bringing the animals up to the grave itself they have to have the crampons so they don't slip, and so on. Then again, it might be that it's cold where they're going. So that's another variable.
In terms of more ordinary weather, rain and so on, we simply don't know. Think how rare it is that a funeral today is called off because of bad weather. It has to be really, really dreadful weather for a funeral to be canceled. And I suspect the same is true here.
One thing that I would like to mention is this when we see reconstruction drawings or films of ancient societies like this one, they're almost always in daylight. And some of the eyewitness descriptions we have of Viking funerals-- they're not all from Ibn Fadlan. There are other ones, particularly ones left to us by the Byzantine Greeks, emphasized that their funerals are conducted at night, by the light to the moon.
So again, think about some of these things happening at night. And when you add in things like fire and the effects of fire or moonlight, especially when there's no street lighting and so on, things look different in those kinds of environments. So think about all these objects and how they appear in different light conditions. That can also be part of this theatricality of those graves.
You asked about the prevalence of sawn timber in these graves and the different reconstructions that I've shown and the implications that that has for the technologies [? to ?] do it, the tools, and so on, and also the resources. The first thing is that this is a tremendously timber rich society. Their buildings are made of timber, obviously boats. It's an intensely maritime culture. We know that they are managing woodland. They're keeping it tended. They're ensuring a steady supply of wood and its seasoning and so on.
When you have the very detailed investigation of a ship's timbers, for example, using dendrochronology-- this is where you use tree rings to date them-- you can sometimes get a very clear sequence of what age of wood they're using when they're building these things. So you can see how they're managing their timber resources.
The access to woods, to build things like this, is not particularly surprising. We know that they have stores of it. As you get on in the Viking age, and it also depends where you are, particularly out in the North Atlantic, timber supplies are much more difficult. And when you look at, say, Icelandic burials, there's very little timber, which makes those post hole constructions I showed you all the more remarkable because that kind of wood is very, very precious indeed.
Burials like this one that's taking place in Scandinavia, Scandinavia today is covered in woodland. And the same was true, even more so, in the Viking Age. There's plenty of wood to be had. When it comes to the tools to do it, they had very, very sophisticated woodworking tools. We found them in the graves. They're clearly prestigious items. We also find them in-- there's at least two chests of woodworking tools that have been buried and locked, dropped into bogs and things like that. So we certainly know they're capable of doing this in a way that we find quite hard to match, actually. When they're making replicas of Viking ships today, really experienced shipwrights are learning how to do some of these techniques. They're really good.
AUDIENCE: Are they steel tools or brass or bronze?
NEIL PRICE: Iron, yeah, with some steel as well.
You asked me about whether each grave is deliberately made unique. I certainly think they're made personal for that person, this grave. There are elements of them, even beyond the forms like both burial or chamber graves or whatever, there are elements of them that repeat from one grave to another. I'm going to talk about that tomorrow.
I think there is this very conscious deliberation. They're trying to make them different from another grave. But in a way that also connects to them. And I'll say a bit more about that tomorrow if you'll let me do that then.
You asked me about what the Vikings thought about being dead, what happened to them, whether they were going to the gods or whatever. In terms of an afterlife, I imagine you've all heard of Valhalla, Odin's hall. I mentioned it briefly yesterday. There are several of these halls of the gods. And in the texts, some people go to the gods in their halls, particularly warriors. There is a world that appears to be for people who drown, a world under the sea. There are huge gaps in our textual knowledge of where people go. For example, we know nothing about where women go at all. And it's kind of assumed that they go to Freya or a kind of female equivalent of where the warriors go, but we don't know that.
There's also this nondescript underworld that I mentioned yesterday called Hel. [? Snory, ?] the Icelandic historian of the Middle Ages who writes about this, tries to persuade us that it's a very negative place. This is where you go if you die of old age, which is bad. You're supposed to go out in a more spectacular way. This is where ordinary people go, and so on. But if you go into the sources that have really quite good connections with the Viking, especially the Skaldic poetry and some of the mythological poems, there doesn't seem to be any sense that Hel was a bad place. It's just a different place.
And sometimes people that you would really, really expect to go to Odin, who followed him all their lives and so on, quite happily say, I'm getting ready to go to Hel. And you think, why would they do that? Even when Odin's son Baldr dies, he goes to Hel when you might expect him to go somewhere else.
But all of that is a textual world. When you get to the archeology, it's very hard to link that to those textual afterlives. It does seem as if the dead are supposed to stay in their graves. We often hear about ship burials being a ship of the dead so you take your ship and sail off into wherever it is you're going to sail to.
At least one of the ship burials, the big one at Oseberg-- it's actually this one that's reconstructed on the screen-- the ship is moored in the grave. It's tied with massive horses to big rocks. They don't want that ship to go anywhere. There are also some saga descriptions of people walking outside at night going past burial mounds. And the burial mounds are open, and they can see into them. And the dead are inside, sort of living in their mounts. Usually they're quite happy. They're singing or drinking and things like that.
There's a lot of heroic poetry that also implies that the dead live in their graves. I'll be talking a little bit more about this tomorrow, but I think the archeology is telling us that the grave is a new home for the dead. And they're certainly making the connection between the place where the dead people came from, where they lived, and where you put them when they're dead. They're still there. They're part of the community.
But the detailed afterlife is quite difficult. There's a point I want to make about that, but it's a key part of what I want to say tomorrow, so I'll leave it till then if that's OK.
That's a long question. I hope I can summarize it. They're basically asking whether in addition to factors of wealth and so on that there is a chronological dimension to these graves and the stories that they might represent, whether we can look for that in the archeology and also apply cross-cultural comparisons to help us with that.
I'm conscious I've said this several times today, but this bit about a chronological dimension is quite a large part of what I want to talk about tomorrow. If you'll forgive me waiting until then, but I would just say that, yes, there is that time dimension. I think is quite important. I think the stories develop over time. And they refer to each other.
In terms of cross-cultural comparisons, people have used this from looking at mainly the role that, for example, fire plays in funeral rituals and things like that. They can be useful up to a point. I think certainly within the Germanic world, looking at Anglo-Saxon England, what's now northern Germany, these are cultures that are really quite similar to those of the Scandinavians. You can look in their burials and find quite similar kinds of things.
This idea of the stories in graves is starting to come out more and more in Anglo-Saxon-- this is English-- material. So I think within that context, it's quite useful. It gets harder and harder the further culturally you go away from the material you're looking at. So I think in terms of the detail of those stories, it's not so useful with that.
You asked about the contrast between people who are happily singing in their graves and some of the archaeological examples where people are face down with rocks on them and things like that. To spare your feelings, some of those examples were the nice versions. You should see the rest. They do very strange things to people in graves.
I think there is certainly-- it's very tempting to see things like the stone burials as showing contempt for the dead or fear of the dead, trying to keep them where they are, things like that. And that may be the case. Others of them, it seems to be more symbolic. So you get someone with a stone on their hand. What does that really mean?
I think that there isn't a direct correlation between, for example, wealth and having a nice burial and sitting there, drinking and laughing. There are poems in which you have really very important war leaders, for example, who are described as grumbling down there among the tree roots. And there's one with a tree root in his back, and he can't sleep properly, things like that. So there's different kinds of elements of this. But some of that might be poetic license.
I think that as with the beliefs that I talked about yesterday, there is regional and temporal variation. There's not a consistency in this. I think it's very hard to be broad brushed about it, though that almost infinite variety that I mentioned is a consistent variety, if you sort of mean across Scandinavia.
So I think that there are many different kinds of stories, telling different things. And especially-- as I said, I'll develop this tomorrow-- but I think these are to some extent community stories. And I wonder whether the different dead have different roles, different characters. So just as you think of any kind of mythological story like that, you have good guys, and bad guys, and the villain, and so on, and the bystanders. And I suspect that's going on as well.
You asked about the extraction of iron from ore and whether they got this from imported material or local. Very much local. They certainly have this technology. There are big iron sources in Scandinavia. In fact, the iron working industries are really very sophisticated.
I mentioned the dwarfs yesterday and their role as smiths and so on, this kind of mystical aspect of the transformation of ore into metal. And if you don't know how to do it, if you start off with a lump of bog iron or whatever and end up with a beautiful pattern welded sword, that's a kind of magical transformation. And we find that the workshops of smiths or smithies are quite some distance from the main settlements, which might be simply practical because they use a lot of fire and fire is not something you want in a wooden settlement, so keeping them at a safe distance. But I think there are also overtones of power and the ability to do that, that they're doing something very special.
So they have the technology, but they know that it's difficult to do. It's not a general skill. We find on the farmyard they have small smithies that they're just doing very basic work, repairing your plow or whatever. But the fine metal work is quite rare, and you find it in specific places.
You asked me about the woman, the funeral director, and Ibn Fadlan and what we can say about that role in other funerals. His description is the only one that mentions someone directing what's going on. But he's very clear indeed that everything is under her control and her two daughters.
He is filtering this not only through a language barrier-- he has a translator with him-- but also through a cultural barrier. The word he uses for this woman, he calls her the malak al-maut, which I don't speak Arabic, but it means the angel of death. This is a direct translation and what we do with that is a bit of a game. But one of the suggestions-- and here I'm getting further and further away from my personal competence-- but one of the suggestions is the angel of death in Arabic law has a very particular-- this particular angel has a function of choosing the dead and making sure they go where they're supposed to go. And that sounds very similar to a Valkyrie.
This is getting a bit of a distance, but I think it's relevant-- in the early 11th century, in 1014, there is a document written by an archbishop in England of Scandinavian descent-- he's archbishop [? Bolstar-- ?] in which he writes a sermon to be distributed throughout England and read in all the pulpits because he's concerned about the general decay of the moral fiber of the English. And as part of this sermon, he lists all the things that they're doing wrong and thereby straying from the path.
And in that list is having to do with in Old English Valkyries, and the idea the Valkyries are people as well as these mythological beings, might have some currency to it. So there maybe, I think in the Viking Age, a kind of real function of someone who does something with the dead, a kind of funeral director. It's certainly clear in Ibn Fadlan that this is a family business. Her daughters were involved, as I said. There are also many other accounts of women presiding over various kinds of rituals, offerings to the elves, offerings to all kinds of other beings. There's sacrificial rituals, sexual rituals, lots of different kinds of things, all in the province of women.
And I'll talk a little bit more about that tomorrow, because magic and sorcery is also very much a female activity. So the idea that women control access to this stuff, whatever it really is, I think is very strong, even though the individual details, for example in Ibn Fadlan, are a little bit sketchy.
One more thing I would add on that-- sorry, I know this is a long answer-- but the role of the slave woman who is killed seems also to be very important. Because a lot of the rituals are done by her. She kills the birds, for example. And we find this killing of birds at the beginning of a funeral quite a lot in these descriptions. So it could be that they somehow open the path or the door or whatever. And that too seems to be in the hands of women.
So I think, yes, the funerals are directed. I think it's always something you can presuppose, actually, because they're so complicated. I won't name any names here, but I get very frustrated when some Viking archaeologists write all this off as local tradition or family custom. For example, in one of the ship burials-- this one, actually, at Oseberg-- there's a bed on the foredeck in which somebody has taken the severed head of a very, very large ox and tucked it up neatly in the blanket. And I can't possibly see this as local custom.
Do you know what he would've liked? Why don't we do that? It just doesn't really work. So I think somebody has to be directing it, whether it's always women, we don't know. But there is certainly a theme in this.
You asked about human sacrifice, essentially, people being killed deliberately to follow the dead and what archaeological evidence we have for that, and also not necessarily violent death but just other people present in the grave as in some of the examples that I showed and whether there's a temporal dimension to that.
I think there's two separate things. On the one hand, we have multiple burial. There are lots of graves with several people in. The norm is one person. It's not uncommon with two. The three and four that I showed in the beginning is unusual, but not that strange. There is an extraordinary pair of ship burials that were excavated last year, actually in Estonia, that appears to be the remains of a Viking raid in which quite a few of the Scandinavians died but enough of their friends survived in reasonable conditions to give them a spectacular funeral.
There's one ship that has seven men in it, sitting up on the benches in three pairs with another one in the prow, and their arms around each other's shoulders. So you get a strange sort of tableau like that. And there's a second ship burial in the same site where 36 men are in the prow of the ship, all with very serious battle injuries.
I think that some of the-- how can I put it-- the people buried in ways that don't look obviously violent like the ones in that boat I showed you at the beginning, may well have been killed to accompany some of the others. I think we should be cautious about assuming who's accompanying who because we just don't know. We also shouldn't rule out infectious disease. This is quite common, and if something gets into a household, it's not that surprising if he carries away several people.
In terms of the violent killings, there are quite a number of these. There are decapitated individuals accompanying others. There are people who've clearly been hanged. There are people who've been tied up accompanying someone who hasn't been tied up. And we can discuss what they mean, but there's clearly an implication that somebody's being killed.
So there's quite a few of those. There are number of Arab accounts besides Ibn Fadlan that talk about the sacrifice of women to accompany men. This is all out in the east but still concerning Scandinavians. Some of these are live burials, unfortunately, people sealed up in the grave with their husbands. So really quite a wide variation.
There's also a type of burial which-- I don't know whether you want to hear about this, actually-- but they're known as ritual trauma graves, for [INAUDIBLE] a better word, where the things going on are so bizarre how do you interpret them? There's one from an English context where you have a person in the grave with a second individual with no head, and the head is not there at all.
The person has got to head, you can tell from-- this is the unpleasant part, I'm afraid-- saw marks on the bone, they have removed the face by sawing like-- oops, I've done something weird to my microphone, sorry-- by sawing like this across the face so you can take it off. And then they've got somebody else's face. Because the sore marks don't match. And is this the face of the person who doesn't have a head? Who knows. And then in addition to these two, there's also an extra leg.
Just a leg. And we find this kind of thing quite widely. So the boat burial I began with with the four people, this is a symmetry of boat burials, actually. And the boat burial next to it, the last thing they do before they put the mound on top is to sprinkle it with fingers and toes. And they're articulated, so they are fingers and toes, not bones. And what on earth does that mean? Bring-a-toe funeral, I don't know.
And when you think of what that does out in society, whose fingers and toes are they, and all the other kinds of things like that, it's a multivaried world of behavior concerning people in addition to the primary dead person. I think that's how I'd put it.
You asked whether the ships are made for burial. In a lot of the cases, the ones where the timbers don't survive, they survive in the form of the rivets in the graves, so the timbers have rotted away, so we know it's a ship but don't really have any more information. We can't tell, quite simply. They are a boat in the grave. The ones where the timbers do survive, some of them have repairs that can be dated, so the ship has had quite a long life. So they're not made for the grave. Others of them seem to be made all in one go and have no signs of wear, so they might well be constructed for the funeral.
For example, in Ibn Fadlan, they are certainly making some things for the funeral. So one of the big questions around the boats are whether they are vehicles to take somebody wherever it is or whether they might simply be the largest object. We make a huge distinction between the brooch somebody's wearing and this magnificent long ship. But maybe it's just another possession. So some of them could be made for the grave. Some of them are definitely not.
AUDIENCE: The ones that are made for the grave--
NEIL PRICE: Or maybe, yeah.
AUDIENCE: --take some time. Are the bodies embalmed in any way?
NEIL PRICE: You asked whether the bodies are embalmed in boats that have been made for the grave--
AUDIENCE: Because it takes time.
NEIL PRICE: Yeah, it takes a lot of time, yes. The first thing is we can't be certain that any of them are made for the grave. It's just that some are perhaps more likely to be than others because of the lack of repairs and things like that. There are several boat burials, particularly in Sweden, where the condition of the bones of the dead is different. The preservation of them is substantially different to the objects around them. Something has been done to the body to make it decay differently or react differently with the earth from the objects, which implies some kind of process.
Whether it's intended to preserve the body, we don't know. Sometimes it seems to be the opposite if that's what they wanted. But certainly they are treated in particular ways. Yes.
OREN FALK: Please join me in thanking our speaker.
NEIL PRICE: Thank you.
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Professor Neil Price (Archaeology, University of Aberdeen) delivers three lectures focusing on the fundamental role that narrative, storytelling and dramatisation played in the mindset of the Viking Age (8th-11th centuries), occupying a crucial place not only in the cycles of life but particularly in the ritual responses to dying and the dead.
Early medieval Scandinavians' attitudes to death provide a window on the Viking mind, and they were monumentalised in some of the most spectacular burials known to archaeology. A study of these complex and spectacular funeral rituals is not only fascinating in its own right, but is inevitably also a meditation on this particular culture's responses to the human condition. The Vikings' unique view of the world can provide genuinely deep perspectives on the fundamentals of life, on the fears of mortality that confronted them as they still confront us.
This event is part of the 2012 Messenger Lecture Series.