A Grave Revisited: On Grave Robbery in Viking Age Iceland
By Erna Þórarinsdóttir
Bachelor of Arts Thesis, University of Iceland, 2008
Abstract: A relatively large part of the graves from the Viking period in Iceland have been robbed or disturbed in some way. Until present day, this fact has not caught the interest of archaeologists working in Iceland and has therefore remained unstudied. Grave goods are the basis of research materials representing material culture from the Viking Age. It is possible that incomplete grave furniture gives the wrong picture of what objects people had in their possession during the Viking Age. It is essential that the implications of this should be taken into account in archaeological studies. This paper argues as well the necessity that reasons behind grave robbery be studied, since 1/6 of the graves found so far from the Viking Period, have been robbed.
Introduction: Archaeology deals with the interaction between humans, artifacts and space. Archaeologists wonder why some sites are chosen for utilization while others are left unused and which sites are chosen to return to. The archaeologist’s task is to explore this interaction that is continually reflected through both material and immaterial components. Grave robbery is one such matter that has caught the interest of archaeologists as it concerns people’s perception of their surroundings. It is the sites people choose to return to that are the focus of this paper, specifically the burial sites as locations people choose to revisit for various reasons.
The aim of this thesis is to explore possible reasons for grave robbery during Viking times in Iceland. It is questionable whether there is a pattern behind the opening of graves. Are they broken into for social or religious reason or perhaps for simpler reasons of plunder? Robbery has been documented in many of the burials excavated in Iceland. This could have serious consequences. If male graves, for example, were more frequently broken into than female graves, the statistics of what is recovered by today might actually under-represent the male grave furniture.