Communities of Death in Medieval Iceland

Communities of Death in Medieval Iceland

Paper given by Orri Vesteinsson

Delivered at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, Vilnius University, September 2016

In Iceland, the introduction of Christianity around 1000 AD was associated with fundamental chnges in burial customs. In pre-Christian times each farm had had its own cemetery, but under the new custom only about half of the farms had churches with cemeteries.

Farms without a church and cemetery are as a rule those of lower status and their occupants presumably buried their dead either in their neighbours’ cemeteries or (if different) in the cemetery of their patron or landowner. Already within the first century of Christian practice the small farm-based churches began to lose their number and the 12th and 13th centuries are characterized by their continued decline and by increasing centralisation of functions in churches which would eventually become parish centres.

The paper will explore how this development, from private to communal cemeteries, reflects fundamental changes in community organisation and social structure.

Orri Vesteinsson is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Iceland.

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