Dead Dogs are so 9th Century: Challenging the Dramatic Turn in the Interpretation of Viking Mortuary Animal Sacrifice
Paper by Thomas Davis
Given at the 40th Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference, on December 18, 2018
My research looks at specific acts of ritualised mortuary violence enacted on objects, animals, and people by Vikings in the British Isles, and aims to develop a new interpretative framework with which to consider them. Utilising examples from Britain, Ireland, and the Isle of Man this paper will outline the challenges in interpreting the use of animals in furnished Viking graves. Recent scholarly trends in the interpretation of Viking mortuary practices have highlighted the performative and dramatic in mortuary ritual.
However, death rituals also have highly conservative aspects. Close analysis of the archaeological evidence of Viking burials, especially from antiquarian excavations, often produces opaque results – yet artistic recreations and scholarly narratives of those same graves can imply graphic and emotive death-scenes.
We are left with a question – what if such sites are in fact the product of continual reworking and reuse of places of burial, rather than single, discrete, dramatic events? Were these sites of climactic, transformative ritual or arenas for the conservative repetition of practices already considered ancient in their own time? Does this help explain the speed with which such rituals were dropped by Viking-age settlers in Britain and Ireland, where despite mass migration from Scandinavia, the tradition of animal sacrifice is confined to the geographical fringe and quickly dies away?
Top Image: BL Royal 12 F XIII fol. 3v