Vikings, Picts and Scots: Biocultural Identity in Medieval Scotland

Vikings, Picts and Scots: Biocultural Identity in Medieval Scotland

By Ceilidh Lerwick

Graduate Paper, University of Bradford, 2012

Abstract: Historically, the 8th to 13th century was a crucial time in the formation of what is now modern Scotland. The Norse, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons all battled for political power. The Saxon and Irish Churches were pressuring for superiority over one another and over the various pagan beliefs in the land.

This thesis investigates the nature of identity in 8th to 13th century (or interim period) Scotland, by incorporating both burial context and osteological information. Research suggests that identity is very complex, both in reasoning and in expression. By examining the relationship between burial form and biological identity, it is possible to investigate how identity was expressed through the mortuary rites of the period. In such a critical time period, with pressure from multiple sources, a comprehensive and synthetic study of the burials and of the human remains will help reveal the wider picture of Scotland, including the origins and expressions of identity by the Scottish people.

The grave finds for interim period Scotland have grown to a statistically viable sample; yet the human osteology of these burials has been poorly researched and no systematic, synthetic study of the osteological data has been undertaken. This project aims to compare the biological data gleaned from the skeleton (ie age, sex, pathologies) with mode of burial; it will also utilize forensic techniques to investigate population biodistance using cranial metric traits. With such valuable information potentially available from the human remains, it seems appropriate to bring this information to the forefront of the investigation into Scotland’s past.

Understanding cultural identity and boundaries is a central issue to this thesis. Biological information gained from human remains will supplement that learned from artefactual data, giving a direct link to the people of early medieval Scotland.

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Top Image: Scotland – a detail from the Matthew Paris map of Britain, c.1250

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