Austmarr VII Abstracts
Crossing Disciplinary Borders in Viking Age Studies
Problems, Challenges and Solutions
The 7th Austmarr Symposium
Tartu 1–3 December 2017
Sirpa Aalto, Ritva Kylli, Anna-Kaisa Salmi & Tiina Äikäs
Department of Culture, History and Communication Sciences, University of Oulu
Reconciliation of sources: investigating food culture in Ostrobothnia (northern Finland) in pre-modern era.
The investigation of food culture in northern Finland in the pre-modern era (before the 16th century) has been rather limited in the field of history since the written sources are constricted. They consist mainly of accounts of the bailiffs from the 16th century. However, archaeology has been able to cast light on this matter e.g. with help of osteoarchaeological investigations.
Our common interest as historians and archaeologists is to combine information from various sources in order to investigate how the diet of people living in the areas of present day Northern Finland changed from the Middle Ages until the 18th century. We argue that the shift to a diet dominated by agricultural products was a process that took several hundred years, which means that agriculture was probably not as important livelihood in the pre-modern era as has been claimed by earlier research.
This argument raises questions how to deal with different kind of source material and how to conform them:
- The written sources in our case tell about livelihoods and thus indirectly about the food culture, but only from the perspective of the Crown whereas archaeological finds tell about daily practices connected to meat consumption but with certain biases caused by different handling and preservation of bones. How can we combine these different sources with their different problematics to get a fuller picture of food culture?
- If the finds, e.g. bone material, is dated to the end of the Middle Ages, is it reasonable to suggest that 16th century sources can provide a comparison?
- How reliably the written sources can give information retrospectively about the situation in the end of the Middle Ages?
We hope that these questions raise discussions on the challenges of different kinds of sources. Especially examples from similar cases would be useful for us when we develop further dialogue of sources.
The newly-discovered boat-grave of Viking Age in Karelia (Russia). Results of current research
In July – August of 2017th the Ladoga archaeological expedition of Museum of World Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) RAS under the leadership of S. V. Belsky has conducted archaeological investigations at Kalmaniemi 1 (eng. Cape of death) burial ground in the Republic of Karelia. The burial was located on a high rocky cape of the northern coast of the Ladoga lake, on the natural flat site. Any outward structures (mounds, stone settings, ground depressions, etc.) were absent on the modern surface. The cremation burial was placed in a hollow near the cliff edge. The most interesting feature of the newly-discovered site was a boat which was posed upside-down (keel to up) over the grave pit. The boat was approximately 7 – 8 m in length, judging by the distribution of the rivets. Any wooden parts of it have not preserved because the depth was minimal – in the deepest part of the excavation area was not more than 20 cm from modern surface. In total 56 iron rivets of different types were found. They were not having traces of exposure to fire, i.e. the deceased was not cremated with the ship. In addition to the iron elements of the fasteners of the ship's shell plating the complex of weaponry were discovered: the spearhead, two battle axes, the three iron tops of the whips with clinking pendants. A few glass and one stone (carnelian) beads were found besides these. This complex dates to IX – X cent. The newly-discovered site is very rare not only for the Northern Ladoga lake area, where such a burial object was found for the first time, but also for Eastern Europe in general. Currently the burials with (in) the boats or ships, associated with the Scandinavian funeral tradition, were known only in the South-eastern Ladoga lake region (Ust-Rybizna), Plakun cemetery (Old Ladoga), as well as large necropolises of Gnezdovo and Timerevo. These materials confirms the early presence of Scandinavians on the Northern coast of lake Ladoga. They are the archaeological evidence of data from the number of sagas, which referred to trips to Kirjalabotnar (= Karelian bays), the localization of which in the Northern coast of Ladoga area is the most reasonable now.
Using theory from Religious studies on Archaeological sources: problems and wet dreams.
As a historian of religion, the source material is limited to texts. The challenge is to find new perspectives on material that has been turned over and scrutinized over and over for the last 100 years or more. With envy, I glance over the fence to the archaeologists who every week it seems, find new and ground-breaking material. I will in my paper discuss the obstacles climbing over that fence and using theory from my field to understand what I’m seeing. To illustrate, I will use examples I have bumped into along the way and suggest a terminology where we could meet: the landscape of religiolects.
Klas af Edholm
Interdisciplinary research in the study of human sacrifices.
The discussion of ritual killing and sacrifice of humans in Old Norse religion has a long tradition. In the more text oriented discipline of history of religions, the opinion has sometimes been very critical to the theories that human sacrifices were performed, while the discipline of archaeology has been more inclined to interpret some finds as the traces of sacrifice, although sometimes due to a too wide definition of the word ‘sacrifice’. Since the two disciplines use different sources, the research needs an analysis of the religious phenomenon with a consideration of the archaeological material, and with respect to how the two disciplines may contribute to the analysis. The written sources mention and describe human sacrifices, but the question of their authenticity is problematic. Some new archaeological surveys have revealed finds that has raised the question of human sacrifices during Late Iron Age in the northern countries anew. The new archaeological material may provide an altered interpretation of the written texts. But then we need to discuss the definition of ‘human sacrifice’ from the perspectives of both disciplines.
From the perspective of archaeology, sacrifice is a very problematic term. But identifying which depositions qualify as evidence of sacrifice, within an archaeological material, is both crucial and difficult. The archaeological data cannot by itself prove the intention behind the act resulting in the remains found at the excavation. This question raises a fundamental theoretical issue: the difference in spheres of study in the disciplines of archaeology and history of religion. The problem pinpoints one of the areas the two disciplines may have a great mutual impact on each other. But from the perspective of archaeology, sacrifice, if it is to be used as an analytical tool, must also be defined in a way that is within reach of the methods of archaeological research.
Archaeology cannot by itself answer the questions raised by the study of history of religion, but it may nuance, and possibly verify the conclusions of human sacrifice in Old Norse religion drawn from the study of written sources.
Tatjana N. Jackson
Russian Academy of Sciences
Saga studies and Slavic-Finnish archeology: “bilateral cooperation”
Working with Icelandic sagas as historical sources, one has to keep in mind that “the saga writer and the modern historian are not looking for the same things in history”, that “reality and fiction are blended in the sagas”, and that our goal might be to reveal “the interpretation of history that their authors have given us” (Meulengraht Sørensen 1992). Using sagas as a source for the early history of Rus’ is impeded by a variety of additional circumstances. The first problem is the fact that saga authors had a one-sided interest in their choice of events worth being described, so that “positive data” in the sagas were pertaining to Scandinavian countries only. Secondly, remoteness of Rus’ from Norway, and moreover from Iceland, made the process of bringing precise information about the events and places in Eastern Europe to the far North close to impossible. All this excludes a possibility of working with sagas only. One has to compare their data with other materials: archaeological, numismatic, toponymic, as well as with those preserved in other Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian written sources.
In this paper I would like to discuss three aspects of interaction between the saga data and archeological materials coming from excavations of Old Russian towns. First, I will give examples of how archeology helps to correctly understand the saga text. Secondly, I will focus on those cases when familiarity with saga texts pushes archaeologists to work in a certain direction. Finally, I will discuss the problem of discrepancy between archaeological results and information coming from written sources (not only the sagas, but also the Russian chronicles) and the proposed explanations for this phenomenon.
School of History, Culture and Arts studies, University of Turku
“Stories of medieval men killed by supernatural beings: post-medieval folklore as a key to their interpretation?”
In the paper, I will discuss the possibilities of using post-medieval folklore in the interpretation of certain motifs in medieval sources. Some of the Icelandic sagas contain stories of people who are killed by supernatural agents. In Grettis saga, for instance, when Glámr – who is portrayed as a wicked, unsociable pagan in the saga – dies it is implied that a meinvættr, which haunts the valley where Glámr is working as a shepherd, is somehow responsible for his death. Þiðranda þáttr Síðu-Hallssonar tells of the death of Þiðrandi who is loved and well-liked by everyone and indicates that he is killed by pagan fylgjur who wound him with their swords when he goes out one winter night. The stories may well have been considered to refer to the confrontation an conflicts between the pagan and the Christian, but in this paper, I will discuss other possible interpretations of the two stories in medieval Iceland. I will take up some examples in nineteenth-century Icelandic folklore and examine similar cases – when an individual is killed by a supernatural agent – and consider, whether these later stories and other additional information linked to them may help us in the interpretation of the two medieval cases mentioned above and in examining alternative medieval readings of the stories in question.
Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt
Swedish National Heritage Board
Archaeology and runology – a happy marriage?
Archaeology and runology have a long history together. The runic inscriptions represent various genres, such as memorials, owner inscriptions or amulet inscriptions. Unluckily, they are often short, damaged and stereotyped and it is a challenge to worm out as much information as possible, using all aspects of the object. In addition to the text content, runological features may tell about e.g. language use, writing traditions and intellectual inspiration. To this, archaeology adds information about the objects’ geographical distribution, if they are common or rare, have a certain symbolic value and whether they are meant for common use or as prestige objects. And much more which may shed light upon the circumstances behind the inscription.
The mutual familiarity between our disciplines may create an illusion that you know the other discipline better than you actually do. A runologist may miss out that current research in archaeology has moved far away from the dating and interpretations offered in early works and standard publications, it needs to be updated with new theses and current discussion. On the other hand, archaeologists regularly make use of early 20th century readings of runic inscriptions, although these are often outdated and not considered trustworthy.
This paper is a reflection of the challenges encountered in interdisciplinary runic studies, but also of the potential in joining efforts.
Maria Cristina Lombardi
University l’Orientale, Naples
Intersections among disciplines: a kenning for ‘sword’
Due to the special conditions in which many Old Norse texts have survived to our days, namely through secondary sources and often in a fragmentary state - which prevents us from knowing some fundamental information about their sources (see for example a number of skaldic poems or sagas mentioning facts happened in a time when no writing was used (except for some very short runic inscriptions), collaboration among different disciplines (literature, archaeology, philology, history) has always appeared as crucial in order to understand their structures, messages and scopes. I think that in our field an interdisciplinary approach cannot be considered as a choice or as a new academic trend, but it represents a necessary way of working. I will show here an example which casts light on the possibility of a concrete source of inspiration for some poetic kennings for ‘sword’, inspired to military history and to the development of weapons (according to some archaeological evidence) rather than metaphorically alluding to their function.
Reinforcing multi-contextual collaboration would furtherly encourage the development of innovative strategies by which texts could be investigated with a wider range of competences. By facilitating the sharing of resources, ideas and methodologies, through a constructive dialogue within experts of different fields, new approaches could result and improve our knowledge.
Old Norse philology meets metaphysics: on limits of epistemology and (re)turn to φαινόμενον
Little more than sixty years ago, an unlikely cross-pollination of theoretical methodologies was set in motion by publication of Lauri Honko's Geisterglaube in Ingemanland (1962). In this work on supernatural experiences narrated in legends and memorates, Honko conined the term numen to denote the supranormal manifestation in its “rawest” pre-articulated form which precedes any culturally-mediated attemps at definitions and categorizations, stressing that experience of said manifestations is psychosomatically situated and therefore remains contingent and incomplete.
While Honko's research has been gaining considerable traction in recent years in folkloric and cultural studies of premodern ontological orientations and cognitive structures (Stark 2006 for early modern Finland; Lindow 1986, Kanerva 2015, and Mayburd forthcoming] for medieval Norse sagas), there is one intriguing detail that has all but escaped critical attention to date: Honko attributes his usage of the term numen to Rudolf Otto's concept of the numinous, whose work Das Heilige (1917) he cites as the source for directly inspiring this term. Otto's remarkably original (for its time) phenomenological approach to study of religion essentially takes the concept of holy/numinous outside of any belief system, focusing explicitly on affect upon human cognition and emotion in experiences of supranormal phenomena. Otto's influential work resonated with both Husserl and Heidegger, who were his readers and contemporaries, contributing to shaping the developments in their own critical engagements with historical-theological matters. Thus, in an understated and improbable way, Otto's work may be regarded as a methodological bridge stretching across cultural, geographial, and disciplinary borders and prompting unexpected critical encounters between fields of study as diverse as theology, folkloristics, philosophy, and Old Norse philology. It is admittedly a partially invisible bridge, for the ramifications and implications of these theoretical interlacings for their respective disciplines still remain to be fully interrogated and explored.
This paper undertakes such an exploration with the goal of bridging methodological gaps between abovementioned disciplines, tracing the roots of current theoretical strands growing across them back to their shared origin in early 20th century phenomenological critical theories, and illuminating the historico-philosophical circumstances in intellectual landscape that led to their emergence. I direct attention to the relevance of these observations for Viking and medieval Norse studies, which still tend to be somewhat insular due to culturally specific appropriations of shared Nordic past. As has been repeatedly pointed out, disciplinary boundaries are themselves discursively constructed and socio-historically contingent, arising and persisting to serve institutional needs as negotiated by culturally-vested interests on public and national scales (Byock 1994, Glauser 1994). It bears to be reminded that the concept of scientific method as empirically-based critical mode of inquiry, with its assumption of quantifiable data lending itself to systemic categorization, is itself a historical construct that reached its zenith in the early modern period (Daston and Galison 2010). Old Norse/Germanic philology, as a discipline, emerged in tandem with Enlightenment-era natural sciences, assimilating their stemmatic classifications and structural models. Whereas culturo-historical appropriations of Viking Age has been receiving scholarly attention (such as Wawn 2002), these bigger underlying philosophical issues surrouding emergence of these disciplines as discrete fields of study have seldom been brought to the fore and problematized, though they continue to be present and to shape ongoing discourses in Old Norse studies, not least in the socio-public sphere. Critical reassessments of methodologies that shape disciplinary boundaries and direct the flow of discourse are, therefore, very opportune.
Using the concept of numen as a case study (both in Honko's derivation and in Otto's usage), I examine this term as a valuable theoretical tool for engaging premodern cognitive structures when working with medieval texts, as it shifts critical focus to the interstices of narrative and points to contingency of terminologies and explainatory models that arise therein. I trace the term's conceptual origins to its roots in medieval mystical theology (which, unlike its structural doctrinal counterpart, concerns itself with supernatural experiences and their affect upon practitioners), examining medieval formulations of supranormal experiences not as otherness of being, but as excess of being (exceeding capacity to be understood). Thus it carries explicitly cognitive component, pointing to perceived contingency of medieval reality: the human experience of it always remains incomplete. I argue for relevance of medieval philosophy and early medieval theology in enriching understanding of Old Norse source material which deals with pre-conversion matters and which has been transmitted, or textually mediated, through those culturo-historical layers. This calls for collapsing discursive polarizing static binaries between learned and vernacular, pagan and christian, in favor of positing a more dynamistic and fluid model for these creative cross-cultural encounters. This also calls for abandoning dismissive attitude to medieval past from the assumed vantage point of progressive modernity – a critical stance which only recently began to attract scrutiny in humanities and social sciences, opting instead for stressing cultural diversity and plurality of the past. Saga studies engaging medieval concepualizations of supranormal still tend to invoke Thomistic scholastic formulation concerning theological boundaries between what is and isn't super/natural as if illustrative of the doctrine for medieval mind. Yet the rich complexity, and indeed inconclusiveness, inherent in medieval discourses concerning nature and reality is seldom problematized and brought to the fore. As has been repeatedly pointed out by medieval historians and theologists, such concepts were far from uniform, and their interpretations far from stable: cognitive landscape of Western Europe underwent changes and developments in the so-called 12th-century Renaissance, attesting to the vibrancy and complexity of its ontological debates.
This paper's primary emphasis is not so much to salvage any “authentic worldviews” from medieval past, but rather to bring that past in dialogue with the present by problematizing and shedding light on phenomenologically-grounded methodologies and critical theories that have been emerging in recent years in medieval studies due to increasing dissatisfaction with anthropocentric stemmatic models of Enlightenment-era sciences and their self-limiting disciplinary boundaries (such recent theoretical currents as posthumanities, object-oriented ontology, material agency, and ecocriticism, to name a few). I will argue that phenomenological method itself, as articulated by Heidegger (who may himself be well considered a medievalist, having lectured extensively on medieval philosophy at Univ. Freiburg) has emerged from retrospective critical reengagements and dialogues with premodern mentalities. It was never intended to solve but rather to problematize, and as such it offers considerable potential for Viking and medieval Norse studies not only in opening up new interpretative channels, but in challenging the dominant (and often prediscursively assumed) analytical apparata and epistemological structures, inviting revaluation and reassessment of methods and theoretical approaches.
Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences
The invitation of Varangian princes in the light of interdisciplinarity
The legend of the invitation of the Varangian princes by East-Slavic and Fennic ‘tribes’ of the Volkhov-Ilmen’ region preserved in two main versions in the Primary chronicle (early twelfth century) and the First Novgorod chronicle (mid-thirteenth century) was considered to be a ‘construction’ or ‘invention’ of the chronicle-writer based on some local topographical traditions. There can be no doubt that we deal with a legend with obvious folklore motifs which survived until the chronicle-writing started and was textualized and reinterpreted during the eleventh century by a chronicle-writer who adjusted it to his own purposes and in accordance with contemporary realities and perceptions. Of course, no discipline can substantiate the existence of an alliance of Slavic and Fennic ‘tribes’, their inviting Scandinavians to rule them, the arrival of three brothers two of whom died without heirs conceding the honour to become the founder of the dynasty of Russian princes and tzars to their eldest brother. Still, the interdisciplinary study of the legend not only confirms its historicity but it also elucidates its historical background.
The textological and contextual study of the legend revealed some of its probably original features such as the stress on legal aspect of the invitation, poetic form as well as the annalist’s tendency to legitimize the Rurikid’s dynasty by underlining their coming to power as a result of general consensus (preservation of legal formula in both versions, Rurik’s rule ‘according to the agreement’, his observance of the local law, etc.). Thanks to comparative linguistics the Old Russian forms of the brothers’ names, Rurik, Sineus, Truvor, as demonstrated by Gottfried Schramm, were borrowed not later than the beginning of the tenth century providing thus a serious argument in favour of the historicity of the legend and a possible, if wide, date of its emergence. The archaeology supplied a rather detailed picture of Scandinavians’ penetration and settlement in the region, their activities there and their relations with the local population. It also elucidated interconnections between the three ethnic groups, Fennic, Slavic and Scandinavian. Though archaeology can not help us to exactly date the arrival of Rurik, it showed that it was close to the middle of the ninth century that a new political structure dominated by Scandinavians emerged in the region. An emporium Ladoga which had been functioning already for about a century was supplemented with a fortified military settlement founded by Northerners (Gorodishche near future Novgorod) to control the trade route eastwards. In the course of the second half of the ninth century many leaders of Scandinavian war bands occupying Gorodishche must have replaced each other – it was too strategically important a place. In this context Ruric seems to be one of these leaders, more successful or lucky than the others to become remembered for centuries. The numismatic evidence suggests that by the end of the ninth century the rulers of this polity started to feel the necessity to represent their power visually and verbally. A hoard from Gotland dated to ca 885 contained an Islamic coin with a bydent scratched on it – the so called Rurikid emblem well known from later finds. In 871 the Frankish emperor Ludovic II wrote to the Byzantine emperor: he couldn’t agree with Basilius I that the ruler of Normans bears the title of khagan confirming thus the usage of the title – Byzantine authorities know better how to call their neighbour rulers. Both the bydent and the title khagan belonged to Khazarian political symbols of power and must have been borrowed by the rulers of a new quickly growing polity in Eastern Europe.
It is only by collection of dispersed, sometimes insignificant at first glance evidences provided by different disciplines that a more or less coherent picture of events reflected in the tradition about the arrival of Ruric can be reconstructed.
University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland
Viking raids on territories of Western Slavs – research problems and challenges.
It is commonly well known that during the Viking Age, the Baltic area became important and lively zone of economic, cultural and political interactions resulting with trade contacts, raiding, settlement and political encounters connecting and developing the whole region.
This trend embraced also southern shores of Baltic, inhabited mainly by Western Slavs. Emergence of ports-of-trade, various kinds of imports, foreign settlement, political development of local elites, to name only few, are evidence of intensive contacts with other parts of the Baltic zone, namely Scandinavia, Russia and the West.
Despite this data, it has been argued that Slavonic shores of Baltic were marginally affected by Viking raiding. Explanations provided varied, from lack of interest in the area to reluctance to attack well defended territory. Indeed, there is very limited historical data about Viking attacks on territories of Slavs, with the Magnus the Good’s attack on Wolin in 1043 as the only one clearly fitting the category. The aim of this paper is to challenge scholarly opinions and revisit available data provided by different disciplines (history, archeology, literary studies) in order to provide a new insight into this intriguing issue.
Luke John Murphy
Snorrastofa, Reykholt, Iceland
Reasoning our way to privacy: towards a methodological discourse of Viking studies.
The undertaking of what is coming to be called “Viking Studies” is undoubtedly a booming field of academic inquiry, with a growing number of research centres, study courses, and even university departments dedicated to its pursuit. Yet this is a field without common disciplinary grounding, its scholars coming to the study of (so-called) “Viking culture”, “Viking society”, “Viking religion” and so on from a variety of backgrounds. Their communal output is thoroughly interdisciplinary and students are often encouraged to educate themselves in neighbouring fields, yet there is little explicit cross-pollination of methods and theoretical approaches between the constitutive disciplines involved.
This paper offers a perspective on how we, as scholars of cultural phenomena in historical societies – such as Late Iron Age and early Medieval Scandinavia – organise and approach our data. It argues that despite the large number of academic disciplines represented in Viking Studies, from philology to archaeology, most scholarship in this field can be situated towards one of two poles on a methodological spectrum. It is proposed that binary pairs of methodological approaches can be categorised into loose family groupings of “bottom-up” and “top-down” methodologies: emic and etic, deductive and inductive, Max Weber’s Idealtypen and Ferdinand Tönnies’ Normaltypen, and insiders’ and outsiders’ perspectives. The applicability of such different methodologies is then examined in a case-study of “privacy” in the Late Iron Age, which attempts to highlight the influence of our methodologies on the results that we scholars of “Viking Studies” can draw from even a highly-restricted dataset. In doing so, this paper is not intended to advocate for a single common methodology of Viking Studies, but is rather intended to fan the flames of a more conscious methodological discourse in the study of cultural phenomena in Late Iron Age and Early-Medieval Scandinavia.
Centre for Medieval Studies, Institute of History, Archaeology and Art History, School of Humanities, Tallinn University
Place names and archaeological districts in Viking Age Eastern Baltic
Viking Age coastal regions around the northern half of the Baltic Sea demonstrated an archaeologically very homogeneous warrior culture, which can be observed as early as in the 7th-8th century. This was a multi-ethnic, mainly Eastern-Scandinavian – Baltic-Finnic-based milieu, where most of the means of expression were borrowed from Sweden, and where the self-identity probably relied greatly on Scandinavian values. The archaeologically visible shared cultural milieu characterized, however, only certain areas. One can expect that these were also the areas most frequently mentioned in other sources, e. g. in Nordic sagas.
Earliest geographic names for the eastern part of the Baltic Sea demonstrate a great variability, as well as diversity in how they were used in different times and sources (e. g. place names mentioned by Snorri and by Saxo). Names of whole districts can have moved in the flux of time. The use and interconnection of the names Couronia (Kúrland), Estonia (Estland) and Sambia/Semigallia (Samland, Semland, Simkala, Sembia) are prime examples.
My last years’ study has tried to combine written sources with archaeological finds, topographic and logistic calculations, basing my conclusions predominantly on the last three factors. In the speech here, the use of names for Eastern Baltic districts and places, as they occur in Nordic sagas, will be discussed and compared with the Viking Age reality as indicated by other disciplines.
Interdisciplinary Studies and Historiographical Changes
“What happens when scholars cross disciplinary borders? “ This question recommends us, among other things, to focus on our methods. However, it also leads us to deal with the concept itself. For a historian, it would not be that difficult to draw lines between, for instance, history and archaeology or between history and folklore, but sometimes it might be. This has to do with the disciplinary borders themselves. They are not permanent, mainly because history today is not exclusively political - it even meets fiction. It is open to social, cultural, legal and many other studies. The sources and perspectives differ from those used some decades ago, and new questions are being posed. Since methods, and even material, have changed over time, the conditions for crossing disciplinary borders have also changed. If disciplinary borders have become more fluid in relation to other humanities, are crossing them now “easier” than before? If so, how does it affect our own studies? For example, what about source criticism, for long the essence of methods for research in history? Interdisciplinary studies will require more work from scholars to avoid possible pitfalls. There are challenges in interdisciplinary studies, but, on the other hand, they may broaden the perception of the past.
Jüri Peets et al.
Salme mass burials in ships – archaeology outdoors and indoors
The aim of the current presentation is to give a brief overview of archaeological and osteological material of two Vendel Period (550–800 AD) ship burials discovered and investigated on Saaremaa island (Estonia) in 2008 and 2010–2012, and the results of the laboratorial studies (indoor archaeology) following the fieldwork (outdoor archaeology). The mass burials within these ships (a total of 41 men), evidently connected with a military conflict, are hitherto unique in the world. According to previous research, the men buried in the ships came from the Mälaren Valley in Central Sweden. The short duration of the Salme „event“, the large number of buried individuals and the rich grave goods allow us, using different research methods, to have a survey of the members of military retinue (hird or lið), to analyze the types of artefacts used by them, to reconstruct the used production technologies etc. Ships used as sarcophagi provide additional information regarding (marine)logistic possibilities of the one specific moment of the prehistoric time. According to the present results of the investigations the Salme „event“ could have taken place in about 750 AD.
University of Nottingham
“Many big ships and excellently well fitted…” A Case Study of Norse Vessels in the Saga of King Hakon c.1204-1263
King Hakon’s saga, composed in the middle of the thirteenth-century, provides a vivid depiction of some of the great ships constructed for King Hakon IV of Norway (AD 1204-1263). Detailed passages within the text beg the question whether these excerpts can be considered historically accurate descriptions of Norse Vessels. That is to say, how well do they compare to the reality of the time? And how should the scholar interested in Viking vessels treat these descriptions? This paper proceeds as a case study of the depictions of vessels in King Hakon’s saga in an attempt to answer such questions and to determine what the saga has to tell us about thirteenth-century Norse ships and seamanship. This project utilizes an interdisciplinary approach, namely comparisons of archaeological finds, which support the text, and interpretations with references in the sagas, which provide a snapshot of life in action. This interdisciplinary methodology strengthens the validity of the conclusions arising from this case study. In this way it is possible to create better academic ties between history and archaeology and to introduce a new understanding of the viability of Old Norse literature as a source of Norse history.
University of Tartu
Metallographical analysis of Vendel/Viking Age iron amulet rings
Rings made of iron or steel, with diameters between 5 and 20 cm, is a type of object often found in Vendel and Viking period graves and houses. The rings usually display smaller attached objects (amulets) in the form of e.g. Thor’s hammers, small rings, or fire-striking steel. They are typically found in Scandinavia, especially in the lake Mälaren region, but sometimes also in Eastern Viking Age sites with a Scandinavian connection. The function of these rings are unknown. Were they mainly used as grave offerings? Were they worn as jewelry around the neck or arms? Could they be an intermediate form of raw iron, used for trading? Both the material (iron/steel) and the shape (ring) have symbolic meanings in Scandinavian folklore. Could these amulet rings be connected to the oath rings mentioned in the Old Norse literature?
Here, we use metallurgical techniques to investigate six iron rings excavated from a Vendel/Viking period longhouse in Åselby, Dalarna, Sweden. Our analysis shows a large variation in material quality in these rings: some parts are good-quality steel while other parts, even in the same ring, are low-quality iron with numerous slag inclusions. It appears that the blacksmith simply took whatever pieces of iron or steel he could find and worked them into a ring-shaped object. This indicates that the rings were not utility objects, as their material strength is very variable. It also indicates that their symbolic function was related to the shape and not the material quality. We discuss these results in relation to the earlier proposed ideas of the function of these rings.
Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands
Assembly Sites: Methodology and Theory
This paper will discuss the interdisciplinary approach recently developed for the detailed study of Viking-age assembly (thing) sites. Until around 2002, the study of these assembly sites was rather limited: the written sources contain little information on specific thing sites and their features, few sites had been identified in the landscape and even fewer investigated archaeologically. In order to explore the significance of assembly sites in Norse society, the traits and features of these sites, as well as the activities that took place there, a project was started in 2004. For the purposes of this project, an integrated approach was developed where written sources of various kinds (such as laws, sagas, poetry and charters) were reviewed together with place-name evidence, archaeological evidence and topographical information. Supplementary material was retrieved from antiquarian accounts, aerial photography, LiDAR data, historic maps dating from the seventeenth century onwards, as well as oral traditions. Another important part of this approach included visits to a large number of thing sites, which were recorded through a high-resolution digital photographic record, including a 360˚ view-shed, and GPS co-ordinates taken at significant features. Finally, archaeological fieldwork was carried out at a few select sites. All in all, this methodology has proven rather successful and the results have recently been published in the book Viking Law and Order (EUP 2017). In this paper, the details of this methodology will be examined, in terms of research results as well as shortcoming and complications. Can similar methods successfully be developed for other areas of research?
Leszek p. Słupecki
University of Rzeszow
Old Norse Runic inscriptions on wooden stocks and Old Russian birch bark writing. Chance for comparisons never used.
In the paper an effort will be done to do some basic comparison between writing in vulgaris (in native language and by using local material for writing), in runic alfabeths (with runic stocks from Bergen as example) and in cirilic (with Novgorod birch bark writing as example). Despite some obvious differences (like language and alfabeth) on may see a plenty of similirities between both "achives" of writing under scrutiny:
- Use of native language instead of learned languge (like Latin or Greek)
- Intense use suggesting writing as an important part of everyday life.
- Similar purposes for writing: bussiness, privat life including exchange of letters, magic and religion, entretaiment, learning, obscena, etc.
- Local mateiarl for writing.
- Similar social enviroment.
The question will be ask why such a rich material was in fact never used in making comparisons between two distinct but still related medieval cultures, Scandinavian and Old Russian.
University of Iceland
Text and Context in Skáldatal: Reading a Written Document of an Oral Tradition
Skáldatal is a list of medieval court poets and of the powerful rulers for and of whom the poets composed. The list is extant in two versions, one from the Kringla manuscript of Heimskringla, and the other forming a part of the Codex Uppsaliensis of Snorra Edda. Both the inner structure of Skáldatal and the contexts in which it is found, suggest a variety of roles it may have served: from a reference list for the writing of kings‘ sagas to a form of credentials for the court poets quoted in Snorra Edda and of Snorri Sturluson himself, to a laconic myth narrating the supernatural, interrelated origins of poetry and power. Read together with the other texts in the aforementioned codices, Skáldatal serves as a testimony of the contemporary literary culture and of certain ideological currents underlying the creation of the textual collections.
The content of Skáldatal, however, suggests a context broader than that of its textual surroundings in the manuscripts. The names included into the list are to be understood from their position in relation to each other and in the list as a whole, and they are also to be seen in the context of a broader tradition – both written and oral. Skalds and kings had stories connected to their names, memories of social processes, courtly life, battles, and poetical performances. Both the compilation and the reading of the list would imply knowledge of this tradition, some traces of which we may find in a wide range of extant texts, but which the medieval audience would have known at least in part orally.
The study of Skáldatal involves, on the one hand, close textual and codicological analysis of the list. On the other hand, a fruitful approach to it would also involve a study of intertextuality, of the ways cultural memory manifests itself in the list, and of the oral tradition reflected there. The laconic character of Skáldatal sets off the complex methodology necessary for understanding its structure, content, and context. In my paper I will give an outline of this methodology, found at the crossroads between literary studies, history of religion, folkloristics, and the interdisciplinary set of methods and ideas known as memory studies.
University of Gothenburg
Crossing Disciplinary Borders: Thegns in Northern Europe (the British Isles and Scandinavia)
Ever since the 19th century no survey of the Anglo-Saxon social structure – regardless of its scale and perspective – has been able to leave out the thegns (OE þegn) when describing the social stratification in pre-Norman England. Different research methodology has been applied throughout the time: historians from a thorough philological background (e.g. L.M. Larson, The King’s Household in England before the Norman Conquest, 1904) relied primarily on the literary sources (Old English poems and prose), while those trained in the classical traditions of Verfassungsgeschichte (e.g. H.M. Chadwick, Studies in Anglo-Saxon Institutions, 1905) found inspiration in the Anglo-Saxon legal texts. Yet despite a great amount of research done in the field of Old English social history, the term þegn has not yet been studied in its entirety throughout the period. Following the lead of Wulfstan, Archbishop of York in 1002-1023, modern historians usually quote his work Geþyncðo (“Dignities”) in establishing a thegn to be any man, rich enough to have a certain amount of land, kitchen, church, bell house, gatehouse and serving the king in his hall. Existing works have either concentrated on the ad hoc usage in individual sources (e.g. The World before Domesday: The English Aristocracy 900–1066 (2008) by A. Williams), or glanced over their multitudinous use with little regard for their chronological order and possible mutual influences (e.g. Comitatus, Individual and Honor: Studies in North Germanic Institutional Vocabulary (1976) by J. Lindow).
At the same time, with a cognate word being present in Old Norse (ON þegn), Scandinavian scholars have carried out a lot of parallel research, too. It was first conceived by a very influential 1927 article Old Danish Thegns and Drengs by S. Aakjær and later promulgated by K.M. Nielsen, N. Lund, K. Randsborg, J.P. Strid, J. Jesch, L. Goetting, et al. The focal point of the discussion has for the most part been concentrated on the problem of whether the Scandinavian thegns were kings’ retainers or the top level of the free landowner class. Though some Scandinavian scholars could not avoid comparing their material with that from England, due to the absence of a similar initiative by the Anglo-Saxonists, this attempt seems secund.
Today, the problems in the study of the thegnly stratum are manifold. On the one hand, they belong to the field of historiography. British scholars rarely read on the Scandinavian runic material – our prime and only contemporary source about the thegns in this region – thus leaving a lot of available evidence out. At the same time, historians in Scandinavia, when executing comparative research, usually work with English second-hand works that, as outlined above, show little to no knowledge on the cognate term in Old Norse. On the other hand, the source critique does not always meet the modern standards either, e.g. authors tend to trust the vivid but complicated accounts of aforementioned Archbishop Wulfstan all too much. The paper I would like to deliver thus aims at presenting a summarising review of how this striking methodological yawning gap in the current state of research can possibly be bridged, hopefully falling in line with the 7th Austmarr Symposium’s announced topic.
Klaipėda University, Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology
Archaeology and Folklore: Case of Samogitian Hill-forts (W Lithuania)
The Baltic hill-forts (resp. strongholds) are the most monumental and mysterious archaeological sites of Iron Age among others. Usually they possess some characteristic features, for example, plateau and terraces, ramparts and ditches. There exist also particular place-legends, tales, and believes. These narratives are of the same importance as occupation layers and archaeological artefacts do, however we still lack of methodological approach leading to the effective use of that information. Critique of previous studies inspires current presentation.
Ritvars Ritums, Iveta Tāle, Juris Urtāns, and Ieva Vītola examined teikas considering 170 Latvian hill-forts in total (the rest of hill-forts – without folklore) with conclusion like this: ‘Visually notable features, like impressive silhouette, size of the plateau, as well as the continuation of its population that can be observed as the thickness of the cultural occupation, have attracted people’s attention and stimulated them to create tales’ (Scientific Papers University of Latvia / 695: Hillforts in Latvian Landscape. Rīga, 2006, p. 26). Although statistic correlation of the data was not successful, as for instance, hill-forts covering 3000–6000 sq. m. contain notably more folklore records (121) than hill-forts of the area over 6000 sq. m. do (35 records).
The parallel investigation of Samogitian hill-forts led by Alma Lekniūtė in 2015 caused, in fact the same failure. Obviously, there is no reliable correlation between external (e.g., high of slopes) and internal (e.g., thickness of occupation layer) features of hill-forts from one side and number of folklore records from another.
Current presentation radically turns from the number of folklore records to one of motives, and examination of the Samogitian hill-forts – 128 of them contain 573 folklore records – looks highly promising. Number of folklore motives per hill-fort is considered to be index number – kind of mathematical value for further multisided research of hill-forts.
Sabine Heidi Walther
University of Copenhagen/University of Bonn
Leo the Deacon on the Religion of the Rus’. A Contextualizing Literary Perspective
Let me start with a personal statement to clarify my standpoint: I am a scholar who primarily works with texts which I consider to be narrated by someone for a specific audience and to achieve a purpose. I am interested in narrative texts and usually ask questions like: who is narrating, how is a text constructed, how does a narrative work, what is the genre of a text, to which literary tradition does it belong, who is the audience of the text, what is the purpose of a narrative. So I am not solely interested in the narrative itself but also in the link between literature and society. To address these questions I might use results of, e.g., historians or archeologists. This can be categorized as contextualizing interdisciplinarity (Klein 2010, 17-18). On the other hand, I am also a medievalist. This persona is interested in the bigger picture, in bringing together information from different fields to find out about pre-modern societies with the goal to achieve a better understanding of the complexity of these societies. It is an open question to me if we can make the step from a multidisciplinary or contextualizing approach to a more integrated interdisciplinarity (Klein 2010, 18-19). I am not sure that we can agree on common basic theories or assumptions, research questions and methods. In any case, it is helpful for any multidisciplinary exchange to make these theoretical and methodological foundations clear to researchers from other disciplines.
This paper will evaluate the work of the Byzantine historiographer Leo the Deacon (c. 950 - c. 1000) as a source for the “Germanic” religion of the Rus’, primarily on human sacrifice and sati. I will use information from historical and archeological research on the Rus’ and their environment, on the ethnogenesis of the Rus’ which will certainly limit the source value of the text to the Rus’ during a specific time rather than allowing for a use as a source for “Germanic” religion. Then I will look at the author and the purpose of his narrative. What did this outsider know about the Rus’, what were his sources? How did he work?
The longhouse at Hrísbrú, Iceland: an interdisciplinary study
Here we report the excavation of a Viking Age longhouse at Hrísbrú in the Mosfell Valley, Iceland. Although the Icelandic literature has been a major source for Viking studies for many centuries, it is only in the last decades that excavations have started to provide archaeological evidence for the earliest phases of Icelandic history. The longhouse at Hrísbrú is interesting not only because it was the home of a relatively rich (by Icelandic standards) local chieftain, but also because it is mentioned in various Icelandic texts such as Egil´s saga. In addition to the building structures the Hrísbrú excavation has unearthed e.g. skeletal material, stone tools, objects of bronze and iron, and imported glass beads. These finds were investigated using established methods in archaeometry and osteoarchaeology, and interpreted in light of the written sources. We argue that the combination of archaeological evidence and literary sources allow us to draw conclusions that otherwise would not have been possible.
Anna Wessman, Frog, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonsson
Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki
Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Uppsala
A völva or seiðmaðr in Finland? Cultural Creolization as a Problem for Interpretations
Interpreting burials in the Late Iron Age archaeological record is often done with labels and conceptions drawn from saga literature, such as völva or seiðmaðr. The Pukkila boat burial (AD 700) from Isokyrö in Ostrobothnia represents intriguing finds which reveal close contacts to the Mälar area in Sweden. Amongst the finds are e.g. a ring sword, pieces from a possible helmet, a staff, a meat fork, and a cauldron, all strong emblems used to reflect the social identity of the deceased. These finds resemble the Scandinavian boat burials of Ultuna, Valsgärde and Vendel. A staff has become interpreted as an indicator that the deceased was a völva or sorcerer. Methodologically, the correlation between written and archaeological sources for ritual specialists has been problematic because the representations of these roles have different aims in the different contexts, yet they nevertheless offer evidence that different types of specialists were distinguished, some of which were high-status roles. Once the Pukkila burial is introduced, we will contextualize it in relation to burials in Scandinavia that have been identified with ritual specialists. Our two main comparisons are an inhumation burial from the cemetery of Vivallen and a cremation boat grave from Klinta on Öland, both in present-day Sweden. While the former, containing an individual suggested to have been a shaman, have both cross-cultural and multi-gendered implications, the latter is one of the possible “völva-graves” with an elaborate staff among the furnishings. Viewing the Pukkila case as the burial of a high-status Scandinavian ritual specialist would likely be an oversimplification: the burial is situated within a so-called cremation cemetery under level ground, typical of cultures in coastal Finland, and the burial includes artefacts that indicate contacts with additional cultures. Later Finno-Karelian folklore reveals that Scandinavian ritual technologies and accompanying mythology underwent creolization among Finnic speakers in the Iron Age, resulting in a new and distinct form of religion. We will consider the Pukkila burial in relation to the phenomenon of cultural creolization in order to develop a new interpretation of what, at a glance, looks like a Scandinavian ritual specialist buried in a Finnic cemetery.
University of Nottingham
Monstrous Women: Exploring Gender in Medieval Icelandic Literature and Society
The supernatural, mythology, and folklore can reflect and represent social and cultural anxieties about gender roles and gender relations. They become a social technology for conceptualising and testing norms by pushing the boundaries of gender roles since these creatures are already abnormal and supernatural. These genres can also be vehicles for making sense of transgressive individuals and behaviours or as a way for women to claim some degree of agency.
My project focuses on monstrous women in the sagas taking the shape of giants, dwarves, and trolls. It is argued that women who were acting in ways that were directly opposing what medieval Icelandic society believed they could had to become supernatural creatures in order to allow them to be violent, vicious, sexual, or inhumanely dominated. Furthermore, in dehumanizing and ‘dewomanizing’ these characters their ferocity and grotesque nature became more credible.
Throughout my research I highlight several recurring themes, the first of which is how the gender roles of both male and female supernatural creatures can be regarded as a reflection of their human counterparts’ traditional gender roles. Yet, the theme of “Otherness” with regards to supernatural and mythological women demonstrates how women thus must pursue “Other” means of seeking and securing power.
Another theme was the relationship between women, reproduction, and fertility. This not only included mothers having children, but also the perceived relationship between women and nature; for instance women, their ability to have children, their association with nature, and resulting connections to life and death due to their reproductive capabilities are all important and reflected in the various supernatural and mythological creatures previously mentioned.
Third, the recurring themes of female subordination and domination were present, though it is clear that many of the supernatural and mythological women described above were constantly challenging this. Although their attempts were not necessarily always successful, the fact that attempts at resistance were made shows how these women used their elevated supernatural status for their benefit. Furthermore, being supernatural or mythological was one way in which women could reclaim their sexuality.
The final theme, the associations between the feminine and chaos, is one of the most obvious. Chaos is understood as the subversion and challenging of order and of hegemonic norms. Thus, through understanding the connection between women and chaos one can see how these women are trying to establish themselves, their agency, and their power in efforts to challenge dominant patriarchal hegemony. Given human women’s lack of political and social power, it is no wonder that it takes superhuman women in order to vie for change.
This alternate and ‘Othered’ understanding of supernatural and mythological figures in Old Norse-Icelandic literature is necessary in order to do justice to women of the Viking Age and medieval Iceland. It is imperative to study marginalized actors in history through their less-than-factual representatives in other genres, because it is these genres in which they are most free and can use the tools they have available to dismantle the structures restricting them in the temporal realm.