Page 1

Cover image Š York Osteoarchaeology Ltd.

MAGAZINE STAFF Lindsay Armstrong Lindsay is a forth year Anthropology major. His field of study comprises osteology, taphonamy, and archaeology.

Jess Barton Jess is a third year Anthropology major from the hometown of Maple Ridge, B.C.

MAtthew Branagh Matt is a second year student at the University of Victoria majoring in Anthropology. His interests are religious and mythological archaeology.

Hannah Johnson Hannah is a third year International Student from Portland, OR in the USA,. She is pursuing a Medieval Studies major with a Psychology minor.

Branwen Martindale Branwen Martindale is a 4th year undergraduate student at the University of Victoria majoring in Anthropology.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Kinds of Burial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


by Jess Barton

Grave Goods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


by Hannah Johnson

Cemeteries and Mass Graves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


by Branwen Martindale

Who Is In The Burial? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


by Lindsay Armstrong

A Viking funeral . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .


by Matthew Branagh

Text References

Image References

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Fig. 1 - Hung from hooks by their necks and feet, the bodies of the Capuchin Catacombs appear to be lunging towards any viewers (Cohen, 2012).

BY JESS BARTON not always the case in other places. It is not always


An inhumation is simply a burial, the

clear if it was done purposefully or not, but there is a lot of incidences where there have been two or more people found in a single grave, in a combination of different sexes and age groups. Not

terms are synonymous. An inhumation is defined

so common in the current times, but extremely

by the Oxford English Dictionary as the “action or

popular in the medieval times, was the trend to

practice of burying the dead; the fact of being

include inanimate objects in the burial with the

buried� (2012). The common North American

individuals or what anthropologists like to call, grave

practice of burial is where a six foot deep hole is

goods. It is extremely difficult to define what a true burial

dug, usually in a cemetery, and then the deceased

is, as every culture has their own interpretation and

is placed within a casket, and the casket is lowered

variations of the inhumation process and what it entails.

into the hole in the ground then covered in soil. Although it is typical in North American burials for there to only be one person in the grave, that is

accompany the process of cremation, and it is still prevalent and used to this day. And example of the use of cremation is practiced in the Hindu religion in India. The people will take the dead to the city of Varanisi and cremate them on the terraces of houses that line the Ganges river, so that their ashes can then be scattered in the sacred river (Parker Pearson 1999, p. 50). This is just one way that cremations can take place, other societies have been known to burn the deceased on a pyre while in modern day first world countries, people will take the deceased to a funeral Fig. 2 - The lowering of a casket into the ground before it is buried

parlor to be cremated.

in modern times (Memorial Ecosystems, 2012).


To cremate is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the “dispos[al] of (a dead person’s body) by burning it to ashes, typically after a funeral ceremony” (2012). After the deceased individual has been cremated, there are several different ways in which people deal with the ashes. Some like to place the ashes in a vase or bottle which can put in display within peoples homes. Others tend to spread the deceased’s ashes throughout the land, for example spread half of the remains in the ocean and the other half over a bridge, for various symbolic reasons. Cremations are one of the most popular methods of disposing of the body. In fact, in modern day Britain, cremation is considered the “dominant rite” (Parker Pearson, 1999, p. 5). Civilizations have been using cremations dates back hundreds of centuries. Each society seems to have their own perspective and funerary customs that

Fig. 3 - This diagram illustrates what happens with a cremation pyre, how long it takes and what it leaves behind. This experiment was conducted with a pig, not a human (Parker Pearson, 1999).


that predominantly practiced this form of burial, they were not the only ones. There is also a natural form of mummification. A great example of this is with what are known as bog bodies, more specifically the Grauballe Man. This corpse was found “lay[ing] naked on his back, with his body twisted, legs flexed and head to the north” (Parker Pearson 1999, p. 67). This method of mummification works so well that, as

Fig. 4 - An individual from Grauballe bog, a young man, whose neck was split from ear to ear (Parker Pearson, 1999).

evident in pictures, you could still see the hair on his head and stubble on his chin.

T he Oxford English Dictionary defines to mummify as the act of “preserv[ing] (a body) by embalming and wrapping it in cloth” (2012). Whenever people refer to mummification, the most common thought is to connect this burial process to the ancient Egyptians. One of these great examples is the body of Tutankhamen, who’s process of mummification was extremely elaborate. Tutankhamen’s body was wrapped in “fine linen bandages” that contained “items of glass, cornelian, lapis lazuli, felspar, iron and especially gold” (Parker Pearson 1999, p. 59). Once the body was wrapped and preserved, Tutankhamen was placed in a “sarcophagus [that] lay within four nested golden shrines and enclosed three mummiform coffins. The innermost of these was of solid gold while the outer two were of gilded wood” (Parker Pearson

Fig. 5 - The corpse of Tutankhamen unwrapped after the bandages

1999, p. 59). While they were one society

were removed (Parker Pearson, 1999).


on a search for an appropriate place that would act as their burial chamber. After finding their chamber, they would bury themselves alive in this chamber. “Bamboo breathing tubes were in place to provide oxygen, and they sat in meditative posture, in complete darkness, chanting sūtra and ringing a bell until their deaths. Once the bell stopped ringing, the tombs were sealed” (Jeremiah 2012, p. 2). The whole process of selfmummification is one of exceptional pain and extensive planning, but it still viewed and practiced

Fig. 6 - A self-mummified Buddhist monk found at Dainichibō Temple, Japan (Jeremiah, 2012).

S elf Mummification requires the

as a religious process with Buddhists of Japan to this day.

same processes as mummification, as indicated with the title, it is self inflicted. This method of preserving a body after


death has not been too common throughout history. Although, certain groups of buddhists in Japan have used this technique for quite some time. Buddhists who are preparing themselves for self-mummification use a diet called “mokujikigy ō ” (Jeremiah 2012, p. 1). This meticulous diet where the practitioners do not eat any kind of cereal but rather “they ate nuts, berries, tree bark, pine needles,

Fig. 7 - The Grey Cairns of Camster, in Scotland (Electric Scotland, 2012).

A cairn is defined by the Oxford

an unusual substances for years, gradually

English Dictionary as a “mound of rough

reducing the amount as time progressed”

stones built as a memorial or landmark,

(Jeremiah 2012, p. 1). If the diet had

typically on a hilltop or skyline” (2012).

progressed correctly, as planned, the

Burial cairns have been found to be used

individual would “starve to death within

in previous times in the southeastern part

ten years” (Jeremiah 2012, p. 1). Once the

of Iraq. This particular example from Iraq is a site

monk had started their diet, they would go

that was excavated near Sar-i-Asiab, which is just

north of Kerman in southeastern Iran. At the site, there was

branch out from the original corpus beneath the Church”

“more than 170 cairns [that] are distributed over a bare,

(Carotenuto, G. et al. 2008, p. 156). Catacombs are a very

stony plain which slopes gently down from rocky hills to

unique method of storing the dead within societies. It is a

the east” (Lamberg-Karlovsky & Humphries 1968, p. 269).

way of preserving history of the area over a long time

In terms of appearance, the cairns are “as simple piles of

period with a practical means of storage that both, holds

stones, varying form circular to subrectangular in plan”

large numbers of people, and doesn’t take up any valuable

while the “dimensions of cairns range from those of a

surface land realty. This is just one case of a catacomb,

mere half dozen stones to larger ones of 1 m. in height and

although there are many extravagant example that can be

5 m. in diameter” (Lamberg-Karlovsky & Humphries 1968,

viewed throughout Europe.

p. 269). In terms of internal structure within these cairns, there is “a series of tunnel-like chambers run horizontally into the interior of these cairns” and then within these chambers is where the burial remains are found (LambergKarlovsky & Humphries 1968, p. 271). Cairns, like this example, can vary in terms of size, location and the materials they are composed of.


A catacomb is defined by the Oxford English

Fig. 8 - Within the Paris catacombs, skulls, tibias, and femurs have been stacked to form spectacular structures (National Geographic, 2012).

Dictionary as an “underground cemetery consisting of a subterranean gallery with recesses for tombs” (2012). A notable example of a catacomb is present at the Catacombs of the Capuchin Covent of Palermo in Sicily, Italy. The people of the area used these catacombs as a burial place for the privileged and clergy, as well as nobles and townspeople of high status (Carotenuto, G. et al. 2008). All of the bodies in the catacomb have been mummified, by either natural or artificial means, there are even rooms in this catacomb that were designated for the draining of a corpses fluids before it was wrapped in bandages and put in either a coffin or wall slot (Carotenuto, G. et al. 2008). As for the layout of the catacomb, is has an entire “underground system” that has several “large rooms and high-vaulted corridors [that]

Ship Burials

A ship burial is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “burial in a wooden ship under a mound” (2012). One of the most famous illustrations of a ship burial is from the Viking Age in Norway, and is called the Oseberg ship burial. The actual ship in the burial was “21.44 metres long and 5.1 metres wide” (Walaker Nordeide 2011, p. 7). Due to the great size of the ship, the “diameter of the Oseberg mound was around 40.5 metres, and it was probably around 6.4 metres high” (Walaker Nordeide 2011, p. 7). The burial contained “two female bodies, one which was more than eighty years old at the time of her death, the other who was in her early fifties” (Walaker Nordeide 2011, p. 7). Accompanying the bodies in this grave, there

was an abundance of other artifacts. Besides traces of

small mound in a cemetery (Ellis Davidson,

food, personal belongings, precious metals, paintings, and

1950). Therefore, when it came to a burial

other inanimate objects, the grave also contained animals.

mound for someone of great importance,

The excavators found “a couple of oxen, four dogs and

there was a large mound raised for them (Ellis

thirteen horses” to be exact (Walaker Nordeide 2011, p. 7).

Davidson, 1950). One elaborate example of

Although this is a case of an elaborate ship burial, there are

one of the Anglo Saxon’s burial mounds is the

many different examples that vary in size, contents, and use

Taplow Barrow mound in Buckinghamshire.

throughout the globe.

This mound is “80 ft. in diameter and still 15 ft high in 1883, stood in the churchyard, towering over the later graves” (Ellis Davidson 1950, p. 170). The Taplow Barrow mound was quite ornate burial as it consisted of a “rectangular grave chamber lined with stout planks, who was richly dressed, with a cloak decorated with gold braid caught by a clasp at

Fig. 9 - Image of the excavation of the Oseberg ship burial in 1904

his shoulder” (Ellis Davidson 1950, p. 170).

(Rubio, 2007).

Burial Mounds

The term burial mound is as self explanatory as it sounds. It is simply a burial underneath a mound, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “rounded mass projecting about a surface” (2012). The use of burial mounds is a burial ritual that varies greatly across time and regions. Burial

Fig. 10 - Taplow is a Saxon burial mound of the 7th century in Berkshire, England (The Megalithic Portal, 2012).

mounds can contain one individual or large quantities of people. Thus, the overall size of

In terms of what was included in the grave, the

the mound is usually correlated with the

man was accompanied by “a sword and knife, a

number of individuals inside. With the Anglo

long spear placed above the chamber, two shields

Saxons, they used burial mounds as the

and possible other weapons, while in the centre

common practice for independent people, as

was a large bronze pan holding two glass beakers,

North Americans today use inhumations in a

two wooden cups and two drinking horns” (Ellis

cemetery, where each person had their own

Davidson 1950, p. 170).



Fig. 11 - Closeup on am Anglo-Saxon female wearing gold medallion and beads, found in Buckland cemetery. Dover, UK. (Canterbury Archaeological Trust).


What are grave goods, why are they given, and why are they useful?

Goods deposited in the graves of the

including as supplies for a journey into the afterlife (Crawford, 2004, pg. 89), as a sort of dowry for the gods (Oliver, 2000, cited in Crawford, 2004), gifts from neighbouring groups or families to show goodwill and secure political alliances (King, 2004), or a display of wealth by the family of the

departed are a fascinating and invaluable resource

deceased . To exemplify these differences, it must

to the field of archaeology, helping us to learn more

be noted that some objects belong to a category of

about the lives, deaths and burial rituals, practices,

grave offerings, while others are clearly integral to

and religious or cosmological ideologies of the

the burial costume (Lucy, 2000, pg. 63) which

people they were buried with, as well as of those

indicates a ceremonial aspect to the occasion,

left behind to mourn them. Several theories as to

particularly when an object too delicate to have

why grave goods were given have been proposed,

been worn in life seems to have been made

specifically to sew into the clothes of the deceased

with age, with personal items predominantly found

(Effros, 2002, pg. 48). Though each theory has

with remains estimated to be aged fifteen years or

supporting arguments like these, no single purpose

older, and the rarer and more valuable items

to grave goods has been conceded, and it is

belonging almost exclusively to Adult and Mature

entirely probable that the ideas behind grave goods

age groups (Stoodley, 2000, pg. 457). Common

have adapted and fluctuated over time within

items found include weapons such as spears,

cultures. To modern scholars, they help to match

shields, and swords; personal items such as

written mentions of items to a physical example; to

weaving tools, toiletries, and occasionally

assign an approximate date to the burial (Lucy,

instruments; grave furnishing such as pots, coins,

2000, pg. 63); to discover the level and technique

and vessels made of glass or bronze; as well as

of a culture's craftsmanship; to identify trade

personal adornments like brooches, belt buckles

between peoples; or even to identify religious

and fittings, as other beads and jewelry (Stoodley,

symbolism and conversion.

2000, pg. 460). Observing the similarities in style, aesthetic, and function across cultures, such as with these photographs of Anglo-Saxon (fig. 12) and

What are common goods, what materials are they made out of, and are they

Merovingian (fig. 13) brooches and other jewelry, helps us to make inferences about ways of dress and what impressed and was found to be beautiful by the people in this time period.

practical or symbolic?

Fig. 12 - (Canterbury Archaeological Trust)

Studies done on the artifacts recovered in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries show that both the quantity and value of mortuary deposits increases

Fig. 13 - (British Museum)

Stoodley's study of these cemeteries also showed that goods made from semi-precious and

precious metals and stones are found primarily

cemeteries are found without items, which in some

among older adults (2000, pg. 460). This suggests

cases could be the result of looting but in many

that more valuable materials were saved for those

cases seems to just be the grave of a socially lower

in the community with more life experience and

ranking individual who received a simplier burial.

most likely therefore more funds available to be

Graves without grave goods also do show

expended upon their death, while pottery, wood,

any indication of being those of criminals or

and less precious metals were more widely

outsiders, which points toward a definite social

available within a culture and not as highly valued.

stratification among the culture. Interestingly,

These same types and divisions of goods

however, this fact also seems to indicate that there

are found in inhumations as well as in cremations,

might not have been any ideological conflict or

meaning pyre funerals do not appear to have been

injustice presumed when some people were given

reserved specifically for those of any one social

grave gifts and others were not, which perhaps calls

status, high or low. Cremation grave goods appear

into question if these items were seen as necessary

to have been given one of two ways – those placed

to gain entry into the afterlife or to be looked

on the funerary pyre with the body, resulting in the

fondly on by the god or gods they worshipped. All

melting and warping of glass beads and vessels,

in all, these variations in if, how many, and what

and those added unburnt to the urn or the

kinds of grave goods were included show that

surrounding area after the fact (Lucy, 2000, pg.

medieval barbarian cultures did not follow a strict

108). Whether cremations or inhumations, the

set of rules for what must be included in a a proper

items found with the dead can range from having

burial, which makes the items they chose to bury

very practical function and purpose within that

along with the departed seem like a deliberate and

person's lifetime, to being purely symbolic or made

thoughtful selection by the family and the

especially to be included in the burial ritual, as with

community at large (Lucy, 2000, pg. 103).

items such as deliberately broken weapons representing the “death� of the item within the community (Crawford, 2004, pg. 91) as well as with items made in miniature or without functioning features (2004, pg. 108).

Fig. 14 - (British Museum)

Just as important as the presence of grave goods, their absence can also tell us something. Many graves in various medieval barbarian

Fig. 15 - (University of Minnesota)

What are some LIMITATIONS, and what is important for future excavations?

specific owner to an object is a compulsion we fight to reign in. Perhaps less presumptuous but just as liable to produce inaccuracies is that assumptions about gender, not just identity, are made based on what is found in a grave. This is particularly a problem when looking at findings on graves that were excavated before DNA testing on the skeletal remains became possible, and this overconfident sexing technique is only recently being combined with scientific testing in

Fig. 16 - (Ministry of Defence)

One of the most crippling shortcomings of using grave goods as evidence in interpretation is that these analyses are by nature interdisciplinary (Effros, 2003, pg 119). Specialists of many fields must team together to evaluate all of the available data one item can offer, otherwise it is easy for historians as well as archaeologists to not fully respect the limitations the items have in painting a

order to get a more accurate idea of the sex and gender role of the individual. Thanks to modern biases, graves with weapons are automatically assumed to be male, and those with jewelry or traditionally feminine items like weaving tools to be female. Using grave goods alone may cause us to miss evidence about alternative gender binaries and occupations unless they are backed up and paired with biological evidence. A final thing both archaeological experts and

full picture by themselves, to make assertions in

the layman are guilty of when it comes to grave goods

areas in which they have no expertise, or to

is failing to pay the same attention to graves that are

attribute items to known historical figures without

found without them. Graves with grave goods,

proof that that is in fact accurate. In that vein, there

particularly those with very fine, valuable, or odd ones,

has been a longstanding tendency to assume rich

naturally capture our interest more, but focusing

graves must belong to rich people (King, 2004, pg.

entirely on those kinds of finds may skew our

216). This is particularly presumptuous when it

perspective of the division of wealth, power, and the

comes to deeming a grave to be royal, such as with

overall cultural practices and population demographics

the grave of a woman found beneath the cathedral

present in these societies. We wouldn't know half as

of Cologne which was assumed to be Wisigarde,

much as we do now about medieval society without

one of the wives of Merovingian king Theudebert.

the discovery and interpretation of grave goods, and

There is no textual or archaeological evidence to

with new technology and understanding they could

attribute Wisigarde's identity to this body (Effros,

shed light on many new aspects of the history of

2003, pg. 124), but the obsession with attaching a

human life and death. e

Cemeteries and Mass Graves

Fig. 17 - Aerial view of Sutton Hoo (Atlantis Online, 2008)

BY BRANWEN MARTINDALE England (Carver, 1999) through to 128 at Lechlade


There are over 1200 Anglo-Saxon cemeteries that are known today in the continent of Europe. These cemeteries are comprised of both inhumation and cremation graves (Bond, 1996); the ratio varies, dependent on the characteristics of the cemetery, such as time period of use, location of cemetery and the funerary practices of the graves creators. Some burials were made with extreme care and were lavished with grave goods and animal offerings, while others were very simple and only contained a body with no artifacts. The number of graves in a cemetery can range greatly from as few as twenty at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk,

in the Upper Thames Valley, England (Sayer & Wienhold, 2012), to as many as over 2000 burials at Spong Hill, Norfolk, England (Bond, 1996). The cemeteries may be used for centuries and used by many people while others such as Sutton Hoo have been used a relatively short time period. Cemeteries contain both male and female occupants and they can represent a great range of ages and classes of wealth and status (Carver, 1999). Some graves will contain an excess of grave goods and animal remains while others contain very little to nothing at all (Bond, 1996). Some cemeteries are well marked, such as the use of grave mounds, and have been susceptible to robbery, either soon after the burial took place, or

more recently by people looking for wealthy

East Yorkshire, England three people were found in

objects to sell.

a grave but the radiocarbon dates indicated it was reopened at least once and a new body put onto an existing grave (Buckberry & Hadley, 2007). There may have even been some cases where the first burial was deep enough that the makers of the newer grave were unaware they were creating a burial over top of another. Some cemeteries will be near to a settlement, some may be next to their settlement while others are a distance away and sometimes, small hamlets would even share one communal

Fig. 18 - Sutton Hoo cemetery site plan. A plan of the royal

cemetery. The cemetery of Petersdal, Denmark was

cemetery site and the 18 burial mounds of Sutton Hoo (Woodbridge,

two kilometers away from the coastal settlement in

Suffolk) (Sheshen-eceni graphics).

Some cemeteries’ graves are very orderly

the Dragor area, but the incentive to reuse the graves of this site made the distance worthwhile

and in alignment with each other while others are

(Kastholm, 2012). The relation of graves to each

in disarray. A grave from earlier times that is

other is an indicator that can tell us of the past. If

unmarked might not even be known and be

the graves are orderly it could mean that the

intercut by newer graves. As disturbing as this can

creators were aware of a previous graves’ presence,

be to archaeologists because the older burials can

which may indicate that there was a marker of some

be disturbed or damaged, it can also be crucial to

kind, while graves that are randomly placed and

telling us about the chronology of the graves when

intercut others suggest they didn’t know where

means of dating the remains are unavailable

previous graves were or if they knew, they contained

(Sheehan, 2009). But when we do have the

no grave markers (Humphreys et al., 1924). Orderly

methods available, radiocarbon dating can be very

graves can also be evidence of them being buried in

important to telling us what time period the people

relation to an object, such as at Caherlehillan, Ireland

and grave goods come from, when the burials

where graves are buried along the long axis of the

were made and provides us with chronology of

church present there, while three are not; it is

graves in a cemetery. There is strong evidence of

suggested that these where aligned with a new

cemeteries and burials being reused where there

church or the shrine built at a later date, which may

are multiple use periods over time at a cemetery,

indicate these were later burials, something that

and at gravesites there is sometimes evidence of a

bone analysis couldn’t tell us (Sheehan, 2009).

grave being reopened and someone being buried on top of the previous grave. At Walkington Wold,

Mass graves

Fig. 19 - Example of graves that are not in alignment with each other or a particular direction. (Archaeology South-East, 2012)

Graves in cemeteries can either have some sort of orientation with a cardinal direction, to an object or site as mentioned earlier, or it can be completely random, as at Walkington Wold (Buckberry & Hadley, 2007). The difference in orientation can also divide groups within the cemetery; at Berinsfield, South Oxfordshire, England two groups were distinguished, those who with east-west orientation buried in the southern half and those with south-north orientation buried in the northern half. This could possibly be

Fig. 21 - Grave with two bodies (Sutton Hoo). (Macbeth, 2012).

Mass gravesites are graves that contain

separating the different periods of burial or different

two or more people within them. Usually the grave

statuses of people within them (Sayer & Wienhold,

that contains two or three will be people who have

2012). At Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, England only

a connection with each other. They may have

a small portion have any distinguishable orientation

familial relations such as sibling or parent and

with 18 of them being carefully buried in a row with

child, or relations of love such as a spouse or lover,

their feet placed to the east or north-east and of all

which may be evident of graves where one is

the burials the southern direction seems to be heavily

buried on top of the other, or a hierarchy relation

avoided (Humphreys et al., 1924).

such as a person of status and their slave. They can be in the grave together because they died at the same time or one can be buried at a later date or the other person is a sacrifice at the time of the burial, voluntarily or not. The grave can also be filled with many people, which may indicate multiple deaths at one time such as a disease, famine, or most likely from war or execution. A

Fig. 20 - Some of the many Anglo-Saxon graves excavated at Burgh Castle. Example of graves in alignment with each other. (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, 2012).

man who died at war may be a possible cause as to why there are mass graves at one site and a

lavish grave full of grave goods and food offering with no evidence of a body at another. Most evident are mass graves of execution victims. We find evidence of beheading from bone analysis and find blow or cut marks to the back of the head or neck as well as evidence of broken necks from hanging. We

Fig. 23 - The remains of an ancient Anglo-Saxon warrior and his horse were unearthed at RAF Lakenheath in 1997. The base must work with British archaeology officials for every base construction because of the area’s dense concentration of buried artifacts. (Suffolk County Council Archeological Service, 2008)

Some single and multiple person graves contain evidence of wild and domestic animals within them such Fig. 22 -: These men, barely into their twenties, were ambushed by the local

as horses, dogs, cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, bear and hare.

Anglo-Saxon villagers. Their remains were discovered in 2009. Example of a

Their presence can tell us about their relationship with

mass grave of execution victims with their heads buried separate from their

the animal, their wealth and status, what kind of goods

bodies (Daily Mail)

find an execution burial at Sutton Hoo where 16 individuals have been hanged or beheaded with their head placed on their chest or at their knees; some were buried kneeling while others lay face down with their hands hands tied behind them (Carver, 1999). All of these attributes were found at

they used and traded for, and their ritual practices. Evidence of a whole animal such as a horse or dog is often thought to signify its importance for the afterlife, while parts of an animal such as a joint could signify a ritual, sacrifice or feasting. Evidence of cut mark can indicate if the animal was cut up to be eaten or if it was cut into parts for easier transport to the grave and so that it would be easier to cremate (Bond, 1996).


Walkington Wold with a few individuals out of the 11 found as well, but there was also evidence of the heads being removed and put on stakes as a warning to other criminals, evident by the weathering on the skull; these were buried later (Buckberry & Hadley, 2007).

Fig. 24 - Woman and Cow. Archaeologists described the find as "unique in Europe". (BBC, 2012)

Who is in the burial?

Fig. 25 - Depiction of Anglo-Saxon prepared for cremation (Williams, 2012).


A quick summation of what has been written

archaeologists look at the physical burial themselves and the inferences that can be made from comparative

so far will help to lead into the remains left in the burials

research of previous identifiable burials. This area of

and how archaeologist may try and determine some

deduction could lead to assumptions of early social

inferences as to who this person may have been. The

complexities and communal burial rites and practices

burial itself in conjunction with the surrounding

(Williams, 2007) or biostratinomy. Burials of this time

stratigraphic indicators as well as artifact association

period include large mound/barrow/cairn burials

within a burial may very well determine the inferences

(Williams, 2007) in which some include the burial of a

made as to who is in the burial. Associated symbolic

full size ship, as seen in Sutton Hoo (Kendrick et al,

markers would include such artifacts as carved stone

1939) as well as cremation burials in which a person

markers which are large stone monoliths that have been

was placed in a cremation burial urn (Williams, 2004).

interpreted as showing kinship ties as well as family

Cremation burials where of the pagan tradition and not

legends and myths (Williams, 2007). To start,

done by the people of Christian faith of this time so


burials of this nature show a close relationship to the pagan faith of those cremated (Williams, 2004).

THANATIC factor determination

In the context of the thanatic factor determination, or how living entities where removed from the living assemblage and entered the death assemblage, is of suitable significance and something that may be of interest to archaeologists as inferences to the potential sex of the individual, status , occupation and age at death. Archaeologists look to cemeteries for clues as to the thanatic variables and cause of death. This would entail looking at attritional or catastrophic mortality of the deceased population. Attritional mortality could be indicated by large mound type burials with evidence of expendable energy and man power to inter a single person whereas catastrophic burials may infer a massacre or battle/raid and be evident in mass burials or so called �deviant graves�. If there was no cremation preformed the next area of examination would entail a stratigraphic view of the grave in situ of the body itself.

Fig. 27 - Labelled human skeleton. (Wikipedia, 2007)

Body position is a possible determiner of who may be buried within the site but archaeologist must have comparative sites in association to represent the positions as meaning more than just incidental burial positioning. This brings the focus to the remains in the grave and the osteological Fig. 26 - Anglo-Saxon cemetery. (Midgley Web Pages, 1999).

determination of the skeletal remains. There are set variables and measurements that can

be used to determine a few possible

their life such as a warrior or farmer or a

determinates as to who the deceased person

person who lead a sedentary existence with

may have been in life. These are referred to as

no such damage seen. There are also set

osteological markers and entails an in-depth

measurement parameters that archaeologists

look at the morphology of the bones for

would take to help determine the height of

indications of occupational markers such as

the individual as they were in their living

tiny bone spurs on the heal bone that would

state. These measurements are taken from the

indicate a possible occupation that involved

long bones of the individual’s leg (the femur

squatting for long periods of time (White &

and tibia) (White & Folkens, 2005).

Folkens, 2005) or larger amounts of bone density on the long bone of just one arm as indicators of possible long term weaving, the use of a grinding stone or an archer. These occupational markers look for the possible social status of the individual and infer the social complexities of the population form which the individual originated. Ante and post mortem bone damage is another very important area to look at for this can tell a lot of what happened to the individual prior to death or shortly after. There are tell tale signs that archaeologists look for that can tell them if a person’s bones where broken before they died and healed or if the break occurred just before or soon after death (White & Folkens, 2005). There are indicators for different types of fractures and breaks to human bones and definitive markers to tell archaeologists what

Fig. 28 - The Human femur can be used to determine the height of an individual as well as possible age using bone ossification centres indicated in blue. (Wikipedia, 2004).

happened to a person’s bone to cause the damage that they observe (White & Folkens, 2005). This information could indicate the life lead by the individual who was possibly in physically demanding situations for part of

Using the skull and pelvis, if they are undamaged, archaeologists can again use a set standard of measurements to make an inference as to the sex of the individual. The

skull can also be used to make an inference

bone and teeth that all human development

as to the ethnic background of the individual

follows. This growth pattern starts in the

although this is very difficult to do (White &

womb as a fetus develops and ceases at

Folkens, 2005).

about the age of 25. One last osteological marker to mention that archaeologists look for from the bone material recovered would be the indication of any pathological diseases such as arthritis and some forms of cancer (White & Folkens, 2005) to help formulate a picture of the heath of the individual throughout their life time. A little side note, DNA- analysis has become cheaper and readily available to archaeologists and is used frequently to substantiate and collaborate many of these findings as well as to

Fig. 29 - Comparative Male (above) and Female Pelvis. (below) (Wikipedia, 2005).

distinguish individuals in mass burials. Having gathered all the skeletal information coupled with the topics mentioned in the rest of the magazine archaeologists can begin to piece together a picture of the people who lived and died at various times in history.

There is one more set of parameters that archaeologists would be very interested in looking at that could determine the age of the individual at the time of their death. These parameters follow a set growth pattern of



Fig. 30 - Popular belief of the Viking Funeral (Dicksee, 1893).


M any funeral acts are based on

mainstream society and while others have turned into urban legends. I decided to

religious ideologies and beliefs and are

explore one of these urban legends, the

performed as a ritualistic act of “letting

Viking burial. I picked this because it

go� of our dead. Every society and culture

seems everybody has an assumption of

throughout history has or have had their

what the Viking lifestyle and burial rites

own beliefs and practices of how this

were like or at least claim they know a

should be performed. Some of these

Viking and will simply ask that person

traditions are a little more common in our

what they do with their dead.

I interviewed a group of ten random

the North were pagans ( Andres, 2005).” Viking burial practices are believed, like

people, asking them, what their thoughts

most cultures, to have been dictated by

were of a pre-Christian Viking funeral. From

religious dogma. In this case these dogmas

these answers the most common belief was

were created by the Viking’s all father Odin

summarized that the funeral was a

and referred to as Odin’s laws.

celebration honouring a fallen warrior (seems to be a popular thought that all Vikings were warriors). The body of this warrior was cremated on a burning boat while the boat sailed to out to sea. While on shore, the mourners, dressed in their finest battle armour and horned helmets. The men would partake in drinking, feasting and merriment all night on behalf of their departed brethren.

“Thus he ordered that all dead be burned on a pyre together with their possessions, saying that everyone would arrive in Valhalla with such wealth as he had with him on his pyre and that he would also enjoy the use of what he himself had hidden in the ground. His ashes were to be carried out

Sounds fun, maybe not for the

to sea or buried in the ground.

person on the boat, but over all a good time

mounds were to be thrown up

would be had by all, unless you were a

as memorials. But for all men

woman. There was no discussion of gender

who had shown great manly

inclusion or equality at a funeral. As well

qualities memorial stones

there was no discussion of grave goods or

were to be erected; and this

personal possessions that would accompany

custom continued for a long

the body. Kinship ties were not addressed,

time there after.

but the most notable omission was; why the

Snorri Sturluson, ynglingasaga 8.

funeral was conducted in such a manner?

(Price, 2008: 257).”

For notable men burial

Most interviewees answered; “because it was” or with a shrug of bemusement. Viking beliefs were never called into question for funerals. “...the descriptions varied, but the annals repeatedly stress that the men from

Despite the laws that are mentioned there are still no consistent patterns of burial or funeral practices in the Viking world. Evidence of both cremation and inhumation have been found with patterns linking to

specific regions. For example the burial urns in Aland island’s which were found with

A boat would be constructed to serve

miniature clay beaver and bear paws

as a funeral pyre. The individuals status in

accompanying them. Odin’s laws appear at

society would determine the size of boat used.

this point to be a set of guidelines (Price,

As the construction of the boat took place, the

2008). The evidence we do have of the

body of the deceased would be exhumed from

funeral is little textual evidence and theories.

the frozen ground and dressed in their finest

When their ideas were combined, the group I

linens. After the completion of the boat, the

interviewed, were fairly close to what is

deceased and their belongs would be gathered

believed to have consisted of a pre-christian

and placed upon the boat by the family. Goods

Viking funeral. Using an extract from the work

that would accompany the deceased would be

of Ibn Falan’s Risala I’m going to fill in events

dependent on their societal status. In the case

from a Viking funeral apart from the actual

of Fadlan’s Risala, the Funeral that was

cremation and feasting.

described was for a wealthy man of higher standing in society. In this case his possessions included slaves, only one slave was required to volunteer for the journey to the afterlife. Alcohol, fruit, bread, and animals (horses, cows, hens, and a dog) were all placed on the boat.

The slave who had volunteered (in this case a young girl) was prepared; cleaned and dressed, and was lead on to the boat followed by an entourage of men and a female priestess or shaman. The slave was given alcohol to drink and would engage in a ritualistic act of calling to her master. The men who had accompanied her on to the boat individually had intercourse with her as a way of thanking her master. Upon completion of Fig. 31 - Gods ascending with the deceased to Valhalla. Finale du Rheingold. (The British Museum, 1877).

this ritual the female priestess, with the help of two of the men, sacrificed the slave and placed her with the deceased.

T he family of the deceased would be the first to set fire to the boat pyre followed by the rest of the mourners continuing to light the pyre. Once the boat, laden with the deceased and their possessions, had burnt down to ashes or at least the deceased’s body had been consumed by fire, the ashes would be gathered and placed into a burial urn. The type of urn, like the ship and grave goods, would depend on your social status in society; ceramic, bronze were the most common, while silver was reserved for either chiefs or upper gentry (Carver, 2005).

T he urn and any grave goods that did not burn to ash would be placed in a grave and a covered with a mound. Depending, again on the status of the person, a marker of either wood or stone would be placed on the top. Placement of these stone monuments ranged from a singular stone to different shapes created from multiple stones. Some markers were designed like ships, recent explanations suggest that these stones represent the roots of Yggdrasill, the world tree. A tree that connects Midgard, the earthly realm, to Valhalla, a perceived paradise for the afterlife (Price, 2008).

Fig. 32 - A Viking burial plot at Lindolm Hoje. (Aistrup Lind).

This concludes what is to be believed to have been the rituals of a Viking funeral. I informed the group of interviewees what was thought to have actually taken place. It seemed that half the group was shocked and disgusted, one person was even outraged over these rituals, The other half of the group found this to be fascinating and wanted to know more on the topic. These acts might shock you, the reader, or they might intrigue you to learn more about different cultural funeral practices but as I mentioned earlier these were performed as religious acts of the final letting go in the Viking society. Although, having vastly different practices of what we as a modern society believe in for the final farewell of our deceased, the importance and significance of the rites of a Viking funeral is not really that different then what we practice today.


TEXT References Andren, Andres (2005) Behind "Heathendom": Archaeological Studies of Old Norse Religion. Scottish

Archaeological Journal, 27(2): 105-138 .

Archaeology Europe(2012) The Risala of Ibn Fadlan available at:

Bond, J. M., (1996) ‘Burnt Offerings: Animal Bone n Anglo-Saxon Cremations’, World Archaeology:

Zooarchaeology, 28 (1), pp. 76-88, [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 20 November 2012)

Buckberry, J.L. and D.M. Hadley. (2007) ‘An Anglo-Saxon Execution Cemetery at Walkington Wold, Yorkshire’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 26 (3), pp. 309-329, [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2012)

Carotenuto, G. et al. (2008) The Palermo Capuchin Catacombs Project: A Multidisciplinary approach to the S tudy of a Modern Mummy Collection (CA 1600-1900). Conservation Science in Cultural Heritage, 8 p.155-165.

Carver, M. (1999) ‘The Discovery at Sutton Hoo’, British Heritage, 20 (4), [Online]. Available at: mgr12&vid=7&hid=8&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=a9h&AN=1859446 (Accessed: 12 November 2012)

Carver, M. and Fern, C.(2005) The seventh-century burial rites and their sequence, In Sutton Hoo: A seventh-

century princely burial ground and its context. eds Carver, Martin and et al London : The British Museum Press, 283-312

Crawford, S., (2004) Votive deposition, religion and the Anglo-Saxon furnished burial ritual. World

Archaeology, 36(1), pp.87–102. Available at: 824 042000192641 [Accessed 12 November 2012].

Effros, B., (2002) Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Effros, B., (2003) Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages, London, England: University of California Press, Ltd.

Ellis Davidson, H. R. (1950) The hill of the dragon: Anglo-saxon burial mounds in literature and archaeology.Folklore, 61(4), 169-185.

Humphreys, J., Ryland, J.W., Wellstood, F. C., Barnard, E. A. B., & Barnett, T. G., (1925) ‘XXI.- An Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Bidfore-on-Avon, Warwickshire: Second Report on the Excavations’, Archaeologia, 74, pp. 271- 288. [Online] DOI: 10.1017/S0261340900013163 (Accessed: 20 November 2012).

Jeremiah, K. (2012) Buried Alive: The Forgotten Practice of Self-Mummification. Virginia Review of Asian Studies, p.1-11.

Kastholm, O. T. (2012) ‘A Late Iron Age Boat-Grave from Petersdal, Denmark’, The International Journal of

Nautical Archaeology, 41 (2), pp. 340-349. [Online] DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-9270.2012.00346.x (Accessed: 12 November 2012).

Kendrick et al, T. D., (1939) The Sutton Hoo Finds. The British Museum Quarterly, 13(4), pp. ii+111-136.

King, J.M., (2004) Grave-Goods as Gifts in Early Saxon Burials (ca. AD 450-600). Journal of Social

Archaeology, 4(2), pp.214–238. Available at: 77/1469605304041076. (Accessed: 2 November 2012).

Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C., & Humphries, J. (1968) The cairn burials of southeastern iran. East and West,18(3/4), 269-276.

Lucy, S., (2000) The Anglo-Saxon Way of Death: Burial Rites in Early England, Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing Limited. (2012) Definition of cairn. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 29 Nov 2012]. (2012) Definition of catacomb. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 29 Nov 2012]. (2012) Definition of cremate. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 26 Nov 2012]. (2012) Definition of inhumation. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 26 Nov 2012]. (2012) Definition of mound. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 29 Nov 2012]. (2012) Definition of mummify. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 29 Nov 2012].

Parker Pearson, M. (1999) The archaeology of death and burial. College Station, Texas A&M University Press.

Price, Neil (2008) Dying and the Dead: Viking age mortuary behavior, in, The Viking World eds Brink,

Stefan and Price, Neil Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon, 257-274

Sayer, D. & Wienhold, M. (2012) ‘A GIS-Investigation of Four Early Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries: Ripley’s Kfunction Analysis of Spatial Groupings Amongst Graves’, Social Science Computer Review, pp. 1-19, [Online]. Available at: / 0894439312453 276.full.pdf+html (Accessed: 2 November 2012).

Sheehan, J. (2009) ‘A peacock’s tale: Excavations at Caherlehillan, Iveragh, Ireland’, In Edwards, N. (ed.) The

Archaeology of the Early Medieval Celtic Churches, pp. 191-206, [Online]. Available at: Value=56606 (Accessed: 2 November 2012).

Stoodley, N., (2000) From the Cradle to the Grave: Age Organization and the Anglo-Saxon Burial Rite.

World Archaeology, 31(3), pp.456–472. Available at: /125112. ( Accessed: 2 November 2012).

White, T. & Folkens, P., (2005) The Human Bone Manual. 1 ed. London: Elsevier Academic Press.

Williams, H., (2004) Death Warmed Up: The Agency of Body and Bones in Early Anglo-Saxon Cremation Rites. Journal of Material Culture, 9(3), pp. 263-291. Williams, H., (2007) Depicting the Dead: Commemoration Through Cists, Cairns and Symbols in Early Medieval Britain. Cambridge Archaeological, 17(2), pp. 145-164.

IMAGE References Cover image - York Osteoachaeology (2004) Medieval skull [Image Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 November 2012].

Fig. 1 - Cohen, C. (2012) The amazing catacombs full of mummified monks. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 2 December 2012].

Fig. 2 - Memorial Ecosystems (2012) Casket lowering at bottom. [image online] Available at:

< /tabid/57/AlbumID/365-50/Default.aspx> [Accessed: 2 December 2012].

Fig. 3 - Parker Pearson, M. (1999). The archaeology of death and burial. College Station, Texas A&M University Press.

Fig. 4 - Parker Pearson, M. (1999). The archaeology of death and burial. College Station, Texas A&M University Press.

Fig. 5 - Parker Pearson, M. (1999). The archaeology of death and burial. College Station, Texas A&M University Press.

Fig. 6 - Jeremiah, K. (2012) Buried Alive: The Forgotten Practice of Self-Mummification. Virginia Review of

Asian Studies, p.1-11.

Fig. 7 - Electric Scotland (2012) Grey Cairns of Camster. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 2 December 2012].

Fig. 8 - National Geographic (2012) Under Paris. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 2 December 2012].

Fig. 9 - Rubio, A. (2007) Picture from the excavation of the Oseberg ship burial in 1904. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 2 December 2012]. Fig. 11 - Canterbury Archaeological Trust (n.d.) Detail of adult female showing gold bracteate (medallion) and

beads from around neck [Image Online] Available at: < galleries/discoveries-at-an-anglo-saxon-cemetery-near-dover-kent/> [Accessed 4 November 2012]. Fig. 12 - Canterbury Archaeological Trust (n.d.) Gold, silver and copper alloy jewellery from a number of

graves [Image Online] Available at: < discoveries-at-an-anglo-saxon-cemetery-near-dover-kent/ > [Accessed 4 November 2012]. Fig. 13 - British Museum (n.d.) BrĂŠban grave group [Image Online] Available at: < highlight_objects/pe_mla/b/br %C3%A9ban_ grave_group.aspx> [Accessed 4 November 2012]. Fig. 14 - British Museum (n.d.) Silver gilt mount from a sword scabbard [Image Online] Available at: < objects/pe_mla/s/silver_gilt_ mount_from_a_sword.aspx> [Accessed 4 November 2012]. Fig. 15 - University of Minnesota Department of History (n.d.) Other Grave Goods, Made of Glass [Image Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 November 2012]. Fig. 16 - Ministry of Defence (2012) Private Harry Buxton excavates the body of an Anglo-Saxon woman [Image online] Available at: < Environment/SoldiersOnSalisburyPlainCelebrateHistoricalDiscovery.htm> [Accessed 1 December 2012]. Fig. 17 - Atlantis Online (2008) Aerial view of Sutton Hoo [Image online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2012].

Fig. 18 - Sheshen-eceni graphics (n.d.) Sutton Hoo cemetery site plan. [Image online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2012].

Fig. 19 - Archaeology South-East (n.d.) General view of the Anglo Saxon cemetery [Image online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 November 2012].

Fig. 20 - Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery (n.d.) Some of the many Anglo-Saxon graves excavated at

Burgh Castle [Image online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 November 2012].

Fig. 21 - Macbeth, N. (n.d.) Grave with two bodies [Image online] Available at: < /gallery_detail.asp?fld_gallery_ID=3&offset=16> [Accessed 30 November 2012].

Fig. 22 - Daily Mail (n.d.) These men, barely into their twenties, were ambushed by the local Anglo-Saxon

villagers. [Image online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 November 2012].

Fig. 23 - Suffolk County Council Archeological Service (n.d.) The remains of an ancient Anglo-Saxon warrior

and his horse were unearthed at RAF Lakenheath in 1997 [Image online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 November 2012].

Fig. 24 - BBC (2012) Archaeologists described the find as "unique in Europe" [Image online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 November 2012].

Fig. 25 - Williams, H. (2012) Death Warmed Up: The Agency of Bodies and Bones in Early Anglo-Saxon Cremation Rites. Journal of Material Culture, 9 p. 263-291.

Fig. 26 - Midgley Web Pages (1999) Anglo-Saxon Cemetery. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 29 November 2012].

Fig. 27 - Wikipedia (2007) Human Skeleton Front. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 29 November 2012].

Fig. 28 - Wikipedia (2004) Human Femur. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 30 November 2012].

Fig. 29 - Wikipedia (2005) Human Pelvis Male and Female. [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 30 November 2012].

Fig. 30 - Dicksee, F. (1893) The Funeral of a Viking [image online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 1 December 2012].

Fig. 31 - The British Museum (1877) Finale du Rheingold [image online] Available at: < object_details.aspx?objectId=1646606&partId=1&searchText=Finale%20du%20Rheingold> [Accessed: 1 December 2012].

Fig. 32 - Aistrup Lind, I. (n.d.) The Viking burial ground at Lindholm Høje, near Ă&#x2026;lborg, Denmark [image online] Available at: < groundat-Lindholm-Hojenear-Alborg-Denmark> [Accessed: 1 December 2012].

Back cover image - Hunterian Museum Archaeology & Ethnography Collections (2012) Human skull without mandible [Image Online] Available at: < fwx?collection=archaeology&searchTerm=B.1922.15> [Accessed 2 December 2012].

Back c image Š Hunterian Museum Archaeology & Ethnography Collections

What Remains  

Medieval Barbarians Edition

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you