Gardeła Leszek, Entangled worlds : archaeologies of ambivalence in the Viking Age

Gardeła Leszek, Entangled worlds : archaeologies of ambivalence in the Viking Age, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2012, (dir. N. Price, P. Jordan,  Université d’Aberdeen)

Résumé/abstract :
When all available sources on the Viking world are combined, there is a strong sense that the Scandinavians of the late Iron Age (8th-11th centuries AD) recognised no clear distinctions between the profane and the sacred. The latter could manifest itself in different ways, in places, beings or objects, and it often aroused ambivalent feelings of both fear and awe. This thesis explores these entanglements and the notion of ambivalence in relation to a particular group of Viking-Age individuals involved in the practice of magic (e.g. seiðr). Chapters 1-3 form the background for the considerations on ritual specialists’ lives, tools of trade and ways of burial. After a detailed review of Viking-Age funerary practices, focus shifts towards the corpus of so-called ‘deviant burials’, which in recent years have often been interpreted as belonging to ritual specialists. Chapter 4 compares the written and archaeological evidence for the funerary treatment of ritual specialists. Particular attention is devoted to graves where the deceased are covered with stones, since in the written sources execution by stoning is often employed as a punishment for malevolent magic. Nonetheless, caution is suggested in labeling all of them as belonging to ritual specialists and the necessity of a more individual, contextual approach is proposed. Chapter 5 examines a specific group of Viking-Age artefacts that usually take the form of iron rods, which have recently been interpreted as magic staffs. These items are discussed in the light of Old Norse texts and comparative materials from other areas of the world. Ultimately, the thesis embraces the notion of ambiguity in Viking attitudes to the supernatural, viewing this not as an obstructive problem but as an active component of interpretation. This combines an appropriate caution in approaching a difficult aspect of past societies, with a sensible refusal to introduce more rigid definitions than those used by the Vikings themselves.

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