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Doors to the dead. The power of doorways and thresholds in Viking Age Scandinavia

  • Marianne Hem Eriksen

Mortuary practices could vary almost indefinitely in the Viking Age. Within a theoretical framework of ritualization and architectural philosophy, this article explores how doors and thresholds were used in mortuary practice and ritual behaviour. The door is a deep metaphor for transition, transformation and liminality. It is argued that Viking Age people built ‘doors to the dead’ of various types, such as freestanding portals, causewayed ring-ditches or thresholds to grave mounds; or on occasion even buried their dead in the doorway. The paper proposes that the ritualized doors functioned in three ways: they created connections between the dead and the living; they constituted boundaries and thresholds that could possibly be controlled; and they formed between-spaces, expressing liminality and, conceivably, deviance. Ultimately, the paper underlines the profound impact of domestic architecture on mortuary practice and ritual behaviour in the Viking Age.

Corresponding author
*Marianne Hem Eriksen, Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo, Norway. Email:
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Archaeological Dialogues
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