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Horse Burial in First Millennium AD Britain: Issues of Interpretation

  • Pamela J. Cross

Burial of horses and horse-elements occurred throughout Europe during the first millennium AD. These burials are prevalent in northwest Europe and are perhaps more significant in Britain than previously realised. This article explores the position and value of the horse within Britain during this period and why the burials are likely to represent ritual deposition. Both horse and human-horse burials, are linked to non-Christian burial and sacrificial practices of the Iron Age and Early Medieval period and are particularly associated with Anglo- Saxon and Viking Britain. Some of the traditions appear to reflect the culture described in the Icelandic Sagas, Beowulf, and other legends and chronicles. Archaeologically, the human-horse burials are also linked with high status individuals and ‘warrior graves’, while complete-horse and horse-element burials may represent ritual feasting and/or sacrificial rites which are probably linked with fertility, luck, and the ancestors.

L'inhumation de chevaux et d'éléments de chevaux est attesté a travers l'Europe durant le premier millénaire de notre ère. Ces inhumations, fréquentes en Europe du Nord-Ouest, le sont plus encore que l'on pensait jusqu'à présent en Grande Bretagne. Nous penchons dans cet article sur la position et la valeur du cheval en Grande Bretagne à cette période, sur la possibilité que les inhumations représentent des dépôts rituels, et sur l'information que nous pouvons en tirer sur la culture del'éoque. Tant les dépôts de chevaux que les inhumations homme- cheval sont associés à des sépultures et sacrifices rituels non-chrétiens, durant l'Âge de Fer et le haut Moyen Âge spécifiquement en Grande Bretagne Anglo-Saxonne et Viking. Certaines de ces traditions semblent refléter les coutumes décrites dans les sagas islandaises, et des légendes et chroniques telles Beowulf. D'un point de vue archéologique, les inhumations homme-cheval sont aussi associés à des individus de haut rang et des tombes de guerriers, alors que des inhumations de chevaux complets ou d'éléments de chevaux pourrait représenter des festins rituels et des sacrifices rituels probablement associés à la fertilité, la bonne fortune et les ancêtres. Translation by Nathan Schlanger.


Bestattungen von Pferden oder Pferdeteilen kamen während des ersten Jahrtausends n. Chr. in ganz Europa vor. Diese Bestattungen traten besonders häufig in Nordwesteuropa auf und haben in Großbritannien eine größere Bedeutung als bisher angenommen. Dieser Beitrag beschäftigt sich mit der Stellung und Bedeutung des Pferdes in Großbritannien während dieser Zeit, erklärt warum es sich wahrscheinlich um rituelle Niederlegungen handelt und beschreibt was diese über die damalige Kultur aussagen. Sowohl Pferdeniederlegungen, als auch Pferde-Mensch Bestattungen sind während der Eisenzeit und dem Frühmittelalter, besonders im angelsächsischen und wikingerzeit- lichen England, mit nicht-Christlichen Bestattungen und Opferpraktiken in Ver- bindung gebracht worden. Manche dieser Traditionen entsprechen der Kultur, wie sie in den isländischen Sagen wie Beowulf und einigen anderen Legenden und Chroniken beschrieben wird. Archäologisch sind Pferde-Mensch Bestattungen in Gräbern der Elite und;Kriegergräbern” nachgewiesen, während Bestattungen von ganzen Pferden oder Teilen von Pferden eher rituelle Gelage und Opferriten repräsentieren, die wahrscheinlich mit Fruchtbarkeit, Glück und dem Ahnenkult in Zusammenhang stehen. Translation by Tina Jacob.

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