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‘Imbued with the Essence of the Owner’: Personhood and Possessions in the Reopening and Reworking of Viking-Age Burials

  • Alison Margaret Klevnäs (a1)
Abstract

This article examines the wide range of grave disturbance practices seen in Viking-age burials across Scandinavia. It argues that the much-debated reopenings at high-profile sites, notably the Norwegian ‘royal’ mounds, should be seen against a background of widespread and varied evidence for burial reworking in Scandinavia throughout the first-millennium AD and into the Middle Ages. Interventions into Viking-age graves are interpreted as disruptive, intended to derail practices of memory-creation set in motion by funerary displays and monuments. However, the reopening and reworking of burials were also mnemonic citations in their own right, using a recurrent set of practices to make heroic, mythological, and genealogical allusions. The retrieval of portable artefacts was a key element in this repertoire, and in this article I use archaeological and written sources to explore the particular concepts of ownership which enabled certain possessions to work as material citations appropriating attributes of dead persons for living claimants.

Cet article traite d'un large éventail de types de remaniements de sépultures documentés dans toute la Scandinavie à l’époque viking. La «violation» fort discutée de sépultures sur certains sites prestigieux, tels les tertres «royaux» de Norvège, fait, à notre avis, partie des témoignages nombreux et variés concernant le remaniement de sépultures en Scandinavie qui eut lieu tout au long du premier millénaire apr. J.-C. et jusqu'au Moyen Age. On interprète les interventions dans ces sépultures de l’époque viking comme représentant des actes perturbateurs qui avaient pour but de dérailler les pratiques liées à la création d'une mémoire mise en marche par les rites funéraires et les monuments. Cependant la réouverture et le réaménagement des sépultures étaient aussi des citations mnémoniques à part entière qui mettaient en œuvre un ensemble de pratiques récurrentes faisant allusion à des aspects héroïques, mythologiques et généalogiques. La récupération d'objets mobiliers était un élément clef dans ce répertoire. Notre article fait état des sources archéologiques et littéraires dans le but d’étudier des notions particulières de propriété qui permettaient à certaines possessions de servir de citations matérielles empruntant les attributs des morts en faveur de revendicateurs vivants. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

In diesem Artikel wird ein breites Spektrum von Grabstörungen in wikingerzeitlichen Gräbern aus ganz Skandinavien untersucht. Es wird hier deutlich gemacht, dass die viel diskutierten Fälle von widereröffneten Gräbern in hochrangigen Gräberstätten, vor allem in den „königlichen“ Grabhügeln in Norwegen, vor dem Hintergrund der weitverbreiteten und unterschiedlichen Belege zur Umgestaltung von Gräbern im skandinavischen ersten Jahrtausend n. Chr. und bis ins Mittelalter gesehen werden müssen. Eingriffe in wikingerzeitlichen Gräbern werden als störend angesehen; die Absicht ist, Bräuche der Erzeugung des Gedenkens, die mit der Aufführung von repräsentativen Bestattungen und Grabdenkmäler zusammenhängen, zu entgleisen. Die Wiedereröffnung und Umgestaltung von Gräbern war aber auch eine eigenständige Form mnemonischer Zitierung, die immer wiederkehrende Bräuche benutzten, um auf heroische, mythologische und genealogische Erscheinungen anzuspielen. Die Wiederauffindung von tragbaren Gegenständen war ein entscheidender Bestandteil dieses Verhaltensrepertoires; im vorliegenden Artikel werden archäologische und schriftliche Quellen untersucht, um bestimmte Konzepte des Besitzes, die gewisse Besitztümer als materielle Zitate, die sich die Eigenschaften der Toten für die Lebenden aneigneten, zu erläutern. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

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[email: alison.klevnas@ark.su.se]
References
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