FAQ

Viking Age: the Viking Age is conventionally dated to c. 790-c. 1050, with regional variations. It is characterised as a time when people from Scandinavia ventured to other regions in relatively large numbers, therefore impacting on other culture’s and being noticed by local chroniclers. The ‘pagan’ burials in Scotland are conventionally dated 850-950, with the possibility of burial a decade or so at each end of that date range. This creates an interesting dilemma as there is contemporary written evidence for Viking raids on Scotland before 850, and presumably some Scandinavians would die during a raiding voyage, but then where were they buried? It is possible that ostentatious burial, ie. those requiring alot of effort and resources on the part of those doing the burying, was associated with settlement and/or overlordship. From c. 950 local Christian burial customs appear to have been followed in all instances, although there were probably Scandinavians buried in a Christian manner before this date.

Culturally Scandinavain: when the text refers to Scandinavian burial it is important to note that the person buried was not necessarily born in Scandinavia, and they may not have even been of Scandinavian descent. Instead, their mode of burial suggests that they were part of a Scandinavian cultural milieu. All of the people who feature on this website interacted with other groups in Britain and Ireland, and insular artefacts were buried with many of them. Indeed, isotopic evidence from the Cnip and Westness cemeteries (see Orkney Islands and Outer Hebrides) suggests that many had emigrated from elsewhere in Britain and Ireland, and they may have therefore been at least partly of British or Irish genetic descent.

Burial customs: all of the burials featured are considered to be culturally Scandinavian as they are different from local burial practice. Most obviously, they include various artefacts, are under/in mounds, are cremations, or any combination of these three things. By contrast, non-Scandinavian burials of the time were usually unaccompanied, without mounds, and never cremations. They were also primarily given a Christian East-West alignment.

Religion: burial practice is often used as a pointer to religious affiliation, which is understandable given the lack of other evidence. However, although cremation was certainly non-Christian at the time, and burials under/in mounds almost certainly were so, equating burials accompanied by grave goods with ‘paganism’ is dangerous. Indeed, a number of the accompanied burials featured are from Christian cemeteries and these may be considered ‘transitional’ burials as people moved towards Christian beliefs, or at least Christian burial culture. The sheer variety of burials found on this site demonstrates the highly complex and individualised nature of each burial.

IMG_5122
Oval brooch from Wick of Aith, Fetlar, Shetland. Photograph Shane McLeod, taken with the kind permission of Shetland Museum, Lerwick.

Artefacts: to keep things simple whole artefacts are named, eg. if a shield boss is found I will list it as a shield, assuming that a whole shield was buried and then decomposed, leaving only the metal boss and perhaps rivets. In burials with relatively few artefacts I list all of the finds, but in particularly rich burials or cemeteries I only list some of them due to a lack of space, and since this site is not primarily concerned with artefacts. Those interested in the artefacts should consult the literature cited.

Funeralscapes: all funerals are a form of performance, and this is especially applicable to the often elaborate funerals of Scandinavians during the Viking Age. A ‘funeralscape’ is the interaction between the funeral, which may have included singing, feasting, the deposition of artefacts, the building of a mound etc., and the surrounding landscape. For those interested in funeralscapes and the performative aspects of funerals please visit  https://funeralscapes.wordpress.com/

GPS/NGR: where possible all sites are provided with a GPS point obtained during site visits and the National Grid Reference (NGR) taken from the ‘Canmore’ website. In some instances visiting the exact site was impossible due to local conditions so a GPS point is not given, but a NGR is. In a couple of instances the NGR on Canmore does not appear to be correct so it is not given, but a GPS point is. It should be noted that although the GPS points were generated with a Garmin GPS device at the sites, it became apparent when making the maps that they are not always 100% accurate. They are usually within a metre of the site, but in the case of the Wick of Aith, Fetlar, the GPS point would leave you in the water so the NGR is preferred!

Viewsheds: Viewshed maps are provided for sites where the location is known to within 25m. Areas in green are those that could seen, and be seen from, the burial site. Unfortunately, the mapping system does not (at least with my ability!) take into account the limits of human perception, so the map for Kildonnan, Isle of Eigg (Inner Hebrides, below), demonstrates that there was intervisibility between it and Swordle Bay where a boat burial has been found (green dot), but this does not mean that the individual mounds would have been visible from Swordle Bay (they aren’t!). It also needs to be born in mind that if burial sites are covered in turf or sand it lessens their visibility, although it should not be discounted that some had a marker of some kind and/or were kept free of turf and sand.

Kildonnan

Using material: this information is made freely available, but any use of the material should credit myself and provide the website name and url, and the date it was launched (2015). Much of my information is drawn from other reports and articles and ideally these should be cited. All of the photographs were taken, and maps made, by myself and should also be credited as such.

Contact: anyone wishing to comment on the site is encouraged to do so. Those wanting to ask detailed questions, provide additional information, or point out any errors or oversights can contact me at Shane.McLeod@utas.edu.au

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