Death and Transition Part 1: Boats and Burials

Hello everyone, and happy New Year! Hope you have a good one, and to celebrate, is an article on a couple of lectures I had the privilege of attending at the University of Winchester last year. The lecture was given by Professor Howard Williams from the University of Chester, called Death and Transition. The first was on Viking ship burials, and so from my poorly written and even more poorly transcribed notes is an account of the first lecture:

The lecture was a case study on a ninth century Viking boat grave in Sweden excavated in 2005 when he was accompanied by some Swedish colleagues. It was used as an example of the burial process worked, as well as their role in Viking society.

He discussed how it allowed us to consider death as drama and process, and he explained how the body is left for ten days before the cremation ceremony. He noted that the boats weren’t specially made for use in life, and considered the provenance of the boats as well as wondering what knowledge about the burial process in the Viking Age.

He also considered the ways that at funerals, societies recited their most important rituals, and he discussed the dead’s relation to them, as well as the importance of the boat in the ritual. He discussed the imagery of movement that was implied by the choice of a boat funeral and cremations. There were also similar discoveries in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. He also lectured on the carvings, in particular carvings of boats, possibly representing transportation to the afterlife. He also comparing the movement of the boats to movements of the flames at cremations. It was interesting to hear him talk about the hierarchy of burial practices and their categorisation. He discussed some very interesting facts about the burial practices of the Vikings, and the role of the boat in these burials.

One interesting theory he suggested was that important eulogies became the basis for later Viking sagas. It was also interesting to hear about the implements and accessories that were buried with the bodies, and what evidence they provided. It was equally interesting to discuss varieties of burials, such as a three person burial in Calpan, an early trading post found in Norway, as well as one in Orkneyjar where a Christian burial was on top of a Viking settlement. He also discussed the position of boat burials, and their inhumations, and how this influenced his choice of excavations. He also considered hypotheses about why some artefacts were missing (he believed it was probably due to a grave robbery, and discussed who may have been responsible). He also considered potential security measures against grave robberies. He closed the lecture by considering the possibility they were buried the in ships, so that the dead could later find their way back to the world of the living.

It was all very interesting. I apologise if I got anything wrong, you can blame my handwriting, but I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Eventually I’ll post up the second lecture, but in the meantime, I wish you all a happy New Year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s