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Sacrifice, Sexuality, and Seir: The Role of Women in

Viking Boat Burial Ritual


Humanities
College of Arts and Sciences
Medieval Studies and English
Mary Catherine Kinniburgh, third year undergraduate

Viking women work as binders and symbols of culture and conveyance,


especially in promoting the movement between life and death in funeral ritual.
Ultimately, within the interplay of various Viking era texts and artifacts, the idea
of women as binders of culturally socialized Viking societies becomes not just a
central female role, but a clear mark of Viking ritual and identity.

Most of the scholarship on


Without literary the cultural role of women in
accounts there is no medieval Scandinavia
animation of artifacts focuses its discussion on the
within their cultural effects of Christianity on
context. The Frostathing pagan society. My
laws of the thirteenth century, scholarship represents a
Beowulf, and the Icelandic
sagas provide critical different perspective in
interpretations of grave goods historical Viking studies in
within the framework of funerary women and gender by
ritual. While the Icelandic sagas
Objects of Consideration: were written in the thirteenth analyzing ritualistic behavior
century, much later than the at its pagan roots. Such a
period of boat burials, there is specific topic as the role of
The Oseberg Ship in Norway. agreement in that they remain
The numerous horse skeletons and trade-oriented grave useful by reflecting an earlier Viking women in pagan
goods found in this grave symbolize wealth and representation of Norse society burial rituals from 700-900
in the form of a later work. Many AD has yet to be published,
conveyance to the afterlife of the Oseberg queen. of the stories were passed down
through recitation, and a few and is an exciting addition to
Sutton Hoo, in East Suffolk, England. were written formally in poetry a growing dialogue on
before the tenth century. The gender in the medieval
Images of Roman kingship and authority as well as horse story of Beowulf was also used
skeletons and Scandinavian belt buckles align this kingly heavily in oral tradition, meaning period. My thesis required
grave with Viking burial traditions, adding to the dialogue that both the sagas and Beowulf detailed research and use of
can be used in practical archaeology, gender theory,
of Northern European medieval grave sites. anthropological ways.
and literary criticism in
The text Beowulf. addition to standard modes
The Geatish woman mourning the loss of Beowulf, as well of historical inquiry. This
as the thematic use of boat burials, suggest the Viking work would not have been
perception of women as instruments of historical possible without the
preservation through grief during funerary ritual. University of Virginias
undergraduate Medieval
Ahmad ibn Fadlns acccount of the Rs. Studies program. This
This Muslim ethnographer produced a famous account of interdisciplinary program is a
a Viking boat burial ceremony in the tenth century during hidden gem for research-
his diplomatic travels. This text comprises the main oriented students of the
historical source from which we may analyze the process humanities. By collaborating
of funerary rites and womens role in them, providing the with Professor Paul J. E.
information with which the use of women and the Kershaw and hoping to
message of ship burials may be decoded. publish my thesis, I aim to
expand the boundaries of
**The term seir encompasses the practice of pagan sorcery rituals depicted in the Icelandic sagas. Photos: Gokstad excavation, PD. Oseberg ship
courtesy of Viking Naval Museum, http://www.sjolander.com/viking/museum/Oseberg.jpg. Carved head courtesy of Oslo Museum, Norway. the research I have already
collected by embracing the
Presidential Inauguration Research Poster Competition academic community.
April 14, 2011