Heads and Skulls in the Iron and Viking Ages
Marianne Hem Eriksen gives a presentation on the processing, curating and fragmenting skulls in Iron and Viking Age Scandinavia
Dr. Eriksen is Associate Professor at the Institute for Archaeology/Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo and Research Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge
Eriksen argues that the Iron Age Scandinavians, from the Roman period (0-400 CE) through the Late Iron Age/Viking Age (550-1050 CE), were particularly preoccupied with heads and skulls. The preoccupation is evident through material traces of human skull removal, as well as the circulation, curation, and meticulous treatment of cranial remains. Heads or parts of heads were deposited in the domestic sphere, in ritual spaces, worn as amulets, possibly removed from burials, and required separate treatment in the mortuary processing of bodies. Animal heads were likewise the subject of particular treatment and attention, especially in the Late Iron and Viking Age.
Rather than sensationalising this phenomenon or play into ideas of indiscriminately Viking brutality, Eriksen explores a series of objects and sites from Iron and Viking Age Scandinavia as examples of what Lynn Meskell has termed headedness, i.e. ‘a particular tension surrounding heads, head removal and circulation’. Meskell’s idea of headedness is developed in a broader framework of sensory, embodied archaeology. Material fixation on heads and skulls across domestic, mortuary, and literary domains and over several centuries underpins that heads were understood to be particular forms of objects, imbued with a particular essence or even agential presence producing a specific atmosphere that was exploited for ritual purposes.