Practices for the Living and the Dead : Medieval and Post-Reformation Burials in Scandinavia

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University

Abstract: The main themes of the thesis are burial customs and social identities, and how medieval and post-Reformation graves can provide information on such as age structures, phases in life, gender relations and social organization. The study is based on nine groups of Scandinavian material, and it comprises four case studies. The first one deals with social zoning in medieval cemeteries and how age and gender structures varied within and between different social strata. The second concerns ‘atypical’ medieval burials, such as graves in which individuals have been buried in a deviant or peripheral position; and it also focusses on burials of the sick and the impaired. The third case study examines two mainly medieval burial practices: the use of charcoal and burial rods, and possible interpretations of their inclusion in graves. The fourth study deals with post-Reformation burial customs; how they differ from the medieval ones and what notions may have caused the changes in practice. It is concluded that in the Early Middle Ages, social identity was to a large extent intermingled with group identity. Towards the twelfth century, the social boundaries were sharpened and burial customs emphasizing personal aspects such as gender, age and body developed. A person’s biological status was a major factor in determining gender and social identities, and thereby also social status. In the Late Middle Ages the inner burial customs became more homogeneous, probably as a result of new religious beliefs and ecclesiastical restrictions. After the Reformation, social differences in burial prevailed, and above all the memorials displayed and shaped social identities. The inner burial customs became more varied again, displaying a ‘revival’ of old customs. This was most likely caused by changes in religious practices: since the Church no longer provided comforting and protective ritualistic practices they were instead performed before the funeral by the next of kin.

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