Acquired or inherited prestige? : molecular studies of family structures and local horses in Central Svealand during the Early Medieval period

University dissertation from Stockholm : Archaeological Research Laboratory , Stockholm University

Abstract: This is a study of the role of inheritance among the élite in Early Medieval central Svealand and the possibility to study it by molecular genetic methods. The study is a part of the research project Svealand in the Vendel and Viking periods (SIV). The study rests on classical as well as a new type of source material.Hypotheses are built on the results from a research tradition resting on more than a century of data gathering and analysis. The boat cemeteries in central Svealand hold a central position in this work. Several models have been constructed over the years to explain the appearance of these special and often rich remains. In this work they are discussed in terms of inherited or acquired status, the status that gave the individual the right to such burial. Since these sites have often been discussed in terms of control of northern trade routs, a discussion on ethnicity is inevitable. A distinction between genetic and cultural belonging is made.To test the models, built upon classic archaeological research, molecular genetics is applied to the material. A variety of such molecular systems exist for studies on modern material. Some of them have been selected and heavily modified to be applicable to archaeological material. Systems based on maternally as well as paternally and Mendelian inheritances are used. One of the goals in the methodological work has been to establish which of the methods that may reveal relevant information if applied to archaeological material.Bone material from humans as well as from horses was used to test the models. The human material was mainly gathered from excavations of boat cemeteries in central Svealand, but also from an early Christian site in southern Norrland. The horse material was from a wider geographical area, including central Svealand as well as the Baltic islands Öland and Gotland, and sites in Estonia. The material was mainly from contexts of a high social status, but also, to a much lesser extent, from more common society levels. The results reveal an archaeological potential in the genetic studies of ancient bones. Genetic relations were identified on several cemeteries (Badelunda, Alsike and Björned), but also individuals with no genetic relation to the others were identified (Alsike and Björned). Horses of different sexes and with different maternal origin were also identified.The results indicate that the kin was an important feature in the upper class during the Early Medieval period in central Svealand. The kin probably had a higher importance than gender belonging. The studied horses reveal a similar situation where features other than the sex seems to have been important. However, the family seems to have been an open unit where it was possible for outsiders to enter and become a part. Thus, inheritance was important, but it was possible for an individual with deviating background to reach a desired position in other ways. There was no absolute connection between social status and genetics. As for one of the main status object, the horse, a dynamic and continuous distribution is suggested, either based on trade or on a gift system.

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