Accessibility statement

Death and Burial in the Age of the Vikings - ARC00090M

« Back to module search

  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Steve Ashby
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2019-20

Module aims

This module surveys the diverse array of Viking burial practices, across Scandinavia and the regions
in which Scandinavians raided and settled between the eighth and eleventh centuries, including the
British Isles, continental Europe, and the north Atlantic. It explores the meanings inherent in funerary
rites, and sets burials in their landscape, settlement, religious and ideological contexts. The module
examines the significance of the material culture employed in burial rites, including both grave goods
and funerary monuments. The role of funerary practices in conveying messages about status and
identity will also be explored, as will the manner in which burials mediated processes of religious
change. The module is interdisciplinary in focus, and integrates the funerary record with documentary
sources, and approaches from archaeological science, including osteological analysis, and stable
isotope evidence for diet and migration, to enable us to utilize the funerary record as a means of
exploring Viking lifeways, as well as understanding death as a rite of passage. The module will
explore key Viking burial sites including Jelling and Trelleborg (Denmark), Oseberg and Gokstad
(Norway), Staraja Ladoga (Russia), Repton, Heath Wood and Ridgeway Hill (England), Dublin
(Ireland), Balladoole and Ballateare (Isle of Man), Scar and Westness (Scotland), and Brattahlíð

Specifically the aims are:

·         To critically examine the evidence for, and interpretations of burial practice in the Viking world 

·         To develop research, analytical and presentation skills

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Recognise the diverse nature of Viking burial practices in Scandinavia, the British Isles, continental Europe and the north Atlantic
  • Demonstrate awareness of the diversity of sources used to examine burial practices, including those drawn from documentary analysis and archaeological science, as well as the material remains of funerary practices
  • Critically evaluate the evidence related to death and burial in the Viking world
  • Discuss the ways in which funerary practices were employed to convey messages about status and identity

Academic and graduate skills

By the end of the module, students will: 

  • Have developed their writing skills through assessed essays
  • Have developed their skills in verbal communication, by discussing complex evidence and arguments in seminar presentations and group discussion

Module content


  • The module is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars, and includes a trip to a
    relevant site or museum collection
  • Students will explore the key issues addressed by the module through detailed work on relevant case studies, which can be tailored to their specific interests
  • The module is assessed by a formative and summative assignment


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative work:

1. The essay: written feedback and the essay will be returned to the student within two weeks of submission. The student can make an appointment with the marker to obtain verbal feedback.

Summative work:

1. The essay: written feedback will be returned to the student within the period decreed by the university. The student can make an appointment with the marker to obtain verbal feedback.

Indicative reading


  • Barrett, J.H. & Richards, M.P. 2004. Identity, gender, religion and economy: new isotope and radiocarbon evidence for marine resource intensification in early historic Orkney, Scotland,UK. European Journal of Archaeology 7 (3): 249-71
  • Batey, C. & Paterson, C. 2012. A Viking burial at Balnakeil, Sutherland. In A. Reynolds & L. Webster (eds), Early Medieval Art and Archaeology in the Northern World: studies in honour of James Graham-Campbell, pp. 631-59. Leiden: Brill 
  • Fridriksson, A. and Vesteinsson, O. 2011. Landscapes of burial: contrasting the pagan and Christian paradigms of burial in Viking Age and medieval Iceland. Archaeologia Islandica 9:50-64
  • Harrison, S. and Ó Floinn, R. (2015) Viking Graves and Grave-Goods in Ireland. Dublin:National Museum of Ireland
  • Loe, L. et al. 2014. ‘Given to the Ground’: a Viking Age Mass Grave on Ridgeway Hill,Weymouth. Oxford: Oxford Archaeology
  •  Montgomery, J. 2000. Ibn Fadlan and the Russiyah. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 3:1-25
  • Price, D. et al. 2011. Who was in Harold Bluetooth’s army? Strontium isotope investigation of the cemetery at the Viking Age fortress at Trelleborg, Denmark. Antiquity 85: 476-89
  • Price, N. 2010. Passing into poetry: Viking-Age mortuary drama and the origins of Norse mythology. Medieval Archaeology 54: 123-56 
  • Tarlow, S. 1997. The dread of something after death: violation and desecration on the Isle of Man in the tenth century. In J. Carman (ed.), Material Harm: archaeological studies of war and violence, pp. 133-42. Glasgow: Cruithne Press
  •  Wood, R. 2014. The pictures on the greater Jelling stone. Danish Journal of Archaeology, 3(1): 19-32

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.