Constructing society in Viking-age Iceland: Rituals and power

Timothy Carlisle, Karen Beatrice Milek

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Although foundation deposits or structured deposits in houses are a relatively well documented phenomenon in prehistoric Europe from the Neolithic to the Early Modern Period, frameworks for defining and discussing these deposits in the Viking Age are disparate – both in terms of the terminologies archaeologists use to describe them and in terms of the interpretations applied to them. This is partially due to the variability in the materials deposited and in the locations of such deposits within Viking-age houses, but there is also an apparent reluctance to engage with contentious theories surrounding the interpretation of ritual practices. This paper reconsiders the theoretical framework for understanding structured deposits in houses and uses a fresh approach to interpret three case studies from Viking-age Iceland. Although the individual deposits are different from one another, they show interesting patterns when interpreted using cognitive approaches to ritual theory. In this study the social
semiotics of the deposited materials and their contexts will be considered from a perspective that focusses on the discursive qualities associated with ritualized performances. Considering these case studies within the context of Iceland’s emerging society during the late ninth to eleventh century AD suggests that household ritual performances were an important mechanism by which people attempted to influence or negotiate perceptions of social space and social relationships within households and communities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Farm as a Social Arena
EditorsLiv Helga Dommasnes, Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann, Alf Tore Hommedal
Place of PublicationMünster
ISBN (Print)978-3-8309-3552-0
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


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