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Burials and Landscape in the Faroe Islands during the Viking Age

PURKHUS, ANN,SOLVIA,SELMARSDOTTIR (2021) Burials and Landscape in the Faroe Islands during the Viking Age. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 10 August 2024.


This research project aimed to provide a new understanding of the Viking Age burials in the Faroe Islands, where they were located in the landscape relative to other Viking Age burials in the North Atlantic region, why those sites were chosen, and how we might be able to locate new burials. When I started this dissertation, only three Viking Age burial sites had been identified and two of them excavated in the Faroe Islands, neither of which had been fully published. This placed limits on our understanding of the world-views, beliefs and mortuary practices of the first inhabitants of the islands. Therefore, this project included a detailed analysis of the excavation archives of the excavated burials at Yviri í Trøð and Við Kirkjugarð, and used a new, landscape-based approach to better understand the locations of the burials relative to natural and human-made features. Comparative landscape analyses were also conducted at selected case study sites in the neighbouring regions of Norway, the Northern Isles of Scotland, and Iceland, in order to consider the similarities and differences of the Faroese burials, and whether the world-views and beliefs of the Viking Age settlers in the Faroe Islands were distinct from their neighbours.

In an attempt to identify new Viking Age burial sites in the Faroe Islands, as these are not visible in the landscape today, I developed a new, multi-method approach that focussed on the northern islands of the archipelago, utilising archival sources, aerial imagery, local oral landscape histories, field survey, geophysical survey, and finally test excavations. Although no new burials were confirmed, a number of new ‘probable’ and ‘possible’ Viking Age burial sites were identified. Moreover, my analysis of the two excavated cemeteries, and the new landscape analyses conducted for this project, generated new interpretations. The key outcome of my research makes it clear that the first settlers brought with them pagan burial practices common to Norway and the North Atlantic region, which were adapted to the unique landscape of the Faroes – a landscape which is so rugged that it resulted in village-based settlement patterns, communal infields, and communal cemeteries. I argue that the dead were in fact visible from settlements, landing sites, and the routes between them, and may have played important roles greeting newcomers, standing guard over infields and settlements, and visually communicating family affiliations, land ownership, and identities.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Viking Age, Burials, Landscapes, Faroe Islands
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:17 Aug 2021 08:54

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