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Neil Price: Life and Afterlife: Dealing with the Dead in the Viking Age

Ale’s Stones is a megalithic monument in Skåne in southern Sweden. It is a so called “stone ship”. 67 m long and formed by 59 large boulders, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes each. Carbon-14 dating for organic remains has provided seven results at the site. One indicates that the material is around 5,500 years old whereas the remaining six indicate a date about 1,400 years ago, which is considered to be most likely. A stone ship (or ship setting) was an early burial custom, characteristically Scandinavian but also found in Germany and the Baltic states.

Professor Neil Price delivers the second of three lectures (part I), focusing on the fundamental role that narrative, storytelling and dramatisation played in the mindset of the Viking Age (8th-11th centuries), occupying a crucial place not only in the cycles of life but particularly in the ritual responses to dying and the dead.

Early medieval Scandinavians’ attitudes to death provide a window on the Viking mind, and they were monumentalised in some of the most spectacular burials known to archaeology. A study of these complex and spectacular funeral rituals is not only fascinating in its own right, but is inevitably also a meditation on this particular culture’s responses to the human condition. The Vikings’ unique view of the world can provide genuinely deep perspectives on the fundamentals of life, on the fears of mortality that confronted them as they still confront us.