Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

A lost world? – Religious identity and practice in the Lake Mälaren region during the introduction of Christianity

Annika Larsson, Gunilla Larsson, Michael Neiß & Sten Tesch (project manager)

Whenever discussing the Christianization of Scandinavia, the Lake Mälaren area comes into mind. A large number of rural burial grounds with early Christian graves has been excavated, making this region an ideal point of departure. But, the Mälaren region is more than mere countryside. Here, we also find the earliest towns, allowing us to distinguish between urban and rural burial practices. In urban environments, such as Sigtuna, early burials are relatively uniform and influenced by the Christian standard. At the same time, the situation in rural areas might be best described as ‘anything goes’. This is usually attributed to a weak ecclesiastical organization.

 

More than forty years ago, a previously unknown Late Viking Age burial ground was uncovered during archaeological excavations in connection with the construction of a motorway. The Turinge burial ground was situated south of Lake Mälaren and include both pagan graves and early Christian inhumation graves, as well as a Viking Age boat grave. Back then, archaeologists interpreted the grave as a typical burial for a well-off woman from the Birka period. Yet it only seemed like a poor cousin in comparison with the elaborate boat graves from Vendel and Valsgärde. The detailed field documentation and the fact that the central part of the burial was excavated in a laboratory setting enabled us to re-date the boat grave towards the middle of the 11th century. As a consequence, the ideological context of the Turinge burial needs to be re-evaluated.  This is where our project 'A LOST WORLD?' has its starting point. The title refers to the fact that the relatives of Turinge lady chose to stage an old fashioned ‘pre-Christian’ burial custom, rather than burying her in accordance with the contemporary Christian standard. The question is, of course, why?

It seems plausible that the diversity seen in rural burials can be connected to the enormous production of rune stones during this period. Should rune stones, thus, be understood a sign of a society in crisis? The old ideology was strongly dependent on ancestral cult that tied individuals to particular farmsteads (oðal). A key question is whether religious hybridity also should be understood as a form of resistance, not against Christianity as such but against new Christian concepts that threatened this ancient oðal ideology – that is the monarchy, the church and the individual ownership of land according to canon law. Recent archaeology provides many clues that might contribute to our new understanding of the Christianization of Scandinavia as a process of social change. Hence, individual changes in dress symbols, imagery and building structures, as well as changes in communications by land and sea do not only reflect change on an individual basis but on a greater scale.

As a theoretical framework, we are trying to implement the modern concept of hybridity. Thus, rather than identifying individuals as either Christian or Pagan, many of them should more properly be characterized as both! This new approach might contribute to our understanding of religious identity and practice during the transition period, both in a local, in a regional and in a European perspective.

FUNDING

2012

Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ-planeringsanslag)

PRESENTATIONS

2010

Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University: A lost world? 'Högre seminariet'. Uppsala 8/4 2010

Länstyrelsen I Stockholms län: Nya rön om båtgraven från Årby I Turinge sn, Södermanland

2011

Riksantikvarieämbetet & Statens Historiska Museum: 'Forskningsdag om Birka och Hovgården'. Stockholm, 24/2 2011 [http://www.shmm.se/Documents/evenemang/Program_Forskningsdag__20110324.pdf]

'Det långa skiftet – ett forskarmöte om kristnandet och lokalsamhället under vikingatid och tidig medeltid ur ett Mälardalsperspektiv'. Sigtuna 2011 – 2016

Sigtunastiftelsen 15/11 2011 Sten Tesch; Mitt i skiftet. Nya arkeologiska perspektiv på Sigtuna och kristningsprocessen.

2012

Uppsala University & Upplandsmuseet: 'ENES'. Uppsala, 25/1 2012: Sten Tesch: Var är kyrkorna? Kristendomen som lokal praktik i Mälarområdet under 1000-talet. [http://www.nordiska.uu.se/forskning/kollokvier/ENES/history/?languageId=1http://www.nordiska.uu.se/forskning/kollokvier/ENES/history/?languageId=1]

2013

Statens Historiska Museum & Stockholm University: 'Ancient Centres, Special Economic Zones and – Restart! New Aspects of Viking Age Urbanism, c. 750–1100'. Stockholm, 17–20/4 2012. Sten Tesch; Sigtuna: The Royal and Christian Town and the Regional Perspective. Tesch

[http://www.shmm.se/Documents/forskning/Aspects%20Urbanism_Conference%20Programme.pdf]

64. Internationales Sachsensymposium: 'Dying Gods – Traditional Beliefs in Northern and Eastern Europe in the Time of Christianisation'. Paderborn, 7–11/9 2013

Sten Tesch, Annika Larsson, Gunilla Larsson & Michael Neiß: 'A lost world? – Religious Identity and Practice in the Lake Mälaren Region during the Introduction of Christianity'. [ https://www.academia.edu/5255945/ ]

[ http://www.sachsensymposion.org/en/64-internationales-sachsensymposion ]

PARTICIPANTS

Annika Larsson, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University (annika.larsson@arkeologi.uu.se) [http://katalog.uu.se/empInfo/?languageId=3&id=N1-483_2]

Gunilla Larsson, Rimbo (vittfaren@gmail.com)

Michael Neiß, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University (michaelneiss@hotmail.com) [http://katalog.uu.se/empInfo/?languageId=3&id=N9-1636_6] [http://uppsala.academia.edu/michaelneiss]

Sten Tesch, Sigtuna (project manager; sten.tesch@gmail.com)

[ https://independent.academia.edu/StenTesch ]

PUBLICATIONS

1983

Tesch, S. 1983. Förändringar i bosättningsmönster och gårdsstruktur under yngre järnålder/tidig medeltid - ett par exempel från Skåne och Södermanland

[ https://www.academia.edu/10842215/ ])

2012

Annika Larsson: 'Från dräkt till koppar och järn'. In: Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson (ed.): Birka nu. Statens historiska museum, Stockholm

Michael Neiß: 'Birka är ingen ö: om båtgravar, barockspännen och laserskanning'. In: Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson (ed.): Birka nu. Statens historiska museum, Stockholm [http://uu.diva-portal.org/s/get/diva2:551007/FULLTEXT01.pdf]

2014

Tesch, S. 2014. Skilda gravar, skilda världar - tidigkristna gravar, kyrkor, stadsgårdar och storgårdar i Sigtuna och Mälarområdet. Karsvall, O & Jupiter, K. (red.), Medeltida storgårdar, Acta Academiae Regiae Gustavi Adolphi 131. Uppsala.

[ https://www.academia.edu/8252975/ ]

2015

Tesch, S. 2015a. Sigtuna: The Royal and Christian Town and the Regional Perspective. C. Hedenstierna-Jonson, C./Holmquist, L./Kalmring, S. (Eds.) Aspects of Viking Age Urbanism, c. 750-1100. Ancient Centres, Special Economic Zones and – Restart. The Swedish History

Museum, Studies 27. Stockholm.

Tesch, S 2015b. A lost world? – Religious identity and practice during the introduction of  Christanity in the Lake Mälaren region. In: Ludowici, B. (ed.), Dying Gods — Traditional Beliefs in Northern and Eastern Europe in the Time of Christianisation. Paderborn, 7-11/9 2013, Neue Studien zur Sachsenforschung 6, Altertumskommission fur Westfalen Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover. Theiss-Verlag, Stuttgart. https://www.academia.edu/15842629/A_Lost_World_Religious_identity_and_burial_practices_during_the_introduction_of_Christianity_in_the_M%C3%A4laren_region_Sweden._With_contributions_by_Annika_Larsson_Gunilla_Larsson_and_Michael_Nei%C3%9F._In_Neue_Studien_zur_Sachsenforschung_Band_5._2015_

Neiß, M. 2015. A Lost World? A re-evaluation of the boat grave at Årby in Turinge parish, Södermanland, Sweden. In: Ludowici, B. (ed.), Dying Gods — Traditional Beliefs in Northern and Eastern Europe in the Time of Christianisation. Paderborn, 7-11/9 2013, Neue Studien zur Sachsenforschung 6, Altertumskommission fur Westfalen Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover. Theiss-Verlag, Stuttgart.

https://www.academia.edu/19600737/A_Lost_World_a_re-evaluation_of_the_boat_grave_at_%C3%85rby_in_Turinge_parish_S%C3%B6dermanland_Sweden

Larsson, G:  The Boat as a Symbol in a Changing Society. In: Ludowici, B. (ed.), Dying Gods — Traditional Beliefs in Northern and Eastern Europe in the Time of Christianisation. Paderborn, 7-11/9 2013, Neue Studien zur Sachsenforschung 6, Altertumskommission fur Westfalen Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover. Theiss-Verlag, Stuttgart.

Fig. 1. Map of the burial ground. RAÄ 165 at Årby in Turinge parish, Södermanland. Red = boat grave.

Fig. 2a. Boat grave in situ during the archaeological excavations of 1972. Fig. 2b. The central part of the boat grave was taken to the laboratory en bloc and later investigated by leading conservation experts at the National Heritage Board of Sweden. This led to an exemplary documentation. Fig. 2c. Dress reconstruction of the Turinge lady, as suggested by Annika Larsson. Obviously, the Turinge lady died in a period when fashions requiring the use of oval brooches were a thing of the past (at least in the Mälaren Region). As a result, it became somewhat difficult to acquire jewellery. The lady was therefore supplied with second-hand pieces. In other words, her family not only needed to dig deep into their treasure chest (cf. Fig. 3a), but also into other graves (cf. Fig. 3b) in order to set her up with appropriate jewellery. This ‘renaissance scenario’ harmonises well with the peripheral position of the boat grave in the Årby burial ground (see Fig. 1). Fig. 3a. A set of gilded copper-alloy jewellery with conflicting micro-dates. The great circular brooch is presumably older than the remaining jewellery, but in a much fresher state. On the oval brooches, traces of advanced wear are paired with traces of professional repair. Moreover, the set is not an original pair. The unusual shape of the pendants and the absence of chip-carved parallels in the Birka material makes it likely that they were produced after 975. In Russia, comparable pendants were still made around the year 1100. Fig. 3b. 35 out of a total of 36 original glass beads. Our object autopsy reveals that one bead dates back to the Vendel Age, whereas two others have severe heat damage (indicating that they derive from another cremation grave).