Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

Neil Price

Neil.price@arkeologi.uu.se

Professor of archaeology

I was appointed to the established Chair of Archaeology late in 2014. The job has roots going back to 1662 when Olof Verelius was made 'Professor of the Fatherland's Antiquities', making it probably the oldest archaeological post of its kind in the world. There have been long gaps in its tenure since Verelius' time, but it has been continuously filled since 1914. A year after taking up post I was fortunate to be awarded a major 10-year grant from the Swedish Research Council, which also conferred the somewhat embarrassing title of 'Distinguished Professor' (though to be fair it sounds better in Swedish, rådsprofessor).

I also hold an Honorary Research Chair in Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, an Adjunct Professorship of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and an Honorary Senior Research Fellowship at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Career in brief

I began my archaeological career in the early 1980s, excavating for the Museum of London and at numerous sites in Britain, Germany, Malta and the Caribbean. I completed my BA in Medieval Archaeology at University College London's Institute of Archaeology in 1988, and afterwards conducted postgraduate research at the University of York on the Anglo-Scandinavian tenements at Coppergate. In 1990 I visited Scandinavia for the first time, as a recipient of the generous scholarships set up for foreign researchers on the excavations at the island Viking town of Birka. The experience was so positive that I emigrated here in 1992, working in rescue archaeology first for the National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet-UV) and subsequently for the Arkeologikonsult consultancy practice.

In 1997 I returned to academia and began my formal relationship with this department, writing my doctorate here at Uppsala. After finishing my PhD in 2002 I taught for several years at Uppsala, before moving to positions at the universities of Oslo and Stockholm; I also co-directed Harvard's summer school in Viking Studies for five years. In late 2007 an exciting opportunity arose back in the UK when the University of Aberdeen announced the creation of an entirely new Department of Archaeology, the first time this had happened at a major institution in several decades; I was appointed as the inaugural established Chair of Archaeology there, tasked with building the new unit and guiding its development as an internationally leading centre for the study of the Northern past.

Building on the achievements of the Aberdeen department, coming back to Uppsala in 2014 was an academic homecoming. I am honoured to have been entrusted with responsibility for the discipline here, and humbled by the long line of my predecessors that include some of Scandinavia's most celebrated archaeologists going back more than three centuries. Following our 2013 merger with the former University College on Gotland, where archaeology was a flagship subject, we now have nearly 80 teaching and research staff, postdocs and PhD fellows, and are thus one of the largest Departments of Archaeology, Classical Archaeology and Egyptology in northern Europe. Over the coming years, I'm looking forward to working with all my colleagues as we together take Uppsala into new arenas of international excellence in teaching, research and outreach.

Research interests

My research interests fall into two broad categories, embracing the early medieval North c. 400-1100 CE, especially the Viking Age, and the historical archaeology of the Asia-Pacific region from the 1700s to the present.

I developed a fascination for the culture of the Vikings and their world during my early teens. My undergraduate studies in London offered the first opportunity to engage seriously with Scandinavia and the Viking world, and set the pattern of my working life ever since. My specific interests include Scandinavian and Germanic pre-Christian religion, ritual, sorcery and magic; Viking Age mentality and world-view, what could called be the ‘Northern mind’; Viking Age mortuary behaviour and funerary drama; Sámi archaeology and religion; the Vikings and Islam; early medieval ideology, identity and power; early medieval sexuality; Scandinavian-native interaction; and the socio-cultural impact of natural disasters and climate change. Over the last twenty-five years or so I have lectured and travelled widely in the Viking and circumpolar world, and directed research projects in France, Iceland, Russia and Sápmi, besides several here in Sweden.

Although my current Chair has a traditional focus on Scandinavian prehistory, in fact I believe we all are (or should be) global archaeologists. Over the past decade or so, I have also developed interests in early modern and historical archaeology, with a focus on the Pacific (especially Micronesia), the China Seas (especially the Pearl River delta region) and the Indian Ocean. More specifically, my research in these areas encompasses archaeologies of the colonial encounter; the archaeology of slavery; early globalisation and the social biography of commodities; the archaeology of the Maritime Silk Road; and cognitive urbanism and urban peripheries. More generally, my research also addresses three overarching themes: the social archaeology of conflict; the comparative archaeology of piracy; and the archaeology of traditional belief systems. This work has been pursued in many contexts, including southern Africa, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada, the Bahamas and the southern Californian desert. 

Among my theoretical and methodological interests are cognitive approaches to material culture, post-colonial approaches to material culture studies, archaeological ethics, the integration of archaeology and textual scholarship, and archaeological biographies (artefactual, commodity, social and collateral).

Primary research activity: The Viking Phenomenon

In December 2015, the Swedish Research Council made an unprecedented investment in early medieval scholarship, funding a major programme of research at the University of Uppsala to establish a new centre of excellence for the study of the Viking Age. The award appoints me to a Distinguished Professorship (Rådsprofessor) in pure research for a period of ten years. In addition to the position, the award brings with it a supporting budget of fifty million kronor (approx. $6 million USD).

The Viking Age (c.750-1050 CE) has long been a touchstone of identity in the Nordic countries, not least in Sweden where the primary project focus lies. While the Vikings enjoy a popular recognition common to few other ancient cultures, their history has been reinvented, used and abused to suit the needs of successive generations, in a process that continues today. Much of the recent research into the Vikings and their time has focussed on the complex process of state formation and Christian conversion that eventually gave rise to the modern Scandinavian nations. Far less attention has been devoted to the very beginnings of this trajectory: who really were the Viking raiders in a specific sense, why did they do what they do, what kind of societies produced them, and why did they start to expand so violently into the world at precisely this time? The answers to these questions concern the very origins of the Viking phenomenon. They are of crucial interest for understanding what made Sweden what it is today, and the sometimes problematic ways in which this knowledge of the past is received in contemporary society.

Under my direction, the ten-year programme will explore these issues with a core research group based at Uppsala University (Dr John Ljungkvist) and the Swedish History Museum (Dr Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson), working in close collaboration with a team from Tallinn and Tartu universities in Estonia. During the lifetime of the project we will be joined by a number of postdoctoral researchers, together with a large team of international scholars, each making targeted contributions to their areas of expertise.

The project is designed as an umbrella programme that shelters several sub-strands of research. The key focus of attention will be on the critical century from 750 to 850 CE and the decades either side, embracing the early Viking Age and its foundations.

At the heart of the project is one of Sweden's greatest archaeological treasures, the largest cemetery of ship burials ever found, the classic site of Valsgärde in Uppland. For more than 400 years, each generation interred its prominent people of both sexes here in magnificent boat graves and cremations, filled with objects and animals. Excavated from the 1920s to the 1950s, together with the nearby sites of Gamla Uppsala, Vendel and Ultuna they tell the story of Sweden and its growth from the heart of the Mälar Valley. However, the very richness and complexity of the Valsgärde graves has meant that they have never been fully researched and published. The definitive analysis of the cemetery and the society behind the burials is one of our main priorities. As a crucial counterpart to this work on an old find, is the exploration of a new one: the extraordinary and exactly contemporary remains of a central Swedish raiding party, buried in two ships on the Estonian seashore where they came to grief at the very start of the Viking Age. These excavations, undertaken at Salme on Saaremaa in 2008-12, mark the most significant Viking discovery of the last hundred years, and their analysis and publication is also incorporated in this project. Combining Valsgärde and Salme, we have the unique opportunity to reveal the world of the first Vikings, at 'home' and 'away', in a project of a kind never before attempted.

Underpinning these early Scandinavian enterprises was what we have chosen to call 'Viking economics', in the exact sense of the term (as distinct from the more general economic systems of the Viking Age) - the complex networks that motivated the early raiders and sustained their continued existence. Among the key issues to be explored here are the complex and multicultural roots of Scandinavian identity; the roles played by both women and men in Viking culture; the prominence of slavery in Viking life; the existence of unique pirate polities, living outside the communities of the Scandinavian homelands; and the importance of the Vikings' non-Christian beliefs in their encounters with a wider world. International, cross-cultural comparative studies will add a further dimension to these investigations.

The Vikings are still today the most visible signal of Scandinavian heritage, and this research programme will be deeply embedded with contemporary concerns, ensuring the exploration of this long-lasting legacy for the widest possible public. The project award has already received wide international coverage in print and online media. Outputs will include workshops, conferences and lectures; numerous publications including synthetic works, the cemetery reports from Valsgärde and Salme, and peer-review journal papers on Open Access; public outreach initiatives and an extensive online presence. A full web presence for the project will be launched in 2017.

The project will incorporate and bring to conclusion a number of existing research initiatives that were combined in the original application to the Swedish Research Council, and which helped to shape the ideas behind the design of the Viking Phenomenon programme:

Paradigms of Piracy: Private Law and Social Order in the Premodern World                                          

Piracy has long been explored as a way of life central to pre-modern societies, which has left deep social, political and economic legacies down to our own times. This project employs comparative models of pirate communities as a lens through which to view the early Viking Age and the beginnings of the Scandinavian expansion across the then-known world. These themes are explored against a broad geographical range extending from the Caribbean, Bahamas and the American seaboard in the west to the Indian Ocean, China Seas and Malaysia in the east. A particular goal is the identification of material signatures of pirate activity, especially on terrestrial (as opposed to the more common marine) sites. Is it possible to develop a predictive model of pirate archaeology?

The Wolves and the Sun: Climate Change and Social Transformation in Early Medieval Europe  

Co-directed with Professor emeritus Bo Gräslund at Uppsala, this project explores a series of case studies of vulnerability in the late Iron Age cultures of Scandinavia and northern Europe. The excavated record is compared to the environmental impacts of the so-called ‘dust veil’ that shrouded much of the northern world in the years following 536 CE, exploring the social transformations it may have caused, and its possible geomythological legacy in the Norse mythological stories of the Fimbulwinter.

Evolutionary Anthropologies of the Early Viking Age               

This project is co-directed with Professor Mark Collard at Simon Fraser University, as part of the CERC consortium based in British Columbia funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Using perspectives drawn from evolutionary anthropology, we are exploring the demographics of the early Viking Age in an effort to illuminate some of the social processes behind the escalation of raiding and its associated behaviours.

The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia

The Viking Phenomenon programme will also see the long-delayed completion of a new, revised edition of my 2002 book, The Viking Way. Incorporating the new research of the last fifteen years, the second edition is not only completely updated but also enlarged by approximately a third, and includes a number of new reconstructions of recent burial finds. The new edition is under contract to Oxbow Books, and will appear in 2017.                             

Secondary Research Activity: Historical Archaeology Projects

War of the Worlds: the Present Past on the Island Battlefields of the Pacific, 1941-45

This project is co-directed with Dr Rick Knecht at the University of Aberdeen, with origins in our previous and ongoing fieldwork on the 1944 Battle of Peleliu in the Republic of Palau, Micronesia. The Second World War was arguably the most traumatic complex event in human history, with troubled legacies that in the Pacific include today's unresolved tensions between Japan, China, Korea and other former combatant nations. The island battlefields of the region formed a zone of cultural interaction and conflict for all the peoples of the Pacific and many from outside. Both directly and thematically, causal links can be traced back from the War to the colonial contact period, and literally underlying the wartime landscapes (but often overlooked) are the earlier settlements and sacred sites of the indigenous islanders. The properly contextualised study of the conflict therefore involves a chronological range and complexity that extends from the 1500s to today. The War of the Worlds project has a dual base in Uppsala and Aberdeen, and will soon expand to Liverpool, with research planned in Palau, the Marianas, the Solomons, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific. It includes a strong participatory involvement of researchers from the region, particularly with Pacific Islanders and traditional knowledge bearers. Themes of death and memory naturally take centre stage, and the project focuses on the preservation of the battlefields as places of reflection and commemoration. Archaeology has an innovative role here as a medium of reconciliation, linked to the realities of ethically-sound eco-tourism and its potential for lifting marginal economies. Three seasons of fieldwork have been conducted so far on Peleliu in 2010, 2014 and 2015 with funding from the US National Park Service (American Battlefield Protection Program).

Imperial Addictions: Material Histories of Opium from the Indian Ocean to the China Seas

The international opium trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries transformed cultures and communities on a massive scale. Wars were fought to secure the trade, governments were toppled or subverted, and the mercantile aristocracies of Europe flourished on its profits. This same period saw the origins of globalisation in the modern sense of the term, a time in which a handful of crucial commodities radically changed the world. This project focuses on the concept of 'collateral archaeologies' - not the core of the trade itself, but the world that opium touched and changed, and the myriad human impacts that resulted. A series of multi-authored case studies are brought together, exploring shipwrecks, battlefields from the Opium Wars, camps of migrant Chinese workers in various countries, the supply bases along the routes, and also those displaced by the trade and their new lives to which opium had driven them. My own research focuses on the various East India Companies, especially that of Sweden, and their bases in the so-called Thirteen Hongs of Canton (modern Guangzhou), with further research in Mauritius and Australia. The project will be published as an edited volume in 2018.

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Selected publications

book covers

Over the past 25 years I have published 6 books and edited volumes, and around 100 journal papers and book chapters, in addition over 30 excavation and archive reports, plus reviews and minor pieces. My research has been published in 13 languages. Major works are listed here together with a selection of recent papers.

Books

1989. The Vikings in Brittany. Viking Society for Northern Research, London.

1994 (with Colleen Batey, Helen Clarke and R.I. Page, ed. James Graham-Campbell). Cultural Atlas of the Viking World. Andromeda, Oxford. Also published in 10 foreign language editions.

2002. The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. Uppsala University Press, Uppsala.

Forthcoming 2017. The Vikings. Routledge, London & New York.

Forthcoming 2017. The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Forthcoming 2017. Odin's Whisper: Death and the Vikings. Reaktion Books, London.

Forthcoming 2019. The Children of Ash and Elm: a History of the Vikings. Basic Books, New York / Penguin, London. Also to be published in 5 foreign language editions.

Edited volumes

2001. The Archaeology of Shamanism. Routledge, London & New York.

2008 (with Stefan Brink). The Viking World. Routledge, London & New York.

2013 (with Mark Hall). Medieval Scotland: a Future for its Past. Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF). Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Forthcoming 2018. Imperial Addictions: Material Histories of Opium from the Indian Ocean to the China Seas, 1750-1900. Ohio University Press, Columbus, OH.

Recent excavation reports from Peleliu, Republic of Palau, Micronesia

2012 (with Rick Knecht and Gavin Lindsay). World War II battlefield survey of Peleliu Island, Peleliu State, Republic of Palau. US National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program. 320pp.

2015 (with Gavin Lindsay, Rick Knecht, Ben Raffield and PT Ashlock). Peleliu Archaeological Survey 2014. World War II battlefield survey of Peleliu Island, Peleliu State, Republic of Palau. US National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program. 306pp.

Selected recent peer-reviewed journal papers

2010. Passing into poetry: Viking-Age mortuary drama and the origins of Norse mythology. Medieval Archaeology 54: 123-156.

2012 (with Rick Knecht). Peleliu 1944: the archaeology of a South Pacific D-Day. Journal of Conflict Archaeology 7/1: 5-48.

2012 (with Bo Gräslund). Twilight of the gods? The ‘dust veil event’ of AD 536 in critical perspective. Antiquity 86: 428-443.

2013 (with Rick Knecht). After the Typhoon: multicultural archaeologies of World War II on Peleliu, Palau, Micronesia. Journal of Conflict Archaeology 8/3: 193-248.

2014. Nine paces from Hel: time and motion in Old Norse ritual performance. World Archaeology 46/2: 178-191.

2014 (with Paul Mortimer). An eye for Odin? Divine role-playing in the age of Sutton Hoo. European Journal of Archaeology. 17/3: 517-38.

2015 (with Ben Raffield, Claire Greenlow and Mark Collard). Ingroup identification, identity fusion and the formation of Viking warbands. World Archaeology 48/1: 35-50.

2016 (with Felix Riede and Per Andersen). Does environmental archaeology need an ethical promise? World Archaeology.

2016 (with Ben Raffield and Mark Collard). Male-biased operational sex ratios and the Viking phenomenon: an evolutionary anthropological perspective on late Iron Age Scandinavian raiding. Evolution and Human Behavior.

Selected recent book chapters (from 40 published since 2010)

2010. Beyond rock art: archaeological interpretation and the shamanic frame. In Blundell, G., Chippindale, C. & Smith, B. (eds) Seeing and knowing: understanding rock art with and without ethnography. Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg: 280-289.

2010. ‘James his towne’ and village nations: cognitive urbanism in early colonial America. In Sinclair, P., Nordquist, G., Herschend, F. & Isendahl, C. (eds) The Urban Mind: cultural and environmental dynamics. Uppsala University Press, Uppsala: 471-497.

2011. Shamanism. In Insoll, T. (ed.). The Oxford handbook of the archaeology of ritual and religion. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 983-1003.

2012. Mythic acts: material narratives of the dead in Viking Age Scandinavia. In Raudvere, C. & Schjødt, J-P. (eds) More than Mythology. Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions. Nordic Academic Press, Lund: 13-46.

2013. Wooden worlds: individual and collective in the chamber graves of Birka. In Hedenstierna-Jonson, C. (ed.) Birka nu: pågående forskning kring världsarvet Birka-Hovgården. Historiska Museet, Stockholm: 81-93.

2013. Viking Brittany: revisiting the colony that failed. In Reynolds, A. & Webster, L. (eds) Early Medieval Art and Archaeology in the Northern World. Brill, Leiden: 731-742.

2013. Belief and ritual. In Williams, G., Pentz, P. & Wemhoff, M. (eds) Vikings: Life and Legend. British Museum Press, London: 162-195.

2014. Ship-men and slaughter-wolves: pirate polities in the Viking Age. In Müller, L. and Amirell, S. (eds) Persistent piracy: historical perspectives on maritime violence and state formation. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke: 51-68.

2014. The Lewis ‘berserkers’: identification and analogy in the shield-biting warriors. In Caldwell, D. and Hall, M. (eds) The Lewis chessmen: new perspectives. National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh: 29-44.

2015. From Ginnungagap to the Ragnarök: archaeologies of the Viking worlds. In Pedersen, U., Moen, M., Axelsen, I., Berg, H. & Eriksen, M.H. (eds) Viking worlds: things, spaces and movement. Oxbow Books, Oxford: 1-10.

2015 (with Rick Knecht and Gavin Lindsay). The sacred and the profane: souvenir and collecting behaviours on the WWII battlefields of Peleliu, Palau, Micronesia. In Carr, G. & Reeves, K. (eds) Heritage and memory of war: responses from small islands. Routledge, London & New York: 219-233.

2015 (with Bo Gräslund). Excavating the Fimbulwinter? Archaeology, geomythology and the climate event(s) of AD 536. In Riede, F. (ed.) Past vulnerability: volcanic eruptions and human vulnerability in traditional societies past and present. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus: 109-132.

2015. Viking archaeology in the 21st century. In Kristiansen, M.S., Roesdahl, E. & Graham-Campbell, J. (eds) Medieval Archaeology in Scandinavia and beyond: history, trends and tomorrow. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus: 275-294.

2016. Burning down the house? The Vikings in the West. In Andersson, G. (ed.) We call them Vikings. Statens Historiska Museum, Stockholm: 170-176.

In press. Pirates of the North Sea? The Viking ship as political space. In Glørstad, H., Glørstad, Z. & Melheim, L. (eds) Moving on: interdisciplinary perspectives on past colonization, maritime interaction and cultural integration. Equinox, Sheffield.

In press. Being dead in the late Scandinavian Iron Age. In Andrén, A., Schjødt, J-P. and Lindow, J. (eds) Pre-Christian religions of the North: histories and structures. Brepols, Turnhout.

Outreach

I believe that as academics we all have clear obligations to share the results of our research through an active engagement as public intellectuals, and to thereby offer our work for more participatory debate. Over the years I've contributed regularly to radio and television programmes in several countries, either as a consultant on content or presenting my own research. I've made several live radio broadcasts, including BBC Radio's In Our Time and on public radio in South Africa. In 2014 I appeared in the live-broadcast film Vikings Live from the British Museum accompanying the exhibition there, which was transmitted in 400 UK cinemas and later worldwide. Recently I've worked as the Historical Consultant for Real Vikings, a documentary series from History Channel Canada to support their successful TV drama Vikings. This has involved filming in nine countries, often with cast members from the drama, exploring the Viking world behind the fictional entertainment.

Museums are a primary forum for the public dissemination of our research, and I have contributed to numerous exhibitions and their accompanying catalogues in Scandinavia, Europe, the US and South Africa, including the British Museum and several national museums. Most of this work has concerned the Viking Age, but other topics include Sámi religion, shamanism, and the cultural history of sexuality. I regularly give public lectures and publish in popular science magazines, and my online presence includes the YouTube recordings of the series of Messenger Lectures that I held at Cornell in the fall semester of 2012, on the theme of The Viking Mind.

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