At the 2018 University Archaeology Day, I presented a talk about ‘The Archaeology of The Walking Dead’.
For my #UAD19 talk, I decided to also explore the interactions between fictional worlds in modern popular culture and mortuary archaeology, this time looking at ‘Viking’ mortuary practice. This subjected connects together multiple aspects of my research, but I used the talk to focus on the symbolism, materiality and mnemonics of boats in Viking-period mortuary practices. I did this by juxtaposing my research on the funerals in the TV show Vikings, incorporating collaborations with Dr Alison Klevnäs (Stockholm University), and my work at Skamby in Östergötland with Dr Martin Rundkvist.
Here are some rare still footage of me in action, with sincere thanks to Suzanne Marie.
And some more from Suzanne!
I argued that the TV show does deploy the burning boat on water cliche, partly a mash-up of various historical and archaeological sources, partly a homage to The Vikings (1958), but perhaps also to meet the expectations of global audiences to today regard ‘Viking funerals’ via a variety of tropes from Game of Thrones, Thor: Dark World to Boromir’s funeral from The Lord of the Rings as boats on water, burning or otherwise. Yet I did point out that the variability of funerals in Vikings must be recognised, and the show depicts symbolic boats in grave-form and grave-monuments, also deployed to commemorate the dead. I also identified the lack of consideration of cemetery landscapes and monuments, but how this is starting to be rectified in Season 5 of the show.
I then jumped to my research at the Viking boat-grave cemetery at Skamby, presenting the results of the 2005 excavations, and my broader considerations of the monumentality and landscape situation of the cemetery. I suggested that boat-burial might have not been about materially articulating an afterlife journey, but instead about installing the dead as a dormant but tangible presence in the inhabited landscape.
Together, discussing the fieldwork and the TV show, allowed me to conclude by discussing the many synergies between mortuary archaeology and contemporary society developed through archaeological research.
Here are the slides!