Grave matters: identity construction and oriental imports in the eastern Viking world
Late Iron Age/Viking Age, Islamic imports, Baltic, Russia, Scandinavia, funerary archaeology, trade and exchange, identity construction
My thesis re-evaluates graves with so-called "oriental" objects from a number of Late Iron Age (i.e. Viking Age, 800-1050 CE) cemeteries in Sweden, Finland, and north-western Russia. In this context, "oriental" objects should be understood as items imported from the Islamic world, but also from steppe communities in Russia, of which some (for instance, the Volga Bulghars) began to convert to Islam around the turn of the 10th century. I aim to increase our understanding of how these types of imported items were used in identity construction processes, using the burial ritual as a proxy owing to its utility as a formalised, albeit diverse, context for cultural expression. By interpreting and reconstructing the burial ritual through item biography and placement/use within the burial, and using exploratory statistics to analyse similarities and relationships between different burials, cemeteries, and by extension communities, my thesis considers how "oriental" imports were employed with respect to group and individual identity, and whether these practices indicate the cultural unity of the widespread groups accessing the eastern trade routes.