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Princely burials and halls (completed)

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Dr. Oliver Grimm

A Western Norwegian upper class in the Bronce and Iron Age

It is widely recognised that, during certain archaeological periods, it is possible to demonstrate the existence of social groups of high rank (an elite/upper class) in graves and settlements. With regard to burials, there have for several decades been discussions concerning princely graves. However, the quest for settlement-archaeological evidence for an elite/upper class has only proved successful in Northern Europe in the most recent of decades. The chronological relationship existing between the elite in graves and in settlements remains an open question: Do periods when graves manifest their maximum splendour coincide with the existence of particularly outstanding buildings or halls at settlements?

AvaldsnesThis question will be discussed with reference to the West-Norwegian Bronze Age and Iron Age (c. 2000 BC to AD 1000). This is a natural choice because, although there has been much research in recent decades, a synthesis is lacking.

In an initial part of the investigation (completion by summer 2010) an overview of indicators of an elite/upper class seen in graves and settlements was compiled on a purely archaeological basis. In the case of the graves, this was achieved by establishing uniform criteria for most of West-Norwegian burials; in the case of the settlements it involved an assessment of the time when prominent halls were founded in conjunction with farmsteads. The analysis led to the conclusion (cf. fig.) that the existence of an elite can, as such, only be demonstrated during some parts of the Bronze Age and Iron Age. For example, it is apparent that the magnificent graves of the Late Roman and Migration period (4th-6th century AD) coincide chronologically with the first occurrences of halls in a settlement context (from the 4th century AD).


In a second part of the investigation (completion by the end of 2011) the results of the first part will be critically questioned. To this end, archaeological and non-archaeological analogies will be discussed in order better to evaluate the relevant Norwegian archaeological record. Archaeologically, relevant evidence from Denmark and the Continent will be drawn upon. Non-archaeologically, geographical models (determinism/possibilism, central places) and anthropological/historical models (the concept of chieftain/king, for example with regard to Continental royal seats, i.e. “Königspfalzen”) will be considered.

This work has been developed in co-operation with partners from the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel (Prof Dr Ulrich Müller) and the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, (Trond Løken, MA). The study, comprising c. 200 pages (text and figures), will be written in English.


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