Exploring the Intersection of Literature, Laws, and Archaeology
Bears have a longstanding importance in the cultures of northern Europe, including among the Sami and the medieval Norse, but no work has yet explored the human-bear relationship as represented across Icelandic sagas, provincial laws, Old Norse poetry, place name evidence, archaeological material, and ethnographic accounts from circumpolar communities. Adopting this broad interdisciplinary approach and tapping into under-researched data such as place names with animal elements, the proposed project will re-evaluate the relationships between humans and bears in medieval Scandinavia, examining the potential for understandings of bears and their relationships with humans in these sources that cast new light on longstanding interpretations of bears (in Viking-Age depictions) as solely figures of violence and related to warriors and hunters.
Polar bear (walrus ivory), Greenland. (Figure 6.3a in Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough. Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas, Oxford University Press, 2016).
Combining Multiple Disciplines for a Deeper Understanding
The project seeks answers to the following questions:
How did experiences of living alongside bears translate into medieval Scandinavian texts and later oral tales?
What role might place names play in our understanding of historic human-bear relationships?
How were bear remains used in mortuary practice, and how might these be re-interpreted with a wider range of data?