Animals and Humans: Recurrent Symbiosis in Archaeology and Old Norse Religion

Article excerpt

ANIMALS AND HUMANS: RECURRENT SYMBIOSIS IN ARCHAEOLOGY AND OLD NORSE RELIGION. Kristina Jennbert. Nordic Academic Press, 2011. 272 pp. including notes, bibliography, 28 b/w illus., 13 tables, and map. $52.95 (US). ISBN 978-91-85509-37-9.

KRISTINA JENNBERT IS A PROFESSOR OF ARCHAEOLOGY and Ancient History at Lund University, Sweden. The research for Animals and Humans was conducted between 1999 and 2005 as part of a larger multidisciplinary project at Lund University called "Roads to Midgard: Old Norse Religion in Long-term Perspectives." Animals and Humans is a summary of archaeological work done at prehistoric Scandinavian sites and an interpretation of the materials recovered insofar as they pertain to the relationship between humans and animals. The treatment of material culture recovered from prehistoric archaeological contexts as evidence of intellectual culture involves the numerous challenges of ethnographic comparison. Though called by different names and qualified by changing perspectives on the nature of culture in general, this method is one of the few available to interpreters of prehistoric material. It involves the analysis of archaeological material, both objects and contexts, with reference to the known practices and texts of literate peoples in the surrounding regions or of a later period in the same region.

In the introductory chapter 1, Jennbert prepares her readers for the detailed study that follows with a discussion of methodology, a map, and a general chronology specific to the region. She draws attention to some of the practices that disappeared with the Christianization of the region c. 900-1000 and to some of the texts, such as the Elder Edda and Snori Sturluson's Younger Edda (c. 1220), used later for purposes of discussion and comparison. Chapter two "Animals in Norse mythology" summarizes some of the relevant contents of these documents. Tables lay out the names assigned in the Younger Edda to different animals and birds, such as horses, cattle, goats, pigs, dogs, and others. Chapter three does the same for the appearance of animals in archaeological contexts. Tables are again used to summarize such points of interest as the sheer quantity of such remains on Iron Age (500 BC-1050 AD) farms in different regions. Descriptive sections are divided between domesticated animals (cattle, sheep/goat, pig, dog, horse, cat, poultry, and pets) and discussion sections are dedicated to farming, game, hunting (including a chart showing the bird species in Swedish "falconry graves"), and animals in rituals. The latter section is subdivided by the varying contexts of houses, cult houses, graves, animal graves (with subsections for cattle, dog, horse, bear and reindeer), and so forth.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are interpretive. Chapter 4 "Animals between context and text" proposes the understanding of specific aspects of the archaeological material, particularly animals in burial contexts, relative to a pre-Christian world view as expressed in and contrasted with that represented in Snorri's Edda, as well as Proto-Norse and Norse runic inscriptions. …