Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Ritual Deposition of Animals in Late Iron Age Finland: A Case-Study of the Mulli Settlement Site in Raisio/rituaalsed Loomaohvrid Hilisrauaaja Soomes Raisio Mulli Asulakoha Naitel

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Ritual Deposition of Animals in Late Iron Age Finland: A Case-Study of the Mulli Settlement Site in Raisio/rituaalsed Loomaohvrid Hilisrauaaja Soomes Raisio Mulli Asulakoha Naitel

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper considers ritually deposited animals at the Late Iron Age to Early Medieval (ca AD 900-1200) settlement site of Mulli at Raisio in SW-Finland (Fig. 1). Previous discussions on the remains of ritually handled animals during this period are rare in Finland (e.g. Tupala 1999; Blauer & Hukantaival 2013; Kivikero 2015), mainly since the acidic soil causes organic material to decompose quickly, thus destroying the evidence of such activities. However, the site discussed here displays unusually well preserved bone materials for study.

Mulli is a small settlement site with three excavated building complexes, each including several phases of use. Excavations were conducted in the 1990s by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Turku (Pietikainen 1994; 1995; 1996; 1997) and Juha-Matti Vuorinen (2009) published the results as a PhD-thesis. Ulla Tupala (1998a; 1998b) carried out an initial bone analysis on the material of the site. Later, aDNA analysis, 515N and 513C isotope analysis, and radiocarbon dating were carried out on five sheep and four cattle bones during the FinnARCH-project (1) (Niemi et al. 2013; 2015; Blauer et al. 2016). The radiocarbon dating placed these bones in the Late Iron Age (10th to 12th century).

The purpose of this paper is to thoroughly analyse and interpret animal remains that point toward ritual activities at the Mulli site. The results of an osteological re-examination are presented and the indicators of ritual activity are discussed. Some comparisons to contemporary Iron Age traditions and evidence from neighbouring areas are explored while practices of animal sacrifice in Finland during historical times known from textual or folkloric sources are treated as ethnographic reference material in the discussion.

Animal remains on the Mulli site

The entire bone material from Mulli includes 15 270 bones and bone fragments from domestic animals (sheep (2), goat (3), cattle (4), pig (5), horse (6), domestic chicken (7), and dog (8)), wild mammals (seal (9), European elk (10), arctic hare (11), red fox (12), brown bear (13), red squirrel (14), lynx (15), otter (16), house mouse (17), and rat (18)), a variety of wild birds (e.g. whooper swan (19), common mallard (20), black grouse (21), and western capercaillie (22)) and fish (northern pike (23), perch (24), and cyprinidae family) (Tupala 1999, 46 ff.). According to Vuorinen (2009, 175; based on data in Tupala 1998a; 1998b) the bone material in the north-east and east part of the site is dominated by cattle (in the north-east 41.8% and in the east 24.2% of all identified fragments), pig (18.5% and 26.2%), and sheep and goat bones (18.5% and 18.2%). However, in the western and central part of the site sheep and goat bones dominate the assemblage (67.6% and 47.5% of the identified fragments).

Initially, one sheep bone deposit in the central part of the site was interpreted as the remains of ritual activity: a complete ewe skeleton (Fig. 2) that was found under a log-building wall is published as a ritual building deposit (TYA 642: 2316; Pietikainen 1997; Tupala 1999, 48; Pihlman 2005, 209 f.; Vuorinen 2009, 76, 153). Tupala notices other contexts in the western part of the site with plenty of sheep or goat bones and counts the MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals) for some of these, but does not interpret them further (Tupala 1998b; 1999). Vuorinen (2009, 150 ff.) interprets the abundant sheep or goat bones as household waste.

While working with the aDNA-bone samples from the Mulli site for the FinnARCH-project Auli Blauer noticed these sheep and goat deposits, and realized that a new analysis and interpretation were needed (Blauer 2016). Tupala's bone reports do not include systematic recording of the element side, which hampered the possibility to estimate the number of elements and individuals in each sample. Moreover, cut marks were noted only sporadically and no bones were measured or tooth wear recorded. …

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