Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ritual Human Sacrifice In Pagan Iceland

The is archaeological evidence in Iceland that is suggestive of ritual human sacrifices in the period prior to its conversion to Christianity ca. 1000 CE.


Maju said...

Could also be the burial of a baby. Some Neolithic societies often buried relatives in (under) the house, specially kids.

The reasoning of analogy with alleged Roman human sacrifices looks particularly weird when such alleged sacrifice of babies is only known from archaeological findings and not historical information (which does abound in some other, albeit rare, instances of human sacrifice in Rome).

In general Roman human sacrifice was very specific and not really propitiatory:

· Punishment of oath-breaking criminals (early Republic only)
· The original gladatorial combat was thought as a sacrifice
· An escaped slave could in some circumstances slain the Rex Nemorensis (a peculiar type of priest) only to become one and be slain months later himself
· War prisoners were buried alive as offer to the manes, and enemy leaders sacrificed to Mars himself

The Roman child sacrifice story is therefore dubious itself and based only on the circumstance that Roman citizens were usually cremated rather than buried (but also kids? always?)

And if the Roman story does not hold, it does not either the Icelander one.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Part of the issues seems to be related to the intermixture of cat bones with baby bones.

Maju said...

Maybe they buried their cats? Cats were sacred in Egypt (and later in the pan-Roman Isian religion) and were often buried with their owners or on their own.

They are not known to have been used as sacrifice, which is more commonly done with meat animals (that we like the best and therefore the gods should as well).

It is an interesting practice but the interpretation of the data as sacrifice appears most speculative - specially as no written information has arrived to us.

Even if it'd be a minority macabre "magical" cult of the kind that have coalesced some parts of Africa, where killing and maiming children is believed to help with mundane success, we'd probably have heard of it. It's very strange.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I'm a little surprised that there isn't more historic/literary evidence that can be brought to bear as the Icelandic epics cover a period of time that is quite close to these finds. It isn't clear to me that Iceland was ever an illiterate culture and it certain has at least well preserved oral history later committed to writing that was not very stale when recorded that goes back nearly to the beginning.

Unknown said...

There is one reference at least to human sacrifice in the saga of the Ere dwellers, Eyribriggia saga (apologies if this spelling is wrong). Reference is made to a stone on which men were sacrificed in the old times on the Snaefellesness peninsula, and you can still see this stone today, it is covered with a kind of oxidised staining reminiscent of blood.