“Burning pelts”: brown bear skins in the Iron Age and Early Medieval (0–1300 AD) burials in south-eastern Fennoscandia

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This paper deals with the use of brown bear (Ursus arctos) skins in the Iron Age and Early Medieval death rituals in south-eastern Fennoscandia. In this area, the practice of wrapping bodies in bear skins lasted over 1000 years, starting in the Roman Iron Age in south-western Finland and ending with the Medieval Age inhumation burials in the Karelian Isthmus. The wrapping of bodies in predator skins is hypothesized by the numbers of 3rd phalanges (i.e. claws) which have been found in burials, especially in cremation cemeteries under level ground (Fi. polttokenttäkalmisto).

Firstly, the role of the bear was studied by analyzing the bear skin remains, i.e. the 3rd phalanges and bear hairs which have been found in burials, and secondly the finds and find contexts were referenced with Finno-Karelian epic poetry. The results stress the role of bear skins in constructing the identity of the deceased as a warrior and as an ancestor. Although the concept of a warrior as a predator is widely known among Eurasian populations, in south-eastern Fennoscandia the distribution and find contexts indicate that the ritual use of bear skins was a western influence from the Germanic culture sphere.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEesti Arheoloogia Ajakiri
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)3-29
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - May 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 615 History and Archaeology

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