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Masking Moments: The Transitions of Bodies and Beings in Late Iron Age Scandinavia

Ing-Marie Back Danielsson

Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies 2007

This thesis explores bodily representations in Late Iron Age Scandinavia (400–1050 AD). Non-human bodies, such as gold foil figures, and human bodies are analysed. The work starts with an examination and deconstruction of the sex/gender categories to the effect that they are considered to be of minor value for the purposes of the thesis. Three analytical concepts – masks, miniature, and metaphor – are deployed in order to interpret how and why the chosen bodies worked within their prehistoric contexts.

The manipulations the figures sometimes have undergone are referred to as masking practices, discussed in Part One. It is shown that masks work and are powerful by being paradoxical; that they are vehicles for communication; and that they are, in effect, transitional objects bridging gaps that arise in continuity as a result of events such as symbolic or actual deaths.

In Part Two miniaturization is discussed. Miniaturization contributes to making worlds intelligible, negotiable and communicative. Bodies in miniatures in comparison to other miniature objects are particularly potent. Taking gold foil figures under special scrutiny, it is claimed that gold, its allusions as well as its inherent properties conveyed numinosity. Consequently gold foil figures, regardless of the context, must be understood as extremely forceful agents.

Part Three examines metaphorical thinking and how human and animal body parts were used in pro-creational acts, resulting in the birth of persons. However, these need not have been human, but could have been the outcomes of turning a deceased into an ancestor, iron into a steel sword, or clay into a ceramic urn, hence expanding and transforming the members of the family/household. Thus, bone in certain contexts acted as a transitional object or as a generative substance.

It is concluded that the bodies of research are connected to transitions, and that the theme of transformation was one fundamental characteristic of the societies of study.

Click here to read this thesis from the Stockholm University