Bloody Slaughter

Author(s): Thomas McGovern

Year: 2008


This article attempts an interpretation of an unusual assemblage of cattle skulls recovered

from recent excavations at the Viking Age monumental hall of Hofstaðir in Iceland. Osteological

analysis of the skulls indicates ritual decapitation and display of cattle heads, and this article seeks

to explore the meanings of this practice in relation to the context of the site and the wider historical

and ethnographic literature. It is argued that the beheading of cattle and display of their heads was

a part of sacrificial acts conducted on a seasonal basis at the site, and primarily in the context of

feasting and socio-political gatherings. The gatherings acted simultaneously as a means of both

dissipating social tension and enhancing political status

Cite this Record

Bloody Slaughter. Thomas McGovern. 2008 ( tDAR id: 392120) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8G161R4

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Thomas McGovern

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