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Bloody Slaughter

Author(s): Thomas McGovern

Year: 2007

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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.

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Cite this Record

Bloody Slaughter. Thomas McGovern. European Journal of Archaeology. 10 (1): 7-30. 2007 ( tDAR id: 392435) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8QZ2C2N



Site Name

Spatial Coverage

min long: -17.206; min lat: 65.523 ; max long: -16.865; max lat: 65.66 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Thomas McGovern ; Thomas H. McGovern

Lab Director(s): Thomas McGovern

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
Bloodandslaughter.doc 61.00kb Mar 24, 2014 12:59:42 PM Public
Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America