The ambivalence of caves and rockshelters in medieval Norway

Author(s): Knut Andreas Bergsvik

Year: 2017


Caves and rockshelters occur frequently in Norway and they were extensively used as dwelling-sites for humans in most periods of the prehistory. During the transition to the medieval period (AD 550 – 1500), however, archaeological excavations show that their use changed significantly. From then on, they mainly served as offering sites, burial sites and as workshops for metal smiths and stone masons. This change may have been related to a change in the perceptions of caves and rockshelters. One gets a glimpse into these later perceptions when studying the medieval saga texts and eddic poetry from Iceland. In these texts, there is a marked ambivalence concerning these places. Caves are, on the one hand, portrayed as scenes for negative actions and incidents, and are associated with dangerous and threatening beings and powers in the Norse mythology. On the other – when people communicate with these beings – caves and rockshelters are places where wisdom, wealth and status can be achieved. It is argued that the ambivalence led to a general avoidance of the shelters for dwelling purposes, and to a favoring of them as arenas for worship and ritual.

Cite this Record

The ambivalence of caves and rockshelters in medieval Norway. Knut Andreas Bergsvik. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429383)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15908