Session: #141

Theme & Session Format

1. Widening horizons through human-environment interconnections
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Between Bones and Beliefs: Human-Bird Relations in Central and Northern Europe in the 1st Millennium AD
Human-avian relationships developed in many ways throughout the Iron Age, particularly in the 1st millennium AD in Central and Northern Europe. These airborne animals foraged and scavenged close to settlements, inviting interactions – wild birds were hunted, and domesticated poultry were bred for meat, feathers and eggs; other birds were kept for entertainment or sport, with raptors trained for falconry. Aves also played significant roles in pre-Christian beliefs and rituals of Iron Age societies: they were sacrificed as votive offerings, included in funerary rites, used for divination, and feature as symbols in both pre-Christian and early Christian iconographies.
Bird remains are frequently recovered from a range of everyday and ritual contexts (e.g. settlements, pits, wells, graves). Avian iconography features on many objects (e.g. jewellery, weaponry, carved stones) in different manners (e.g. Germanic animal styles). Written sources – such as Roman (e.g. Pliny the Elder’s The Natural History) and Medieval accounts (e.g. Old Norse literature) – tell of the roles birds played in these cultures.
The main aim of the session is to discuss interdisciplinary research on human-bird relations in the 1st millennium AD in Northern and Central Europe. During the session, we will examine the roles of birds in daily life and their symbolic meanings in pre-Christian and early Christian belief systems of Iron Age cultures, including Roman influences. Papers regarding Eastern and Mediterranean parallels are also welcome. We would like to invite researchers who study such themes not only in the scope of archaeology, anthropology, and zooarchaeology, but also history, art history, history of religions, and philology.
Birds, Human-Avian Relations, Iron Age, Pre-Christian Religions, Iconography, Interdisciplinary Research
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Main organiser:
Klaudia Karpinska (Norway) 1
Rebecca Smallman (United Kingdom) 2
Sigmund Oehrl (Sweden) 3
1. Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo
2. HumAnE Bioarchaeology, University of Exeter
3. Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University