From obligation and oblation to sublimated violence? Transformation of human sacrifice in the prehistory of northernmost Europe

Matthew Walsh , Marianne Moen, Sean O'neill, Svein Harald Gullbekk, Rane Willerslev

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingArticle in proceedingsResearchpeer-review


This chapter investigates evidence for human sacrifice in Northern Europe from the Neolithic period through to the Early Iron Age, with a special focus on cases involving wet site archaeology. It takes a three-prong approach to furthering knowledge of this field: firstly, it provides a review of forensic cases of possibly sacrificial executions of varying degrees of violence (concerning bog bodies). Secondly, it makes an attempt to compare and contrast known cases through time, with preparation for new quantitative approaches -- presenting an original database which synthesises comparative characteristics for many known sites. Thirdly and finally, a pilot project employing analytical statistics (in the form of network analysis) is brought to bear on this data to explore whether it is possible to apprehend new emerging patterns of cultural transmission across time in this region. These findings suggest that not only is it possible to trace hitherto unknown networks of cultural contact in pre-historic Northern Europe, but they can also inform new hypotheses for explaining a long temporal gap in the continuity of human sacrificial practices, suggesting major shifts in human values along the way. To date there has been a great emphasis on the qualitative/ forensic analysis of these finds. Based on this pilot project, the chapter concludes with more work suggested in the field of evolutionary archaeology and applied cultural phylogenetics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTentative title: Archaeologies of Pre-Christian Religion
EditorsPawel Szczepanik
PublisherBrepols Publishers n.v. Turnhout,, Belgium
Publication statusSubmitted - 2021

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