The 'wild women, strong ale and zombies' of Viking Scotland

Experts will gather to discuss the 'wild women, strong ale and walking dead' of Viking Scotland at a conference in Inverness.

The Jarl squad at Shetland's Up Helly Aa, the island's annual celebration of its Viking past. PIC: Robert Perry/TSPL.
The Jarl squad at Shetland's Up Helly Aa, the island's annual celebration of its Viking past. PIC: Robert Perry/TSPL.

Valhalla! will welcome experts form across the UK to the Highland capital this Friday.

Susan Brooke, who has organised the conference at Inverness Town House, said the role of women in Scotland’s Viking communities had been a particular focus of the programme.

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She added: “Until recently, the typical popular view of a Viking was the raping and pillaging warrior with little thought given beyond that. More recently, research is bringing forward more information about women and their roles in Viking society.

“This conference is trying to bring together people who are working on these themes. Evidence is coming forward, for example, that they had a much stronger position in the household than people may have thought previously.

“She was brewing, she was cooking - she was in charge.”

Vikings arrived in Orkney and Shetland in the 8th and 9th centuries and ruled for the next 600 years. Territories were also held by Norsemen in the Hebrides and Caithness, Sutherland as well as islands in the Firth of Clyde.

Dr Stephen Harrison, archaeology lecturer at Glasgow University, is among the speakers at this week’s conference.

In his talk, Wild Women and Ancient Landscapes, Dr Harrison will look at Scottish Viking burial rituals and the unusual prominence given to women in the resting of the dead.

Dr Steve Ashby of York University will discuss his findings on cooking, food preparation and the serving of meals and drink during the Viking era and how his research methods could potentially be applied to Scottish settlements.

Meanwhile, Andrea Blendl of the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Highlands and Islands, will look at the runic inscriptions of Norse women in Orkney and Caithness.

Finally, Dr Clare Downham, of the Institute of Irish Studies in Liverpool, will deliver her paper on “Viking Zombies” which examines evidence of Viking burial rituals that indicate fear of revenants. A number of sites in Scotland will discussed.

The conference complements the exhibition Valhalla - Life and Death in Viking Britain which is currently showing at Inverness Museum.

Artefacts from the Jorvik Centre in York are on show, including the skeletal remains of a male and female taken from a Viking burial site.