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Thread: Viking Men Were Buried With Cooking Gear

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    Viking Men Were Buried With Cooking Gear

    What were gender roles like during Viking times? A Norwegian archaeologist thinks we often misinterpret the past based on our current cultural assumptions.



    Scientists often imagine that men’s and women’s roles during the Viking Age were clearly differentiated, archaeologist Marianne Moen says. “The illustrations show women making food and holding children, while men were active, in battle,” she says. But maybe this wasn’t the way things were. The illustration is from “Vikinger i vest” (Vikings in the West), published in 2009. (Illustration: Peter Duun)
    Marianne Moen says that gender roles during Viking times weren’t nearly as differentiated as we might think.

    “I think we need to move away from distinguishing between men’s and women’s roles during the Viking times,” she said. Moen has completed her PhD on Viking Age gender roles at the University of Oslo. Her research shows that upper-class men and women generally were buried with the same types of items — including cooking gear.

    Moen went through the contents of 218 Viking graves in Vestfold, a county on the southwest side of Oslo Fjord, and sorted the artefacts she found according to type. Many of the graves were richly equipped with everything from cups and plates to horses and other livestock.

    Not just housewives
    Archaeologists often assume that Viking women were responsible for the house and home, while men were merchants and warriors.

    However, tools and items associated with housekeeping were fairly equally distributed between men and women in the Vestfold graves.

    “The key is a good example. It is often considered to be the symbol of a housewife,” Moen said. Nonetheless, almost as many men’s graves had keys as women’s graves.

    “It might be time to change the story a bit,” she said.

    Men were just as likely to be buried with cooking equipment as women. Ten graves containing cookware were men’s graves, while eight were women’s. Moen likes that fact. It means that men also made food, she thinks.

    “My interpretation is that cooking equipment indicates hospitality. This was very important during Viking times,” she said, although others interpret it differently.

    Cookware doesn’t mean that men cooked
    The Gokstad Ship, the large ship displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, was part of a man’s grave and also contained a large array of cooking equipment.

    “These finds were often excused as being because men needed to make their own food on long voyages,” Moen says.

    Not everyone agrees with Moen’s interpretation.

    Just because men chose to bring cookware into the afterlife doesn’t necessarily mean that they did the cooking in their own home, says archaeologist Frans-Arne Stylegar.

    Stylegar was previously the county conservator for Vest-Agder, the southernmost county in Norway. He currently works with cultural preservation and urban planning at the consulting firm Multiconsult.

    “It is difficult to translate the persona who is idealized in burial customs into actual historical reality. It’s almost a philosophical question,” he says.

    Moen also thinks there is a stark difference between life and death when it comes to gender roles. But she also thinks that the items that people were buried with have some relation to what real life was like during those times.

    She reminds us that tools and equipment aren’t just something that Vikings were buried with. These items were also found in houses, although without the ability to determine who used them.

    Farmers and upper-class citizens
    Stylegar thinks that Moen’s PhD thesis was well done and that she makes a convincing case that there wasn’t much difference between the way upper-class Viking men and women were buried. He has studied several Viking graves in Vestfold previously, and isn’t very surprised by this conclusion.

    “I’ve gotten this impression previously, but she shows it very clearly,” he said.

    However, from his own work in Vestfold, he had the impression that farmers were much more concerned with marking gender in their graves than the upper-class citizens, although he points out that this was not the focus of his research.

    There are still a few clear differences between genders for the elite. Men generally have weapons in their graves, while women have jewellery and textile tools, as Moen’s work shows.

    Both genders have jewellery
    Viking men and women still had more similarities than differences in their graves, Moen said.

    More than 40 per cent of the male graves contained jewellery such as brooches and beads.

    The men also have what seem to be toiletries in their graves, including tweezers and razors likely used for personal grooming.

    Interpreting the past through a modern lens
    Moen wonders where the idea that there was clear gender differentiation in the past comes from.

    Other researchers have pointed out that many of the items retrieved from graves in the early 1900s were interpreted based on the cultural perspectives of those times, in the same way that Moen now sees the artefacts from her modern perspective.

    She calls herself a gender archaeologist, and wants to challenge other archaeologists’ interpretations of Viking culture. But entrenched perceptions among experts can be difficult to change, she says.

    “I encounter quite a bit of scepticism. There are quite a few researchers who are very set in their opinion on gender when it comes to work-related roles,” Moen said.

    She thinks part of the reason for this is that it is much easier to relate to a version of history that is in keeping with our modern expectations, “a version of history where men and women have specific roles in society,” she said.

    “In general, in Viking Age studies, artefacts found in graves are interpreted as being connected to the person buried in the grave. This shouldn’t change for cases where artefacts don’t meet modern expectations of what a man or woman would have in their grave,” Moen said.

    Reference:

    Marianne Moen: Challenging Gender. A reconsideration of gender in the Viking Age using the mortuary landscape. Doctoral thesis at the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo, 2019
    http://sciencenordic.com/viking-men-...d-cooking-gear

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    Oh dear! Some bimbo has just done a university course on "Viking Age Gender Roles"

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    Her research shows that upper-class men and women generally were buried with the same types of items — including cooking gear.
    And people in the upper-class usually also where probably more likely to have staff/slaves to do the cooking for them. And I do not read a response to that in this article. So I might need to read this. But a quick word match search reveals nothing being said about slaves or servants in her paper. So it is probably safe to presume that she thinks that these upper class men and women believed that they would be doing probable servant chores themselves in the afterlife.

    Funny thing I did find a reference to studying skeletal remains to determine sex. However take this course on that subject. And there is a clear distinction being made between biological sex, which osteoarchaeology can help determine (and of course the more recent DNA-tests), and gender which quit frankly is not the same thing as biological sex. Contrary to what she is implying here in this article and in her paper.
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    Imho the kind of stuff people have in their graves tells more about their actual life and this whole gender issue is just nonsense, in all directions. A farmer or craftsman or whatever not "of the upper class" certainly did whatever chore was to do, when the woman laid in bed after giving birth, or was busy to take care of a newborn, I'm pretty sure that men in the past did not say: hey wifey, that's your job, and then he cooked. Just as the other way round, when there was harvesting time, everyone (often the entire village, men, women and children) helped to bring in the harvest. This was even the case until fairly recently, before machines took over.
    Or look specially at southern Europe where many traditions still have the men doing the cooking (parts of France and Spain), or try to push away the modern man from his grill, because cooking is girly stuff muahaha. They'll tell you something else, no?^^

    Herr GroeneWolf, we did not have "slaves" in that sense like Rome or Egypt or Greece or whatever. We had serfs, and there is a big difference. Serfs were not foreigners, they were the same people, they were not treated like slaves either, every bigger farm or landlord had them, and they lived with the owners on the same property, shared most of their lives and were not completely "unfree" either. Specially after the Black Death and following waves of the pest they were direly needed, and consequently treated fairly well.

    And if it werent for the "horror" related to the word due to modern propaganda, I bet many people today would actually CHOSE to be a serf rather than a shift factory worker for 6€/h or jobless. The relation between landowners and serfs worked both ways. While the serfs were supposed to work, they were also provided with a home and food and some kind of livelihood. In English the word is "to move house". This a term that comes from serfs who actually changed their "owner" (and they were free to do so), took apart their timber frame (timber frame structures are click systems basically), threw it on a cart and moved their house to the ground of the new owner.
    Serfdom was only outlawed around 1900. It was quite normal, and imho it wasnt the worst that could happen to you (think day workers who oftentimes had no work for weeks maybe and thus were shit poor). Serfs, while not "totally free", did not have a bad life in general. And how "free" are people jobbing for 6€/h really anyway? They are less free than serfs were 200 years ago, because they simply have no monetary means to even pay a bus ticket to whereever, let alone anything else beyond very basic needs, while serfs back then were members of the community and of course took part in public life (granted, public life rarely reached over the corners of the city).

    Anyway, much of what is thought of as "traditional gender roles" were more like "roles of the various social ranks", and while certain chores were more suitable or doable by this or that gender and thus is thought of as "typical", this was not carved in stone. Men and women made cheese, for example, both for themselves or as serfs for their landlord, it was men who invented the sweet brown caramel cheese made from whey, something one would attribute to women automatically due to expectations, but it was men in Norway and it was men in Austria and everywhere inbetween. Not so long ago "society" thought doctors were men, but we know that the herbal business well into the late middle ages was a female thing (most notably Hildegard von Bingen, but there were many more like her). In antiquity there werent even male priests, from Greece to Scandinavia priests were female. Many associate shamanism more with a female tendency, but in fact most shamans were (and actually are, where they still exist) male.

    So this "expectation" vs "reality" thing is manyfold and much more complex than what the industrialisation made of society, where this clear "gender roles" were hammered mainly. Before, when society and individual people depended more on each other, they were probably not so strict and "premade".
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    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post
    Imho the kind of stuff people have in their graves tells more about their actual life and this whole gender issue is just nonsense, in all directions. A farmer or craftsman or whatever not "of the upper class" certainly did whatever chore was to do, when the woman laid in bed after giving birth, or was busy to take care of a newborn, I'm pretty sure that men in the past did not say: hey wifey, that's your job, and then he cooked. Just as the other way round, when there was harvesting time, everyone (often the entire village, men, women and children) helped to bring in the harvest. This was even the case until fairly recently, before machines took over.
    Or look specially at southern Europe where many traditions still have the men doing the cooking (parts of France and Spain), or try to push away the modern man from his grill, because cooking is girly stuff muahaha. They'll tell you something else, no?^^
    Well Fraulein Velvet, the article itself states the study in question was mostly done in relation to upper class graves. The article mentions this point brought up by an other researcher :

    However, from his own work in Vestfold, he had the impression that farmers were much more concerned with marking gender in their graves than the upper-class citizens, although he points out that this was not the focus of his research.
    So even though it indeed more likely that those of the lower classes like regular farmers would take on each others standard chores when the situation demanded it, it was less likely to be reflected in the grave goods.

    Herr GroeneWolf, we did not have "slaves" in that sense like Rome or Egypt or Greece or whatever. We had serfs, and there is a big difference. Serfs were not foreigners, they were the same people, they were not treated like slaves either, every bigger farm or landlord had them, and they lived with the owners on the same property, shared most of their lives and were not completely "unfree" either. Specially after the Black Death and following waves of the pest they were direly needed, and consequently treated fairly well.
    I did mention servants, which these serfs would logically fall under. And to state that there where no slaves at all, would be hard to argue. Just based alone on the role vikings played in the slave trade of the Middle Ages. No matter how they where treated. But that is a bit besides the point, that those in upper classes are more likely to have other people doing such chores for them.
    The sense of honor is of so fine and delicate a nature that
    it is only to be met with in minds which are naturally noble or
    cultivated by good examples and a refined education.
    - Sir Richard Steele

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    On the subject of upper class graves, how do they know they are upper class? Could they be just common graves and the researchers have a false sense that Norse peoples were mostly poor? It would not be the first time they got things wrong. Ancient Germanics were far more advanced than history has painted them, I know this from their skills in metalcraft alone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Velvet
    Or look specially at southern Europe where many traditions still have the men doing the cooking (parts of France and Spain), or try to push away the modern man from his grill, because cooking is girly stuff muahaha. They'll tell you something else, no?^^
    Correct! Just try and take my grill and fire pit away, I'm physically strong and pack a gun, just try it and you'll find out what a country ass whooping is. The grill and fire pit is where I and other men hang out at social gatherings with beer in one hand and a cooking tool in the other, while women go off and cackle in another part of the house and garden.

    True, my wife does the majority of the cooking, but I also cook sometimes as well. Our ancestors did not behave much different than we do today.
    Life is like a fire hydrant- sometimes you help people put out their fires, but most of the time you just get peed on by every dog in the neighborhood.

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    Amusing how today's supposed science is quick to question so-called 'gender roles'. Besides the point that of course, ancient Germanics - and especially those in Northern Europe - are actually documented in at the same time ascribing women a high role in society (lady of the house, f.ex.) whilst at the same time having set roles, there are several completely straightforward reasons why someone might be buried with cooking gear:

    - The idea of cooking gear being buried might highlight the idea that someone should, in their afterlife, not go hungry. We all believe our favourite food comes best when cooked in our very own pots and served on our favourite plate. Especially with upper-class people - who were often served by several hands around the house - there might be a good reason why their dining at the table of their ancestors should be of the same high quality as in life.

    - All types of cherished items, often ornate - but sometimes just normal household goods - would be buried with the deceased. Not just in Northern Europe, but pretty much all around the world, regardless of whether we're talking of some hyper-developed ancient high-culture or a small nomad tribe burying their in the desert sand outside their last camp.

    - When buried with warriors, there might even be other reasons. Considering the fact that, until very recently, women were more of a scarcity on battle-fields, fighting men needed to be capable to take care of themselves. This meant being able to cook, sew, etc. at least at a level which kept them going. Most young men in countries with conscripted service to this day only learn these everyday activities when serving in the military...

    - Another point with warriors being buried with their cooking gear might be that if they died in battle, it would A) mean the same passage thing when dining with one's ancestors and B) it would just be useful. Warriors tend to be heavily packed virtually since the day weaponry and warfare was invented in ancient prehistory. You don't need to be carrying around an extra pot, leave it with your fallen comrade in a mixture of respect and practicability.

    Of course there's an off-chance it meant something about gender roles being different than we imagine now. But it wouldn't be my first explanation of choice. Just like most houses in the modern age burn down due to negligence or some technical fault, and fairly rarely due to arson.
    -In kalte Schatten versunken... /Germaniens Volk erstarrt / Gefroren von Lügen / In denen die Welt verharrt-
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    To this day, most cooks in the army are men. Strange these things.

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    It doesn't mean that the cooking gear was used by those men. It's like carrying a canteen: the person who carries it isn't necessarily the one who will fetch water to fill it.

    However, the social character that has been imbued with cooking is something that disappears when one thinks differently: every person needs to eat, so nothing more natural than to do so when necessary. If you don't have anyone else to prepare your food, you do it.

    For this kind of thing it's always good to leave everything aside and have only the human being in mind and generalize: any human being has to eat. So regardless of gender, class, race, etc., you have to arrange this by any means. Once this need exists, some preparation in this sense is quite obvious, so it would be natural for them to carry such utensils, even if they weren't used directly by them.

    It's undeniable that they had to feed themselves and, given that, if there were no women, serfs or slaves around, someone (whoever that is) would have to provide that.

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    Hooray another case of so-called "scholars" deliberately ignoring what we know about burial customs and ancestor worship.

    In the past people were buried with family heirlooms - women being buried with swords doesn't mean they were "warriors" (especially if no evidence is provided of them being wounded or killed in battle), likewise men being buried with pots and pans doesn't mean that they did all the cooking, or that they did any cooking necessarily. Of course in ancient times and even more so prehistoric times, everyone knew how to cook, but it's not that hard to explain how women slid into the role as a result of gradual urbanisation, women spending a lot of time managing the house anyway and raising kids, to these societies it simply would have made sense for the woman to be preparing the food a lot of the time, but it doesn't mean men didn't know how to cook or outright refused to.

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