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City of the Dead

The early medieval emporium of Ribe (c. 700-850) has since its archaeological discovery in the 1970s played a central role in the understanding of the urbanisation of Northern Europe. In contrast to other Northern emporia, such as Hedeby, Birka, Kaupang and more recently Reric-Gross Strömkendorf, the cemetery connected to the site has received little attention. Therefore, the crucial question of who were the first urban settlers in Scandinavia and where they came from has remained largely unexplored.

Since 2014, Aarhus University (dir. Søren M. Sindbæk) and Sydvestjyske Museer (dir. Morten Søvsø) have been conducting further archaeological excavations in the area, which had previously yielded most burial finds contemporary to the market site. During the campaigns, the number of graves documented has nearly doubled; among them, a striking diversity in burial customs is observed, including some previously not seen in Denmark.

The research project “The city of the dead” has been designed in order to investigate Ribe’s early population through its burial remains. The project combines a theoretically-based archaeological approach to the study of the materiality of the burial rituals and a set of scientific analyses (osteology, Sr isotope analysis, AMS C14 dating, proteomics, tomography, micro XRF, ICP-MS), conducted as sub-projects in collaboration with the Conservation and Natural Science Dept., Moesgård Museum, the National Museum of Denmark, the Center of GeoGenetics at Copenhagen University, the AMS 14C Dating Center and the Centre of Excellence UrbNet. The composition of the population, its geographical mobility, its ways of dealing with death, and its cultural diversity, resulting from the negotiation of identities in the “pioneer” context of the urban setting will be explored. In this way, early medieval urbanism will be shown to be not just an economic phenomenon, but a unique social and cultural way-of-life.

The project is hosted by Sydvestjyske Museer and funded by the Danish Ministry of Culture’s Research Committee with the support of UrbNet.

PI: Sarah Croix