Handbook for the Deceased: Re-Evaluating Literature and Folklore in Icelandic Archaeology

The Abstract and the PDF file have been kindly provided by Brenda Prehal who retains copyright. Brenda can be contacted by email.

Brenda Prehal (2020) Handbook for the Deceased: Re-Evaluating Literature and Folklore in Icelandic Archaeology. Hunter College of the City University of New York, Unpublished PhD Thesis. 416 pp.


The rich medieval Icelandic literary record, comprised of mythology, sagas, poetry, law codes and post-medieval folklore, has provided invaluable source material for previous generations of scholars attempting to reconstruct a pagan Scandinavian Viking Age worldview. In modern Icelandic archaeology, however, the Icelandic literary record, apart from official documents such as censuses, has not been considered a viable source for interpretation since the early 20th century. Although the Icelandic corpus is problematic in several ways, it is a source that should be used in Icelandic archaeological interpretation, if used properly with source criticism.

This dissertation aims to advance Icelandic archaeological theory by reintegrating the medieval and post-medieval Icelandic literary corpus back into archaeological interpretation. The literature can help archaeologists working in Iceland to find pagan religious themes that span time and place. Utilizing source criticism as well as interdisciplinary methods, such as animal aDNA, this work presents two case studies of often ignored grave goods. These grave goods are found in both Icelandic pagan graves as well as in the graves of the pagan Scandinavian homelands, spanning from the Stone Age up until the Middle Ages.

Thesis (PDF file)