The Finnish people of the late Iron Age (9th to 12th centuries AD) buried their dead using different types of funerary ritual and symbolic concepts. Both cremation and inhumation rites, found in either mounds or flat field cemeteries, were integral aspects of late prehistoric Finnish culture. Comparison of these sites with ethnohistoric data revealing beliefs in the afterlife, funerary practice, and social organization, on the one hand, with the preserved oral tradition of pre-Christian myths and heroic tales collected by folklorists, on the other, suggests a new interpretation of the cemeteries. This interpretation reveals the prehistoric Finns to have been a shamanistic society deeply immersed in a culture of ancestor worship and a belief in spirit beings. The book attempts to explain the variation in mortuary ritual and to define more specifically the content of the belief system behind the funerary rites. Economic and sociopolitical factors play a role in delineating the development of the pagan Finnish worldview.
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The burial practices of Late Iron Age Finland, ninth to twelfth century AD, are complex and varied, with both cremations and inhumations, mound and flat cemeteries present. Deborah Shepherd explores the archaeological evidence for different funerary types, and provides interpretation of the ritual, symbolism and religious beliefs incorporated. Contact with Europe and Scandinavia and the slow process of the introduction of Christianity are highlighted as important factors in the changing pagan Finnish world. Her study also includes theoretical ideas and discussion of the study of burials in archaeology and the utility of combining ethnohistoric and archaeological data in interpreting the religious practices and beliefs in past societies.
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