I will admit, I don’t actually read science journals and blogs to find story ideas. It just… happens sometimes. I can usually count on historical accounts of any era to spark some evocative mysterious questions that just beg to be fleshed out. Because there’s no other way to answer some of these long-cold cases than to spin a tale around the kernel of truth.
So when I started reading the article on how the archeologists were examining a Viking burial, my interest was largely in the ‘how’d they do that?’ realm as a scientist. But then when I came to the conclusion, my mind picked up the ball and ran with it. You have to admit, the discovery of an empty burial boat in a stone circle isn’t in itself provocative. There are empty graves in modern cemeteries with headstones, for so many reasons, more of them prosaic than not. So that wasn’t it. No, what was the part that caught my imagination was how they proved there had been a body there. Briefly. And then… it was gone.
Viking bodysnatchers. Who’d a thunk it? From the evidence collected at the gravesite, we can deduce a lot about the grave. From the presence of raspberry flowers (which turn out to be common in Viking funerary rites, a charming item I shall remember) they know the burial took place in midsummer. From the presence of fleas in the feather pillow remains, we know that the burial took place very soon after death, as fleas will not stay with a dead body. From the presence of blow fly pupae, we know the body was, indeed, dead, not shamming death. But it’s the absence of any other insects we link to death and decay that tell the really interesting part of the story. Someone, for some reason, removed the body shortly (within days) after burial.
Now, me being the criminology freak that I am, I immediately thought of Carl Tanzler, who stole a body, embalmed it in wax, and lived with it as his ‘bride’ for several years. Yeah. humans are… human. With all the depravity that implies. So was the body snatched by an obsessive lover? Did Vikings have vampire myths that drove them to exhume, and destroy the body of someone they blamed for a plague? What story would you tell about the Case of the Viking Bodysnatchers?
(header image from Pixabay)
18 thoughts on “The Case of the Viking Bodysnatching”
Maybe the other side of the family insisted that the body be removed to another location for burial? Or after they buried the guy, something terrible happened and they decided his spirit didn’t like his burial location and needed to be moved?
Oh, now there’s some terrible in-laws. ‘bury him there! no, bury him here!’
King Solomon could not be reached for comment.
Obviously, but don’t they normally leave the body?
Who are we to say?
Just when you’re outta story ideas… graverobbers?
Actually, blowfly larvae don’t automatically imply a dead body. Could have been gangrene. And while recovery from that is rare without radical intervention, the larvae themselves could have consumed the dead flesh and the person recovered.
Saintstealers? Obviously it is not Magnus, but when was this burial? (Reads study) 9th to 10th century AD, so it could be a Christian. If any miracles happened there, a little relic theft could have happened, or they might have wanted him in holy ground but the relatives did not.
Raspberry brambles have thorns. Probably for protective purposes. Whether of or from the dead I will not venture to speculate.
Oh, I like that. Blackberries would have nastiest thorns. (Makes notes)
Perhaps it was an actual incarnation of a draugr.
Revenge. To give the body to the dogs
Well, that’s deliciously creepy. From a fiction perspective.
More historically, yes, this could have been a possibility. You’d think they would also have destroyed the boat?
Pledges from a Viking fraternity
Perhaps he had been baptized a Christian at some point in his life but had not fully embraced the new faith, and Christian priests stole his body to bury it in consecrated ground to save his immortal soul.
Revenge, to throw the bogy to the dogs
The raspberry beetle does not restrict itself to raspberries, but will attack a number of berry species which would widen the time span considerably, depending on the weather conditions. There is evidence that vikings, along with many other cultures, sprinkled graves with flowers. It is unlikely that they would have used whole raspberry canes (unless, of course they wove them into a sort of wreath?)
The fragments of fleas in the pillow/duvet may have been already dead when it was placed in the grave, indicating that it was old and maybe due to be thrown out anyway.
That the body would have been male should not be presumed, as there have been boat burials found that contained the remains of women.
The removal of the body after its burial is open to many explanations, but the reassembly of the grave afterwards suggests that whoever did it wanted it to be secret. A suspected revenant would be reburied in the grave after rituals being carried out on the corpse. The report does not say if there was any evidence of disturbance of the grave revealed in the original dig back in 1934.
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