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  The Scar Viking Boat Burial

Who was buried at Scar?

Although close examination of the three bodies from the Scar boat burial answered a number of questions, it also raised as many.

In his crouched position at the stern of the boat, the man was 5ft 11 inches tall and probably in his thirties when he died.

At his feet, and laid out straight on her back, the woman was probably in her seventies - a considerable age to reach at the time of the burial.

By the old woman was a child of unknown sex, aged between ten and eleven years old. Like the woman, the child had been placed flat on its back.

The Scar boat burial is particularly interesting simply because most Viking boat burials found so far have tended to contain only one person.

Scar had three!

What was the relationship between these three and why were they buried together? Unfortunately we can only speculate.

The fact that the woman was so old rules out the possibility that she was the wife of the man - at least in the conventional sense. Were they therefore mother, son and daughter?

It has been suggested that the man was perhaps a servant or retainer to the old woman but the problem with this interpretation is that the man was buried with such a wealth of grave goods. Unlikely if he were a mere slave.

Unfortunately all we can say with any degree of certainty is that the three were connected in some way - three unrelated deaths would not have been interred in such a splendid and ceremonial manner.

How they died is also a puzzle. Archaeological detective work would indicate that the three were buried, more or less, at the same time so they must all have died within a fairly short time of each other.

Did they all die of some illness or disease that was rife in the island at the time? An accident perhaps?

It has suggested that the three may have perished at sea, perhaps travelling to or from one of the neighbouring islands. My only thoughts on this is that if they had been lost at sea, would the recovered remains have been in a condition fit for burial? Not to mention the fact that an elderly woman in her seventies is unlikely to have been out at sea in the open boats at the time.

A darker theory has also been considered in which the man and the young child were sacrificially killed to accompany the old woman on her onward journey. As mentioned above the only flaw in this idea is the fact that the Scar man was buried with such wealth that it is unlikely he was a slave or servant. However, that is not to say that his "possessions" were gifts presented to him after death.

Bone analysis suggested the man had spent some time in his youth at sea. The condition of his hands suggested he was a rower, perhaps crewing a boat similar to the one he was buried in. However, the analysis results could also suggest that he was a trained swordsman and an accomplished horseman.

From this and the quality of his possessions we can fairly safely assume that the Scar man was a warrior of sorts and held a fairly high rank in the local community.

But it is the old woman who is perhaps the most interesting character. At a time where the average life expectancy was perhaps in the mid-thirties, her considerable age alone would undoubtedly have marked her out as someone to be respected and held in great esteem.

Like the Scar man, the old woman's grave goods indicate that she was someone with wealth and position - undoubtedly contributing factors to her longevity. However, one item in particular may indicate that the old woman was special - her whalebone plaque.

Although this plaque could merely have been a domestic smoothing board, it is thought that they also had some religious significance and were perhaps symbolic of owner's status. In particular the plaques have been linked to the Norse fertility goddess Freyja and may have served some ritual purpose within her worship.