Klaudia Karpinska

Klaudia Karpinska
University of Oslo · Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History

Master of Arts


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Klaudia Karpinska is currently Doctoral Research Fellow at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo. She is working on her interdisciplinary PhD project entitled “On Wings to the Otherworld: Bird Remains in Viking Age Graves from Scandinavia and the British Isles”. During three years, she will analyse and interpret graves with eggshells, feather remains and bird bones dated to the Viking Age discovered in Scandinavia and in the British Isles. In her PhD thesis, she will also compare the conclusions emerging from the analysis of archaeological finds from funerary and other contexts with the meanings of birds in medieval written sources, as well as discussing selected bird depictions in Viking Age iconography.
Additional affiliations
July 2017 - September 2017
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
  • Researcher
  • Researcher at the Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology University of Kiel (Germany) in the scope of DAAD short-term project.
October 2014 - September 2016
Rzeszów University
Field of study
  • archaeology


Publications (8)
Full-text available
The main aim of this paper is interpretation and discussion of the meaning of birds in Viking Age mortuary practices, beliefs, art as well as medieval written sources (e.g. Icelandic sagas, Poetic Edda). Special attention will be devoted to graves from Scandinavia and the British Isles in which the remains of various bird species were discovered


Questions (2)
Human-avian relationships developed in many ways throughout the Iron Age, particularly in the 1st millennium AD in Central and Northern Europe. These airborne animals foraged and scavenged close to settlements, inviting interactions – wild birds were hunted, and domesticated poultry were bred for meat, feathers and eggs; other birds were kept for entertainment or sport, with raptors trained for falconry. Aves also played significant roles in pre-Christian beliefs and rituals of Iron Age societies: they were sacrificed as votive offerings, included in funerary rites, used for divination, and feature as symbols in both pre-Christian and early Christian iconographies. Bird remains are frequently recovered from a range of everyday and ritual contexts (e.g. settlements, pits, wells, graves). Avian iconography features on many objects (e.g. jewellery, weaponry, carved stones) in different manners (e.g. Germanic animal styles). Written sources – such as Roman (e.g. Pliny the Elder’s The Natural History) and Medieval accounts (e.g. Old Norse literature) – tell of the roles birds played in these cultures. The main aim of the session is to discuss interdisciplinary research on human-bird relations in the 1st millennium AD in Northern and Central Europe. During the session, we will examine the roles of birds in daily life and their symbolic meanings in pre-Christian and early Christian belief systems of Iron Age cultures, including Roman influences. Papers regarding Eastern and Mediterranean parallels are also welcome. We would like to invite researchers who study such themes not only in the scope of archaeology, anthropology, and zooarchaeology, but also history, art history, history of religions, and philology.
In the Early Middle Ages (the period from 6th to 12th century) animals accompanied human societies. Birds started every day with a choir of their songs, big mammals were hunted (or bred) for meat and skins, and dogs were kept for protection. Several animal species held important roles during the various pre-Christian rituals, and after the conversion some of them become symbols linked to Christian religion.
Recently, during excavations on archaeological sites in Europe, numerous bones of inter alia mammals and birds have been discovered in various contexts. They were found on settlements or on the beds of lakes (or rivers). Moreover, their bones have also been discovered in various inhumation and cremation graves of men, women and children. After Christianisation, these creatures were no longer present in the graves, but their depictions appeared in ornamentations on grave monuments (e.g. hogbacks or shrines).
The variety of animals, as well as fantastic beasts or fauna, were depicted in simplistic or more detailed way on numerous artefacts. They were part of the complex pre-Christian ornamentation on weaponry, jewellery and Christian art (e.g. illuminated manuscripts, liturgical paraphernalia, architectonic details).
This session will explore different aspects of human-animal relations in Europe in the Early Middle Ages. Its aim is to discuss the roles of animals in pre-Christian and Christianised societies (e.g. Anglo-Saxon, Vendel Period, Viking Age or Western Slavic societies) from interdisciplinary angles. The meaning of various fauna in farming, craftsmanship, trade and rituals will be taken into account.


Projects (3)
The main aim of the PhD project is a new analysis and interpretation of graves with eggshells, feather remains, and bird bones dated to the Viking Age discovered in Scandinavia and in the British Isles. During three stages of the project, I will compare the conclusions emerging from the analysis of archaeological finds from the funerary context with the meanings of birds in medieval written sources, as well as I will discuss selected bird depictions in Viking Age iconography.
Archived project
The main aim of the project is to analyse bird remains in Viking Age cremation graves from Sweden. During this project, I will seek to find an answer to the question of what roles might birds have ‘played’ in complex funerary rituals and why were they more often buried in cremation graves rather than inhumation graves. Were these animals related to beliefs or social status of dead? Or did they have different and more complex meanings in these funerary ‘dramas’?
Archived project
Goal: In the Viking Age, various species of birds accompanied humans in everyday life. These animals began every morning with their ‘songs’, but they were bred for meat, eggs and feathers, and some of them were used during hunts. Furthermore, some bird species played important roles in the very complex and diversified mortuary practices. Currently, bird remains have been discovered in both cremation and inhumation graves in Scandinavia and on the British Islands. Bones of this animal class were found in the graves of women (e.g. mound 4, Mycklebostad, Norway) as well as in men’s graves (e.g. grave 3, Stengade, Denmark) with various constructions (e.g. chamber graves, cist, stone cairns). What is interesting to note is that some of them were furnished with numerous, unique grave goods, sometimes of foreign origin such as jewellery, bronze vessels, weaponry, and horse tack. These ‘winged’ animals were also mentioned inter alia in Icelandic sagas, the Poetic Edda or ibn Faḍlān’s Risāla, in which they were described as messengers, bringers of wisdom, and harbingers of fate or bloody sacrifices. Additionally, some gods or supernatural beings could change their shape into a bird form. Moreover, birds also appear in the complex and puzzling Viking art. They appear entangled on a single object with fantastic beast, human-like creatures and plants. Their depictions are quite diversified – from synthetic carvings on stones, to the very detailed images on the Bamberg casket. The main aim of this project is to analyse the bird motif in Viking Age beliefs, art and medieval written sources. However, particular attention will be devoted to various graves with bird remains. I will discuss what roles birds might have ‘played’ in the complex ‘mortuary dramas’ and examine why they were buried in graves. Were they sacrifices or beloved ‘companions’? Maybe they have different, more ambivalent and complex meanings.