The Vang Burial Site

Burials during the Viking Age were public events in which everyone participated. The social standing of the living, the dead, and the family as a whole was expressed through rituals and the placement of the grave in the landscape. The tombs were supposed to remain visible, and can be found on heights, near settlements or alongside roads. Proximity to the main roads running through the village seems to have been crucial to the Vang burial site. The site is elongated and located on a gentle slope by the main throughway approaching Vang from the south. At Vang it intersects the westbound road towards the coast. The Vang site overlooks this important crossroads. The graves were meant to be seen by travellers.

The Vang site is the largest known burial ground in Norway, and the burial customs of Vang differ from those common elsewhere in the country during the Late Iron Age. Each farm usually maintained its own burial site. At Vang, however, several farms seem to have shared the same site. It is a communal burial ground. We know of two smaller communal grounds in Oppdal. These sites are located within a limited geographical area. They reflect a common tradition in which one burial ground was used by many individual farms in a larger area.

Why did the Oppdal population develop these communal burial practices? What made them act in this collective manner? In order to accomplish certain tasks? A togetherness in life carried on into death? Standing together must have been important when facing external challenges like war. Organising communications across Dovre, down to Sunndalen, or north to the Trondheim fjord, were also tasks to be taken seriously. Looking at livelihoods demanding cooperation, reindeer hunting stands out. The Iron Age marks the start of linked reindeer trapping pits. One of these chains runs from north to south right across Dovre and consists of more than 1,000 pits. Another, with more than 300 pits, runs from Oppdal to Fagerhaug. This is a method of capture which required extensive cooperation and perhaps the participation of entire communities. Have such collaborations resulted in a desire for unity also in death?