Memorials by and for women
Unlike the Oseberg burial which contained two women, the Balladoole burial contained a man and a woman together with a horse and grave goods for the man. The woman in this burial had been placed at the feet of the man, and without any grave goods. This led the excavators to believe that she was a slave sacrificed to accompany her master on his journey to the afterlife. This fits with the burial narrative known from the famous description of a slave being killed to accompany a Rus chieftain that is mentioned in Ibn Fadlan.
The Scar boat burial is another example of a man and woman buried together, but this time with a child. The woman was about 70 years old when she died, the man about 30 and the child about 10. The burial included a whalebone plaque, known as the Scar plaque which was found beside the woman. She had also been buried with a pair of shears, a sickle and two spindle whorls. Analysis of the woman's bones showed that she had spent a large part of her life sitting cross-legged, possibly spinning.
Runestone U 489 in Uppland, Sweden, was erected by a woman, probably called Gullaug, to commemorate her daughter Gillaug. The reference to a bridge, and the cross on the stone clearly indicate that Gullaug was a Christian. The Church at this time engaged in building bridges and roads, and a person might commission a bridge as an indulgence for the soul of a loved one.
The fact that this runestone was both commissioned by and on behalf of a woman is unusual, but it shows that women did have the power to undertake these actions without needing to be sponsored by men, and that some women were of high enough status to be commemorated in this manner.
This cross fragment in Kirk Michael, Isle of Man, only has a fragmentary inscription, so it is not possible to state for whom or by whom it was made. However, it provides an excellent depiction of a woman with a trailing dress as part of the memorial. The dress is similar to that of the female figure on the Jurby slab and bears comparison with the dresses depicted in the clothing section of this exhibit and with those on the Oseberg tapestry.
The woman on this carving is carrying a staff with forked ends, which has led some to suggest that she is a vǫlva or seeress. Vǫlvas are supposed to have carried staves, and several metal examples found in graves have been interpreted as vǫlvas staves, like the one found at Köpingsvik in Sweden.