The Clay Paw Burial Rite of the Åland Islands and Central Russia: A Symbol in Action
The clay paw burial rite is a special feature of the Åland Islands. It is introduced already in the seventh century shortly after a marked settlement expansion and considerable cultural changes. The rite may be connected with groups involved in beaver hunting since the clay paws in many cases can be zoologically classified as paws of beavers. On the Åland Islands only minor parts of the population belong to this group. Other groups specialized in contacts with the Finnish mainland. The clay paw group became involved in hunting expeditions further and further east and in the ninth century some of the members established themselves in three or four settlements on the middle Volga. There is a later expansion into the area between the Volga and the Kljaz'ma. The clay paw burial rite gives us an unique possibility to identify a specific Scandinavian population group in European Russia in the ninth and tenth centuries. With the introduction of Christian and semi-Christian burial customs ca. A.D. 1000 we cannot archaeologically distinguish this group any more but some historical sources could indicate its existence throughout the eleventh cetury in Russia. The clay paw burial rite brings to the fore questions about local variations and special elements in the Pre-Christian Scandinavian religion. Possibly elements of Finno-ugric religious beliefs had a connection with the development of this rite.
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