This medieval grave slab is made of stone, and its dimensions are 470mm height, 570mm width, and 100mm depth. The stone is grey, as most stones are, but there are traces of paint residue on the stone, suggesting that it was once colorful and fully painted. On the stone is a carved depiction of a lion fighting a serpent, and an inscription that reads in Old Norse, "Ginna and Toki had this stone laid." The runic Old Norse inscription and depiction of the lion and serpent indicate a Viking/Scandinavian influence, and it dates to the early eleventh century.
By the eleventh century, Scandinavian settlers were somewhat acculturated to SaxoNorman culture, which is evidenced by the differing burial rituals throughout England during its Viking Age (as opposed to burial rituals in Scandinavia). Laying stone slabs over graves was not a Viking ritual; it was a tradition of churchyard burials, which shows that Scandinavian settlers had adapted to different practices. Early medieval grave slabs, including this one, show the blending of Christian and Norse mythology, as they quite often have carvings of both Christian and Norse stories.
In this period, it is unlikely that many individuals would have been able to afford their own grave slabs or markers. Rather, these stones would have mostly been available only to the wealthy. Because of how expensive they could be, stone monuments were often an indicator of more than just who was buried in that spot. The stone was a sign of status, and the longevity of stone meant that the person's status would be etched into public memory long after his or her death. As Dawn Hadley has observed, "stone monuments in a churchyard provided a more visible, public statement, which permitted an individual, a family or community to convey a distinctive political and cultural message through their form and decoration." Some members of the aristocracy were desperate to solidify their high status (and sometimes their family's status) within their communities, and stone monuments, like grave slabs, were an effective way to achieve their goals.
Burial rituals can tell us a lot about the society in which they are practiced. This grave slab most likely belonged to a wealthy man's widow, Ginna, and son, Toki. Archaeologists believe that the widow's husband must have been buried elsewhere, but his burial spot has never been found. It should also be noted that this burial site for these family members could have been an attempt to maintain social status in ways other than through land ownership, as land ownership was often changed during this time period. Having this stone monument was another way to prove that the family had wealth and status. This particular stone was found near St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which is in the heart of London. While it is popularly known that the Viking settled in much larger numbers in the northern parts of England, this stone allows us to infer that individuals of Scandinavian heritage did settle in London, following similar patterns of acculturation and adoption of SaxoNorman norms as those settlers in places like York and elsewhere.
- Katie Wilkie