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What is a Hogback Stone?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Richard Robinson, n/a, Negura Dincolo
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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A hogback stone is a form of sculpture produced by the Vikings between the 10th and 12th centuries. Hogback stones are primarily concentrated in the British Isles, where the Vikings had several well-established settlements, and numerous examples of such stones can be seen both in situ and at museums in the British isles. It is believed that these monuments were designed as grave markers, and this idea is supported by the fact that they are typically found in graveyards and around areas used for religious worship.

A typical hogback stone is designed as a recumbent monument, consisting of a long length of stone carved to have a distinctive crest with steeply sloping sides which are often covered in ornate decorations. The hogback stone probably would have been placed over a grave to serve as a representative of a house for the dead, mimicking the design of the traditional Viking longhouse in miniature. Some hogback stones are even ornamented with designs which look like shingles, supporting this hypothesis.

These monuments are believed to have their origins in English Viking settlements, given that most hogback stones are found in England. They were made from locally available types of stone which varied in hardness, color, and shape. As a result, it is possible that stones from some regions have eroded away because they were made from soft stone, making it difficult to pinpoint the precise location and time when the hogback stone emerged.

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Some churches in England have examples of hogback stones in their graveyards or on their grounds. In some cases, churches were even built over such stones, which were later excavated and moved as a mark of respect for the dead; a few churches have even preserved hogback stones inside their structures, as is the case with the Church of Saint Bridget in West Kirby, which has a hogback stone in one of its aisles.

Undoubtedly, hogback stones were reserved for prominent members of the community, since they were probably expensive to produce. They may at one point have been marked with additional head and/or foot stones to identify the deceased and describe his or her exploits and life history, although such stones have yet to be discovered. When the Vikings were expelled from the British isles, victorious forces evidently decided to use sites with hogback stones as graveyards since they had already been designated for that purpose. Because of this, sites with hogback stones often contain an interesting cross-section of historical grave markers.

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