Vikings brought horses and dogs to the British Isles from Scandinavia, a new study suggests.
Chemical analysis of bone fragments from a cemetery in England provides the first solid scientific evidence of animals traveling with the Vikings across the North Sea, scientists at February 1 in PLOS FIRST.
In the 1990s, researchers unearthed the cremated remains of an adult and human child as well as a dog, a horse and a possible pig from a burial mound in a Viking cemetery in Derbyshire, England. In previous work, radiocarbon dating of femurs, skull fragments and ribs revealed that the inhabitants had all died sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries. That date was narrow to the year 873, from the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, which mentions that the Viking army wintered near the place that year.
Where there was a sacrament concerning animals. The Nortmann pirates are known to have stolen horses from people in England around the time. But researchers generally thought that the Viking ships at the time were too small to allow many animals from Scandinavia to the British Isles. One entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Vikings moving from Gaul to England with horses in 892, but no physical evidence of such activity had been found before.
In the new work, Tessi Löffelmann and colleagues converted specific forms of strontium, or isotopes, to explain the provenance of each individual. The element accumulates in bones over time through diet, leaving a distinct signature of where a person lived.SN: 4/2/19).
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The strontium patterns on the child’s remains match the bushes growing at the site of the grave, suggesting that the child spent most, if not all, of his life in England. The profiles of the adults and the three animals, on the other hand, differed substantially from the local fauna found by the team. This suggests that the individual did not spend much time in the country before they died. But their patterns were similar to those in the Baltic region of Norway, central Sweden and northern Finland, suggesting a Scandinavian origin.
“One of the joys of isotope analysis is that we were able to discuss things endlessly before,” says Marianne Moen, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo, who was not an expert in the study. Using strontium to analyze more cremated remains, which include common forms of isotope analysis including carbon and nitrogen, “is the next logical chapter in understanding prehistoric mobility.”
Isotope analysis helped reveal where these people lived and when they died, but could not answer why the dog, horse and pig traveled to England in the first place. Where historical records can help, says Löffelmann, is the University of Durham in England and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium.
For Löffelmann, the small sizes of the ancient Norse ships, together with the fact that animals and humans were buried together, suggest that the Vikings may have initially brought animals with them for society, not just as a function.
“It could only be the chosen animals that made that journey,” he said. “They were important to what a person was. … They went through life together, and now they go through death.
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