Horse-stealing Vikings also brought their own to Britain

  • Viking warriors who invaded Britain in the 9th century may have brought horses with them, according to new research.

    It was formerly thought that Vikings stole horses when they first arrived in Britain but archaeologists have investigated equine remains believed to be originally from Scandinavia.

    The research team, led by Tessi Löffelmann of Durham University, analysed animal and human remains in a number of burial mounds at Heath Wood in Derbyshire, Britain’s only known Viking cremation cemetery, and published the findings this month in scientific journal Plos One.

    By looking at the strontium isotopes in the remains – a natural element that enters humans and animals through food and provides a “geographical fingerprint for their movements” – the team found that one human adult, a horse and a dog came from the Baltic Shield area of Scandinavia, covering Norway and central and northern Sweden.

    Cremated animal and human bone, pictured, were investigated at the Heath Wood Viking cremation cemetery in Derbyshire

    Cremated animal and human bone from the site at Heath Wood

    The researchers said the animal remains were “conclusively not from the area around Heath Wood”.

    “This suggests that Vikings not only stole animals when they arrived in Britain, as accounts from the time describe, but were also transporting animals from Scandinavia, too,” said a spokesman for the project.

    “This research presents the very first direct evidence that not only people made their way across the North Sea in the ninth century, but also animals.

    “As the human and animal remains were found in the remnants of the same cremation pyre, the researchers believe the adult from the Baltic Shield region may have been someone important who was able to bring a horse and dog to Britain.”

    The remains had been cremated and buried under a mound, and the researchers believe this could link to Scandinavian rituals at a time when cremation was not practised in Britain.

    “The analysed remains are associated with the Viking Great Army, a combined force of Scandinavian warriors that invaded Britain in AD865,” said the spokesman.

    “The findings could deepen our knowledge of the Viking Great Army and also raise questions about the importance of specific animals to the Vikings.”

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