A new study reveals that when Vikings sailed to England over a millennium ago, they brought their animal companions with them and even cremated their bodies alongside human ones in a blazing pyre before burying them together. The animal and human remains were found in a unique cremation cemetery in central England that has long been assumed to hold the remains of Vikings, particularly the warriors who sailed west to raid the countryside in the 9th century A.D. The new analysis showed that several of the burial mounds contained not only human remains but also those of domesticated animals that the warriors brought with them.
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An international team of researchers analyzed six humans and animals that were cremated together to understand their origins. The cremated remains came from one burial mound that also included a sword hilt, silver and iron objects, and a fragment of a shield. Bones from a horse, a dog, and what was likely a pig were mixed in with the remains of an adult and a younger person. The researchers found that all three animals and one of the adults were not born or raised in England, but their strontium values were much closer to those found in the Baltic shield region of Scandinavia, which maps roughly to modern Norway and Sweden. This suggests that shortly before their deaths, Viking warriors sailed west, bringing their animals with them.
The fact that three different species of animals were included is intriguing, as they could have been used for various purposes such as transportation or food. However, the reason for this selection is not clear. Viking archaeologist Cat Jarman said that the use of strontium isotope analysis on cremated remains is exciting and the possibility that horses and dogs were also moved large distances fits well with what is known from other parts of the Viking world.