It’s amazing what we can learn from ancient textiles and other artifacts with scientific analysis. The Viking burial textiles in the coffins of two powerful Danish Vikings are providing us with insights that would never have been possible without modern science.
Experts have conducted a scientific analysis of the contents of the reliquaries of Canute the Holy, a Christian martyr and Viking ruler , and his brother, in Denmark, following doubts as to their authenticity. Results revealed they are indeed authentic, along with a few other surprises.
The motive on this Viking burial textile, a pillow, found in one of the reliquaries in Denmark shows birds, probably peacocks, flanking a stylized tree or cross. It consists of several silk pieces sewn together. Source: The National Museum of Denmark
The Danish reliquaries contained a number of Viking burial textiles including a remarkable pillow known as the “eagle’s pillow.” No one is exactly sure when the textiles were placed in the reliquaries or even if they are authentic. This prompted a scientific analysis of the Viking burial textiles to resolve questions about them and to understand what they could tell us about one of the last great Viking rulers.
Viking King Canute And His Brother: Murdered In Church
The textiles in the study come from two reliquaries (boxes containing historical or religious relics) located in Odense Cathedral, Denmark. These wooden caskets were once ornately decorated and contain the remains of people that were viewed as sacred individuals by the Christian Church . These reliquaries were originally part of a shrine, which has long been dismantled. The reliquaries contain the remains of the Danish king Canute the Holy and his brother Benedikt.
The hipped-lid reliquary that contained some of the Viking burial textiles. ( The National Museum of Denmark )
Canute the Holy, better known as simply King Canute (1042-1086 AD) was one of the most important rulers in the Late Viking period. He was the grandnephew of Canute the Great who created the North Sea Empire, which included Denmark, Norway, and England. Canute the Holy is best known for his failed attempt to invade England in 1085 AD. This was the last effort by the Danes to conquer England and it is often seen as the event that ended the Viking Age.
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Canute the Holy wanted to establish a centralized monarchy, but this led to a rebellion by the nobility. Heritage Science Journal reports that “In July 1086 he was killed together with his brother Benedikt and 17 housecarls by an army of unsatisfied magnates.” Because he was killed on holy ground he came to be regarded as a martyr. He was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church and his remains were put in a reliquary, by one of his successors. His brother’s remains were placed in another reliquary.
The other wooden reliquary that contained some of the Viking burial textiles, which is has “columns” along the sides of the casket. ( The National Museum of Denmark )
The Mystery Of The Ancient Viking Burial Textiles
Danish researchers were intrigued by the Viking burial textiles they found in the two reliquaries. They were clearly very ancient, but it was not known how old they were, or if they indeed were placed there at the time of the enshrinement of Canute and his brother. It was hoped that by carrying out tests on these textiles they would learn more about the original burial of the king and the history of the reliquaries themselves.
The Eagle Silk blanket textile, woven with a fine weaving technique developed in Persia. The original colors were dark blue, dyed with woad and indigo, and red, dyed with madder and sappanwood. ( The National Museum of Denmark )
The reliquaries were undisturbed until Denmark converted to the Protestant religion during the Reformation. It appears that the silver and gold that once adorned the caskets were stripped away in the 16 th century, to pay for the king’s mercenaries. The relics and reliquaries were later put on display in the 1930s.
“First, the authenticity and the dating of the textiles was investigated,” according to Heritage Science Journal . These would have been very valuable, and they were in remarkable condition. Eureka Alert quotes Kaare Lund Rasmussen from the University of Southern Denmark: “that the king's precious textiles have been stolen at some point after AD 1582.” The specialists confirmed that the silks found in the Canute reliquary were originally from the reliquary of his brother and were placed there at a later date. Rasmussen told Eureka Alert that the textiles “are exquisite and beautiful, but King Canute's textiles must have been even more exquisite.”
Silks From The Byzantine Empire
The Danish researchers conducted carbon dating analysis on samples from nine silk textiles found in the reliquaries and this allowed them to date the ancient textiles. They also conducted a series of chemical analysis tests on the samples. Eureka Alert reports that they “conclude that they are of the same age and that their age fit with 1086 AD when the two brothers were enshrined.” This confirms that the textiles are authentic, which was doubted by some experts.
The findings are a surprise because they show that Denmark had connections with the Byzantine Empire, which was the only place in the Western world where silk weaving existed. The Byzantines had learned the secrets of sericulture (silk production) from Tang China. According to the researchers “the luxurious silks may have been sent from South Italy to the shrines in Denmark by King Canute's widow, Edel, possibly brought home by Canute's half-brother, King Erik,” reports Eureka Alert .
These Ancient Reliquaries And Their Rare Textiles Need Care
The researchers also examined the state of conservation of the silks and the wooden reliquaries. What they found was worrying. According to the Heritage Science Journal “The wood continuously releases organic acids, the soaring concentrations of which are potentially harmful to the 11th Century textiles and probably also to the bones.” Therefore, it may be necessary to change the environment in which the remains and textiles are held to preserve them for prosperity.
Ancient bones reveal Irish are not Celts after all
In 2006, Bertie Currie was clearing land to make a driveway for McCuaig's Bar on Rathlin Island off Antrim when he noticed a large, flat stone buried beneath the surface.
Currie realized that there was a large gap underneath the stone and investigated further.
"I shot the torch in and saw the gentleman, well, his skull and bones," Currie told the Washington Post in March 2016.
He eventually found the remains of three humans and immediately called the police.
The police arrived on the scene and discovered that this was not a crime scene but an ancient burial site.
It turned out to be a hugely significant ancient burial site as well that, with DNA analysis, could completely alter the perception that Irish people are descended from Celts.
A number of prominent professors at esteemed universities in Ireland and Britain analyzed the bones and said that the discovery could rewrite Irish history and ancestry.
DNA researchers found that the three skeletons found under Currie's pub are the ancestors of modern Irish people and predate the Celts' arrival on Irish shores by around 1,000 years.
Essentially, Irish DNA existed in Ireland before the Celts ever set foot on the island.
Instead, Irish ancestors may have come to Ireland from the Bible lands in the Middle East. They might have arrived in Ireland from the South Meditteranean and would have brought cattle, cereal, and ceramics with them.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) said in 2015 that the bones strikingly resembled those of contemporary Irish, Scottish, and Welsh people.
A retired archaeology professor at the highly-renowned University of Oxford said that the discovery could completely change the perception of Irish ancestry.
“The DNA evidence based on those bones completely upends the traditional view,” said Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Oxford.
Radiocarbon dating at Currie's McCuaig's Bar found that the ancient bones date back to at least 2,000 BC, which is hundreds of years older than the oldest known Celtic artifacts anywhere in the world.
Dan Bradley, a genetics professor at Trinity College, said in 2016 that the discovery could challenge the popular belief that Irish people are related to Celts.
“The genomes of the contemporary people in Ireland are older — much older — than we previously thought,” he said.
*Originally published in March 2016, last updated in December 2020.
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The earliest known written reference to the tapestry is a 1476 inventory of Bayeux Cathedral,  but its origins have been the subject of much speculation and controversy.
French legend maintained the tapestry was commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror's wife, and her ladies-in-waiting. Indeed, in France, it is occasionally known as "La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde" (Tapestry of Queen Matilda). However, scholarly analysis in the 20th century concluded it was probably commissioned by William's half-brother, Bishop Odo,  who, after the Conquest, became Earl of Kent and, when William was absent in Normandy, regent of England.
The reasons for the Odo commission theory include:
- three of the bishop's followers mentioned in the Domesday Book appear on the tapestry
- it was found in Bayeux Cathedral, built by Odo and
- it may have been commissioned at the same time as the cathedral's construction in the 1070s, possibly completed by 1077 in time for display on the cathedral's dedication.
Assuming Odo commissioned the tapestry, it was probably designed and constructed in England by Anglo-Saxon artists (Odo's main power base being by then in Kent) the Latin text contains hints of Anglo-Saxon other embroideries originate from England at this time and the vegetable dyes can be found in cloth traditionally woven there.    Howard B. Clarke has proposed that the designer of the tapestry was Scolland, the abbot of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, because of his previous position as head of the scriptorium at Mont Saint-Michel (famed for its illumination), his travels to Trajan's Column, and his connections to Wadard and Vital, two individuals identified in the tapestry.   The actual physical work of stitching was most likely undertaken by female needleworkers. Anglo-Saxon needlework of the more detailed type known as Opus Anglicanum was famous across Europe. It was perhaps commissioned for display in the hall of his palace and then bequeathed to the cathedral he built, following the pattern of the documented but lost hanging of Byrhtnoth. 
Alternative theories exist. Carola Hicks has suggested it could possibly have been commissioned by Edith of Wessex, widow of Edward the Confessor and sister of Harold.  Wolfgang Grape has challenged the consensus that the embroidery is Anglo-Saxon, distinguishing between Anglo-Saxon and other Northern European techniques  Medieval material authority Elizabeth Coatsworth  contradicted this: "The attempt to distinguish Anglo-Saxon from other Northern European embroideries before 1100 on the grounds of technique cannot be upheld on the basis of present knowledge."  George Beech suggests the tapestry was executed at the Abbey of Saint-Florent de Saumur in the Loire Valley and says the detailed depiction of the Breton campaign argues for additional sources in France.  Andrew Bridgeford has suggested that the tapestry was actually of English design and encoded with secret messages meant to undermine Norman rule. 
In common with other embroidered hangings of the early medieval period, this piece is conventionally referred to as a "tapestry", although it is not a "true" tapestry in which the design is woven into the cloth in tapestry weave it is technically an embroidery, although it meets the traditional broader definition of "tapestry" as: "A textile fabric decorated with designs of ornament or pictorial subjects, painted, embroidered, or woven in colours, used for wall hangings, curtains, covers for seats, . " 
The Bayeux tapestry is embroidered in crewel (wool yarn) on a tabby-woven linen ground 68.38 metres long and 0.5 metres wide (224.3 ft × 1.6 ft) and using two methods of stitching: outline or stem stitch for lettering and the outlines of figures, and couching or laid work for filling in figures.   Nine linen panels, between fourteen and three metres in length, were sewn together after each was embroidered and the joins were disguised with subsequent embroidery.  At the first join (start of scene 14) the borders do not line up properly but the technique was improved so that the later joins are practically invisible.  The design involved a broad central zone with narrow decorative borders top and bottom.  By inspecting the woollen threads behind the linen it is apparent all these aspects were embroidered together at a session and the awkward placing of the tituli is not due to them being added later.  Later generations have patched the hanging in numerous places and some of the embroidery (especially in the final scene) has been reworked.  The tapestry may well have maintained much of its original appearance—it now compares closely with a careful drawing made in 1730. 
The end of the tapestry has been missing from time immemorial and the final titulus "Et fuga verterunt Angli" ("and the English left fleeing") is said to be "entirely spurious", added shortly before 1814 at a time of anti-English sentiment.  Musset speculates the hanging was originally about 1.5 metres longer.  At the last section still remaining the embroidery has been almost completely restored but this seems to have been done with at least some regard to the original stitching.  The stylised tree is quite unlike any other tree in the tapestry.  The start of the tapestry has also been restored but to a much lesser extent. 
Norton [note 1] has reviewed the various measurements of the length of the tapestry itself and of its nine individual linen panels. He has also attempted to estimate the size and architectural design of the 11th-century Bayeux Cathedral. He considers the tapestry would have fitted well if it had been hung along the south, west, and north arcades of the nave and that the scenes it depicts can be correlated with positions of the arcade bays in a way that would have been dramatically satisfying. He agrees with earlier speculation that a final panel is missing—one that shows William's coronation and which he thinks was some three metres long. Norton concludes that the tapestry was definitely designed to be hung in Bayeux Cathedral specifically that it was designed to appeal to a Norman audience and that it was probably designed for Bishop Odo so as to be displayed at the dedication of the cathedral in 1077 in the presence of William, Matilda, their sons, and Odo. 
The main yarn colours are terracotta or russet, blue-green, dull gold, olive green, and blue, with small amounts of dark blue or black and sage green. Later repairs are worked in light yellow, orange, and light greens.  Laid yarns are couched in place with yarn of the same or contrasting colour.
The tapestry's central zone contains most of the action, which sometimes overflows into the borders either for dramatic effect or because depictions would otherwise be very cramped (for example at Edward's death scene). Events take place in a long series of scenes which are generally separated by highly stylised trees. However, the trees are not placed consistently and the greatest scene shift, between Harold's audience with Edward after his return to England and Edward's burial scene, is not marked in any way at all. 
The tituli are normally in the central zone but occasionally use the top border. The borders are otherwise mostly purely decorative and only sometimes does the decoration complement the action in the central zone. The decoration consists of birds, beasts, fish and scenes from fables, agriculture, and hunting. There are frequent oblique bands separating the vignettes. There are nude figures, some of corpses from battle, others of a ribald nature.  A harrow, a newly invented implement, is depicted (scene 10) and this is the earliest known depiction. The picture of Halley's Comet, which appears in the upper border (scene 32), is the first known picture of this comet. 
In 1724 a linen backing cloth was sewn on comparatively crudely and, in around the year 1800, large ink numerals were written on the backing which broadly enumerate each scene and which are still commonly used for reference. 
Vikings Filled Their Pillows and Duvets with Eagle-Owls’ Feathers
Reconstruction of the Myklebust Viking ship burial chamber c. year 870 AD, Norway, probably containing King Audbjorn of the Fjords. The king’s head is resting on pillows filled with bird feathers. (Illustration: Arkikon.no)
In the largest and richest equipped Viking burial mounds discovered in Norway there are usually found beds and several types of bird feathers and down from pillows and duvets, including eagle-owls’ feathers. This demonstrates that wealthy Viking aristocrats slept as they lived: quite comfortably.
Modern technology and knowledge makes it possible to separate feathers and down from different bird species, and according to the Norwegian research portal Gemini.no, there have been discovered remains from a variety of birds – including the Eurasian eagle-owl, Northern Europe’s largest owl.
There have also been discovered everything from the exclusive down from the common eider known for its extreme insulating properties, to “common crow” feathers.
Eiderdown is regarded as the most exclusive and is even today highly sought after for duvet manufacturing. Only about 0.56 ounces is collected from each nest, and it takes 18 to 35 ounces to produce one duvet, equivalent to down from about sixty nests.
This clearly shows that back in the Viking Age, bird feathers must have been a really exclusive commodity, and that the luxury of owning a pillow and duvet was reserved for only the wealthiest in the Norse society.
Feathers in Metal
In some Viking burial mounds there are found prints of different feathers in metal. If a sword was placed on a pillow next to the buried person, it corroded over time and the feathers got covered with rust.
An about one centimeter long well-preserved fragment of a bird feather found in a grave dating back to the Viking Age. Even after many hundreds of years, it is possible to see the colors and that this is a crow feather. (Photo: Jørgen Rosvold, NTNU Unversity Museum, Trondheim)
Researchers are now investigating Swedish and Norwegian younger Iron Age graves, among others the magnificent Oseberg Viking ship buried in the year 834 AD, to determine which bird species the feathers come from.
The researchers are analyzing fragments dating all the way back to the year 570 AD, and throughout the Viking era. There is so far not found older feathers and down, but this does not mean they were not used in duvets and pillows.
Copy of the bed found in the Oseberg ship burial chamber where two elderly women were found lying next to each other. (Photo: Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)
Inside the buried Oseberg Viking ship, two elderly women were found in a separate burial chamber just behind the ship mast.
The chamber was decorated with a stunningly woven tapestry and the two women were placed next to each other in a made bed – with duvets and pillows.
Five other beds were also discovered in the Oseberg ship grave – all most likely equipped with duvets and pillows filled with bird feathers, securing that the two women would sleep comfortably in their Afterlife.
Many of the board game pieces found in the graves were made from bone and were used in games such as hnefatafl (figurines from a hnefatafl board created by artist Werner Forman pictured)
The Vikings were famed as warriors and for sailing long distances (reconstruction of Viking vessel pictured) as they raided distant countries, but the new research suggests they had a soft spot for board games too
The discovery of the games provides new insight into the culture and belief of the Vikings (scene from the TV series Vikings pictured)
The group were laid to rest in a boat, along with 22 whalebone playing pieces.
Mr Hall said: 'Thus equipping the deceased in burial would have seen them provided for in afterlife both as an act of remembrance and to make sure the dead were not lacking in anything, ensuring that they would move on and not - disturbingly - be drawn back to the living world.'
The games also acted as 'provisions' for the challenge of the journey into the afterlife.
He writes: 'Just as in life, where success on the gaming board – which needed strategic thinking as well as fighting ability - could be seen to confirm and add to the status of an accomplished warrior, in death the inclusion of a board game signalled ability and success as a warrior and by implication preparedness for the challenge ahead.'
Among the games to be found in the Viking graves are a Norse board game called hnefatafl (reconstruction pictured above)
According to Hall the playing pieces were used in various games – including a Norse game called hnefatafl, which was played on a lattice board with two 'armies' that face each other, much like in chess.
The game similar to chess - with a king piece in the centre, surrounded by defenders, which must make it to the edge of the board before the other team destroys him.
The dice - he says - were probably linked to an early ancestor of the game of backgammon, known as tabulal alea.
DID THE VIKINGS LOVE TO WEAR BLING?
While they had a reputation for raping and pillaging their way around Europe, but it seems Vikings also liked to show off their hard-earned gold by adorning themselves with bling.
Archaeologists have discovered delicate blue glass and amber beads at the site of a former Viking settlement in the middle of Norway's Ørland peninsula.
The Iron Age site reveals how the Vikings who lived there appear to have traded their wealth for trinkets and pieces of fine jewellery.
The 1,500-year-old village was unearthed as experts investigated the site ahead of plans to extend a military airbase on the site.
Covering an area of more than 22 acres (9 hectares), the site contains a treasure trove of Viking artefacts, according to the archaeologists.
Much like it is today, the area would have been strategically important and the researchers have discovered the remains of several traditional Viking long houses built on the site.
Dr Ingrid Ystgaard, project manager and an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's University Museum, said the beads found at the site suggest the inhabitants used their position to build up their wealth and were not afraid to show it off.
The archaeologists have also discovered the remains of an exquisite green drinking glass that appears to have been imported from the Rhine Valley in Germany.
At the time, glass would have been extremely rare and expensive to acquire.
Dr Ystgaard said: 'It says something that people had enough wealth to trade for glass.'
World's largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons reveals they weren't all Scandinavian
Invaders, pirates, warriors -- the history books taught us that Vikings were brutal predators who travelled by sea from Scandinavia to pillage and raid their way across Europe and beyond.
Now cutting-edge DNA sequencing of more than 400 Viking skeletons from archaeological sites scattered across Europe and Greenland will rewrite the history books as it has shown:
- Skeletons from famous Viking burial sites in Scotland were actually local people who could have taken on Viking identities and were buried as Vikings.
- Many Vikings actually had brown hair not blonde hair.
- Viking identity was not limited to people with Scandinavian genetic ancestry. The study shows the genetic history of Scandinavia was influenced by foreign genes from Asia and Southern Europe before the Viking Age.
- Early Viking Age raiding parties were an activity for locals and included close family members.
- The genetic legacy in the UK has left the population with up to six per cent Viking DNA.
The six-year research project, published in Nature today (16 September 2020), debunks the modern image of Vikings and was led by Professor Eske Willerslev, a Fellow of St John's College, University of Cambridge, and director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen.
He said: "We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books -- but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn't that kind of world. This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was -- no one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age."
The word Viking comes from the Scandinavian term 'vikingr' meaning 'pirate'. The Viking Age generally refers to the period from A.D. 800, a few years after the earliest recorded raid, until the 1050s, a few years before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The Vikings changed the political and genetic course of Europe and beyond: Cnut the Great became the King of England, Leif Eriksson is believed to have been the first European to reach North America -- 500 years before Christopher Columbus -- and Olaf Tryggvason is credited with taking Christianity to Norway. Many expeditions involved raiding monasteries and cities along the coastal settlements of Europe but the goal of trading goods like fur, tusks and seal fat were often the more pragmatic aim.
Professor Willerslev added: "We didn't know genetically what they actually looked like until now. We found genetic differences between different Viking populations within Scandinavia which shows Viking groups in the region were far more isolated than previously believed. Our research even debunks the modern image of Vikings with blonde hair as many had brown hair and were influenced by genetic influx from the outside of Scandinavia."
The team of international academics sequenced the whole genomes of 442 mostly Viking Age men, women, children and babies from their teeth and petrous bones found in Viking cemeteries. They analysed the DNA from the remains from a boat burial in Estonia and discovered four Viking brothers died the same day. The scientists have also revealed male skeletons from a Viking burial site in Orkney, Scotland, were not actually genetically Vikings despite being buried with swords and other Viking memorabilia.
There wasn't a word for Scandinavia during the Viking Age -- that came later. But the research study shows that the Vikings from what is now Norway travelled to Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland. The Vikings from what is now Denmark travelled to England. And Vikings from what is now Sweden went to the Baltic countries on their all male 'raiding parties'.
Dr Ashot Margaryan, Assistant Professor at the Section for Evolutionary Genomics, Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen and first author of the paper, said: "We carried out the largest ever DNA analysis of Viking remains to explore how they fit into the genetic picture of Ancient Europeans before the Viking Age. The results were startling and some answer long-standing historical questions and confirm previous assumptions that lacked evidence.
"We discovered that a Viking raiding party expedition included close family members as we discovered four brothers in one boat burial in Estonia who died the same day. The rest of the occupants of the boat were genetically similar suggesting that they all likely came from a small town or village somewhere in Sweden."
DNA from the Viking remains were shotgun sequenced from sites in Greenland, Ukraine, The United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Poland and Russia.
Professor Martin Sikora, a lead author of the paper and an Associate Professor at the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, said: "We found that Vikings weren't just Scandinavians in their genetic ancestry, as we analysed genetic influences in their DNA from Southern Europe and Asia which has never been contemplated before. Many Vikings have high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry, both within and outside Scandinavia, which suggest ongoing gene flow across Europe."
The team's analysis also found that genetically Pictish people 'became' Vikings without genetically mixing with Scandinavians. The Picts were Celtic-speaking people who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late British Iron Age and Early Medieval periods.
Dr Daniel Lawson, lead author from The University of Bristol, explained: "Individuals with two genetically British parents who had Viking burials were found in Orkney and Norway. This is a different side of the cultural relationship from Viking raiding and pillaging."
The Viking Age altered the political, cultural and demographic map of Europe in ways that are still evident today in place names, surnames and modern genetics.
Professor Søren Sindbæk, an archaeologist from Moesgaard Museum in Denmark who collaborated on the ground-breaking paper, explained: "Scandinavian diasporas established trade and settlement stretching from the American continent to the Asian steppe. They exported ideas, technologies, language, beliefs and practices and developed new socio-political structures. Importantly our results show that 'Viking' identity was not limited to people with Scandinavian genetic ancestry. Two Orkney skeletons who were buried with Viking swords in Viking style graves are genetically similar to present-day Irish and Scottish people and could be the earliest Pictish genomes ever studied."
Assistant Professor Fernando Racimo, also a lead author based at the GeoGenetics Centre in the University of Copenhagen, stressed how valuable the dataset is for the study of the complex traits and natural selection in the past. He explained: This is the first time we can take a detailed look at the evolution of variants under natural selection in the last 2,000 years of European history. The Viking genomes allow us to disentangle how selection unfolded before, during and after the Viking movements across Europe, affecting genes associated with important traits like immunity, pigmentation and metabolism. We can also begin to infer the physical appearance of ancient Vikings and compare them to Scandinavians today."
The genetic legacy of the Viking Age lives on today with six per cent of people of the UK population predicted to have Viking DNA in their genes compared to 10 per cent in Sweden.
Professor Willeslev concluded: "The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was. The history books will need to be updated."
Jarman and her colleagues also dated a double grave at the site &mdash one of the only graves with Viking weapons in it in England &mdash to A.D. 873-886.
The older of the two men in the grave was buried with several artifacts, including a Thor's hammer pendant and a Viking sword. This man had several serious injuries, including a large cut on his left femur, or thigh bone. Curiously, a boar's tusk had been put between his legs. Perhaps because the injury had affected his penis or testicles, and the tusk symbolized this loss to help him prepare for the afterlife, the researchers said.
In another grave, four juveniles ages 8 to 18 were buried with a sheep jaw at their feet. Two of the boys had signs of traumatic injury. It's possible these boys were sacrificed to accompany the Viking dead, which Viking texts mention as a ritual, the researchers said. This grave was dated to A.D. 872-885, they noted. [Photos: 10th-Century Viking Tomb Unearthed in Denmark]
"The date of the Repton charnel bones is important because we know very little about the first Viking raiders that went on to become part of [a] considerable Scandinavian settlement of England," Jarman said. "Although these new radiocarbon dates don't prove that these were Viking army members, it now seems very likely."
The findings were published online today (Feb. 2) in the journal Antiquity.
Björn Järnsidas Hög (Björn Ironsides Mound)View all photos
When thinking of Scandinavia, it’s hard not to envision the Viking Age that spanned across Europe. Many famous warriors were born from this era, names that haven’t been forgotten even centuries later. Local legends, television shows, and movies keep the memory and lore of these ancient figures alive today. Although, some of the history surrounding these heroes can be questioned, as ancient stories and people often merged over time into one mythical hero.
Known as one of the perhaps mythical Viking kings of Sweden, Bjorn was the son of king Ragnar Lofbrok, who may have also been a mashup of various historical Viking figures. According to sources, Bjorn ruled over Sweden during the 9th century and may have started the Munsö Dynasty. Bjorn’s classic moniker was derived from the belief that he was rarely wounded in battle, in fact, it was thought that he was invulnerable to any wound.
The largest mound on the island of Munsö located in lake Mälaren is said to be the final resting place of this legendary Viking. The mound is part of an old collection of graves that consists of around 45 smaller mounds. A total of 150 remains have been found inside the mounds, including various valuables and artifacts.
On the site is also a fragmented runestone that reads ’[Thou] rgutr, you … … breath and God [s’]’.
Unlike some of the better-known burial mounds in Scandinavia, Björn Järnsidas hög is not well maintained. It’s mostly overgrown by trees and devoid of any signage, however, the legend of this Viking king has not been forgotten.
Update as of April 2020: The runestone has been restored and repainted.
Know Before You Go
The mounds are on the right-hand side if you are driving north up Björn Järnsidas väg. They are freely accessible.
14. Sweyn Forkbeard
Sweyn Forkbeard was a famous Viking king of both Denmark and England and one of the most important Vikings when it comes to English history.
He formed an imposing Danish North Sea empire in about 1000 and conquered England in 1013, only a year before his death.
While his death saw the end of his Norwegian empire, his son and grandson continued to rule in England until 1042.