Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Decapitations and modified Viking teeth...

In 2009, archaeologists in Weymouth, way down on the south coast of England, found a mass grave containing 54 bodies and 51 skulls. Radiocarbon dating has placed the assemblage in the 10th or early 11th century - and isotopic evidence gleaned from testing the tooth enamel of the individuals within the burial pit has revealed a cold climate origin for them all. One of them may have even grown up somewhere in the Arctic circle.  Such a group is likely then, to be a Viking raiding party - a party that was somewhat curtailed by being rounded up, stripped, hacked to death, decapitated and thrown into a large pit.  That'll teach them to go raping and pillaging, I suppose.

Heads, not attached to the people they originally were attached to...

Of particular interest though, is the teeth of one of these young Viking warriors. There are a series of distinct horizontal lines on the front teeth which may indicate deliberate modification of the teeth. Teeth can frequently become notched and altered by repetitive movement (holding twine between your teeth, or smoking a pipe for example) but this usually affects the working surfaces of the teeth, or the areas between them, not the outward face of the tooth. These lines seem to have been filed into the teeth for some reason.

Two front teeth: All I wanted for Christmas

Deliberate tooth modification is not unknown in human cultures around the world, but it is fairly unusual in Europe. Groups from Africa and Southeast Asia are well known for intentionally removing teeth, chipping and filing them or insetting them with other materials such as brass or shell, blackening them with natural dyes or incising them. Such acts may be undertaken to show group affiliation, identity, or perhaps personal achievement within the tribe or nation.  There is no reason to expect the Vikings were any different in their reasons for practising this kind of modification.  It is even possible they picked up the idea from interactions with native north Americans on their legendary travels across the globe.

If we imagine that these incised lines were once filled in with some sort of dark pigment, designed to make the unusual modification stand out from a distance, it is very likely that the warrior who owned them cut a terrifying figure to the people of ancient Weymouth. 

Didn't really do him much good in the end though.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-14019172, pictures taken from the BBC video.

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