This Swedish Viking had filed front teeth.

Did These Filed and Grooved Teeth Belong to a Viking Elite Warrior?

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Scandinavian findings and a mass grave in Dorset, England, proves that some Viking males filed grooves into their front teeth and most likely filled them with pigment. Researchers are uncertain, but one theory is that these Norsemen were elite warriors.

From 2001 to 2005, Caroline Arcini, osteologist at the Swedish National Heritage Board, examined 557 Viking skeletons dating from about year 800 to 1050 AD. She discovered that 24 had deep, horizontal grooves across their upper front teeth.

The skeletons discovered at several Viking Age burial sites in Southern Sweden and Denmark all belonged to males.

The marks cut deep into the enamel, often occurred in pairs or triplets and seemed to be ornamental rather than functional.

“I can conclude that the filed furrows in the front teeth of 24 Viking men are deliberately made and not the result of using the teeth as a tool,” Arcini said.

She also noted that the marks are so well made that a person of great skill most likely did the work.

The Dorset Burial Pit

A decapitated Viking warrior found in a mass grave in Dorset, England, also had the filed pattern in his front teeth.

These teeth were found in the Dorset Viking Age mass grave. (Photo: Oxford Archeology)

These teeth were found in the Dorset Viking Age mass grave. (Photo: Oxford Archeology)

Archaeologists first stumbled upon the Dorset burial pit in June 2009; 51 skulls were discovered in one area of the pit. In another section, 54 bodies had been thrown randomly. Local Anglo-Saxons probably kept the missing three heads as war trophies.

The remains revealed that all of the individuals were male Vikings, most were 25 or younger and killed between the year 910 and 1030 AD.

First in Europe

The Viking discovery is the first historical example of ritual dental modification among Europeans.

“These unique finds of deliberate dental modification … reveal what we did not know before, that this custom is practiced around the world and also in Europe,” according to Arcini.

Scholars say the Vikings may have learned the practice from a foreign culture.

“Vikings are well known for their acquisitive habits, but until now we have thought of this in terms of gold, silver, and booty, not facial decoration,” said William Fitzhugh, a Viking Age expert at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Fitzhugh said that the Vikings might have become aware of the practice during their voyages to Spain and the Mediterranean encountering West Africans.

“However, African teeth modification was of a different sort, with teeth filed into points,” Fitzhugh added.

Other scholars have suggested that the Vikings may have learned the practice on their travels to North America.

“The only place I know of where people have similar horizontal filing marks on their teeth … is the area of the Great Lakes in America and the present states of Illinois, Arizona, and Georgia, Arcini said.

Viking Berserkers?

Besides the filed teeth, nothing found so far separates the men from others living in the Viking Age.

The Lewis Chessmen: A warder (rook) taking the form of a wild-eyed Berserker biting his shield with battle fury. (Photo: British Museum)

The Lewis Chessmen: A warder (rook) taking the form of a wild-eyed Berserker biting his shield with battle fury. (Photo: British Museum)

Why they had their teeth modified remains a mystery, but it is likely that the marks represented some kind of accomplishment or status.

“I think the Vikings’ filed furrows should be seen as a social identification,” Arcini, the Swedish osteologist, said. “Maybe they were brave warriors who got a furrow each time they won a battle or tradesmen who traveled together.”

Fitzhugh, of the Smithsonian, said that the reasons might have been partly aesthetic.

“We do know that the Vikings took pride in their appearance, combed their hair, and ironed their clothes with hot rocks,” Fitzhugh said. “They now seem to have taken pain to decorate their teeth.”

“When in-filled with pigment, these grooves would have made Viking warriors look even more terrifying to Christian monks and villagers,” he added.

The fact that only a few male warriors have been found with filled teeth may also indicate that they have belonged to the feared Viking warrior elite –  the Berserkers .

Top image: This Swedish Viking had filed front teeth. (Photo: British Museum/ Lund University).

The article ‘ Did These Filed and Grooved Teeth Belong to a Viking Elite Warrior? ’ by Thor Lanesskog was originally published on Thor News and has been republished with permission.

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