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Viking slaves buried with their masters

Discovery suggests Viking slaves were buried with their masters

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Archaeologists have completed their analysis of a 1,000-year-old Viking man buried on an island in the Norwegian Sea, along with several other bodies buried nearby without their heads. Shockingly, the evidence suggests that the other bodies belonged to slaves who were killed in order to lie in the grave with their master. 

It is not the first time that such a finding has been made. In fact, a number of Viking graves have included the remains of slaves as “grave goods”, a custom also practiced in ancient China and elsewhere.  But this was one of the first Viking burials to include more than one slave.

The scientists were able to make the conclusion regarding the owners of the remains by analysing the skeletons’ rations of certain types of nitrogen and carbon atoms that depend on diet. The data revealed that the people buried with their heads had eaten lots of land-based protein, such as milk or beef. The decapitated people, however, had diets rich in seafood, as did a dog buried at the site. The differences in diet point to a gap in social status between those buried with and without their heads.

"These are people who had values very different from our own," said the University of Oslo's Elise Naumann, a Ph.D. student in archaeology, whose study was published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science last week. "There were probably a very few people who were the most privileged, and many people who suffered."

Were the slaves simply treated as any of the other “grave goods” or was their sacrifice tied in with religious beliefs, for example, the belief that their slave may follow them in death to serve them in the afterlife? 

By April Holloway

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