Viking Invaders Brought Dogs with them from Scandinavia

Vikings were known to be fierce and vicious marauders during the 8th and 9th centuries when they regularly invaded Britain and plundered their way across the sparsely populated landscape. In movies, we are often treated to scenes of these forays into parts unknown, featuring their famous longboats sailing to distant shores in search of treasure, lands to farm, and slaves to work them. What we never see are their dogs or horses.

Now, a recent discovery at a crematorium site located in present-day Derbyshire points conclusively to the inclusion of animals in their travels.

Viking longboat
Photo: Pixabay/WFlore

Anglo-Saxon England

New analysis of a barrow cemetery located at Heath Wood, Derbyshire, dating back to the period of their invasions, has shown evidence of animals not born of the land. This is the only known Viking cremation cemetery in the British Isles to date, so more evidence of this practice could arise in the future.

“This research presents the very first direct evidence that not only people made their way across the North Sea in the ninth century, but also animals,” the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Testing tiny fragments collected from the site, the researchers identified the cremated remains of three animals that included a horse, a dog, and what they believe to be a pig. The horse was for transportation, and the pig was obviously for food, but the dog could have been brought along as a companion and hunting aid.

Viking-era lodge
Photo: Pixabay/Vinding

Viking Age

The mystery here isn’t that they felt the need or desire to bring these animals with them but how they brought them. After all, longboats weren’t exactly pleasure ships with plenty of room to move about, and sharing it with livestock — particularly a horse — had to have been tough. As a rule, these ships were shallow, and the thought of a standing horse onboard is tough to fathom. Dogs, on the other hand, could have been used for warmth on the long voyages and helped keep morale up.

There’s nothing like a pair of soft, loving eyes to turn to when you can’t stand your traveling mates any longer.

Photo: Pixabay/MustapääU

Dogs in Ancient Times

According to the American Kennel Club, “Vikings took Buhunds with them on their travels, both by land and by sea. In Norway, the Gokstad excavation of a Viking grave from around 900 A.D. uncovered the skeletons of six dogs. Those dogs were representatives of today’s Norwegian Buhund.”

Developed on the western coast of Norway, it’s said the breed’s original function was as an all-purpose farm dog, used for herding cattle and sheep and — as predicted — as a watchdog. Buhunds can still be found doing those jobs today on remote farms in Norway.

Viking axes
Photo: Pixabay/ValeriiIavtushenko

No Horse Thieves

“Given the difficulty of transporting horses across the North Sea in open boats, one might assume that the army generally seized its horses in England,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “However, it is not impossible that its leaders brought their personal mounts with them . . . it is less surprising that a Viking leader would also bring their prized hunting dog, [a] key status symbol . . . and the pig might have been intended as initial livestock.”

Researchers also noted a total of 59 mounds were discovered at Heath Wood, separated into four clusters. Only 20 of the mounds have been investigated so far, and most of this excavation took place in the 1940s and ’50s. It is in these mounds that the team discovered the intermingled remains of the animals and humans cremated there.

People, Pets & Planet

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