Viking stele from the 9th century: The relationship between humans and animals has so far been underestimated.
Photo: PHAS/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The Vikings are actually considered brutal: they attacked cities and monasteries with helmets and axes, they killed and plundered.
Nevertheless, they seemed to have a soft side: when it came to their animals.
This is suggested by a study published in the journal PLOS One.
Experts from the Universities of Durham, Brussels and York discovered that the Vikings took their horses and dogs with them on conquests.
They loaded them onto their ships and took them across the North Sea to Britain.
The animals also accompanied the Vikings to their deaths: they were burned with them in cremations.
Until now, it was assumed that the Vikings left their animals in Scandinavia and procured new ones when they arrived: by stealing them from the local population.
Sacrificed to be buried with their keepers
The archaeologists and chemists examined bones from a burial mound in the British county of Derbyshire.
The bones are from three people and three animals: a horse, a dog and possibly a pig.
The remains are believed to be from a large Viking army that invaded England in 865.
The specialist team examined the bones of the animals using strontium isotope analysis.
The element is deposited in bones through ingestion.
It can provide information about the origin of long-dead creatures.
The animals in the Viking cemetery came from the Baltic shield: a geographic area that includes Finland, parts of Norway, Sweden and Russia.
The fact that horses, dogs and possibly other animals also traveled on board the Viking ships is interpreted by the researchers as an indication of a close relationship between animals and humans.
"It shows how much Viking chiefs valued their personal horses and dogs, that they brought them from Scandinavia and that the animals were sacrificed to be buried with their keepers," said co-author Julian Richards of the University of York News Agency PA.
Study leader Tessi Loeffelmann from the University of Durham told the "BBC" that she found the results to be "really touching".
They suggested that until now the importance of animals to Vikings had been underestimated.