Vikings were FABULOUS


Due to the prompt-less nature of our third blog, I thought I’d try to find something a little racier than the standard fair of archeological discoveries. Well not to disappoint, I found articles surrounding a mass grave of young Viking men in Dorset, England.
During routine construction work, a pit of over 50 skeletons of young Viking men was uncovered. The pit was clearly a mass burial but the jury is still out on what put those bodies in the ground. One theory is of a nasty illness wiping out the hardened warriors. Another is of an angry mob tearing apart a group of captured Viking warriors. Another theory is that of an offering of the human sacrifice kind. However, Dr. Britt Baillie believes they were unfortunate participants of the St. Brice Day Massacre. Apparently on November 13th, 1002, King Aethelred the Unready had had enough with all the Danish men. Following a Viking raid the king, being the reasonable sort, ordered all Danish men in England to be executed.
Despite the horrific demise of these 1000 year old men, I digress. The interesting bit is the fashion statement of these late marauders. Apparently filing groves into the front of your teeth was all the rage back then. These men had parallel horizontal groves carved into their incisors. These findings further support the worldwide craze Vikings had for sawing crap into their teeth (so metal). A Viking cemetery in Gotland produced a hoard of Viking skulls with this strange marking. Some teeth had complex intersecting lines in them instead of the standard parallel. Researchers, such as Caroline Arcini, believe the grooves would be filled with different colored charcoals – because if you’re going to file holes into your teeth, you just got to pack it full of dirt.
The Dorset skulls are the first evidence of this strange practice seen outside of Sweden. Further evidence found in Denmark seems to show that this practice was fairly common. At the time the article was written, Arcini was waiting on strontium samples to determine the background of our Viking fashionistas. In the meantime, Arcini wrote a children’s book on the subject – don’t ask me why.
In terms of this class, I find this article very relevant. If there is such a thing as “cultural heritage”, it most certainly manifests as strange practices like this. From now on, I’ll picture Vikings with a crazy charcoal-filled filled smile, because they weren’t intimidating enough already.

Link to article:

7 thoughts on “Vikings were FABULOUS

  1. I find this incredibly fascinating. I never knew that Vikings carved grooves into their teeth. That’s not exactly something they point out in most history books. But I think that’s the really interesting things about people, the weird idiosyncrasies of culture. In general, I wish that history texts at least for lower levels talked about tangible things like this. Can you imagine doing what they did?

    I agree that this is a distinct manifestation of cultural heritage. I think that this might be one of the more interesting things I know about the Vikings. The details about a culture are what really interest me, I suppose. That’s just because I’ve never really been big on the stories in history. I think that people are more interesting than leadership choices.

    One of my favorite archaeological sites that I know of is Mohenjo Daro. It’s mainly because there’s no written record left behind to tell us exactly who ruled when, or how they came into power. There is quite a bit of evidence left behind for how they lived and exactly what kinds of things they did to survive.

    The things that emerge from archaeological sites like this one are primarily speculation certainly. But I think that also makes it interesting. There isn’t a linear timeline laid out precisely before you. You have to and do some digging before you actually know what happened before. It can also influence the way that people live today by informing them just exactly what has come before.

  2. That’s pretty crazy that Vikings actually cut grooves into their teeth! Pretty badass too, I feel like that pain could be worse than a battle wound. I took a class that was based on medieval history in Europe where I learned a lot about Vikings and Norse men. They were a pretty harsh and rough society. Much of their cultural history was based on warfare and fighting. Their rich military history enabled them to take Europe by storm. It was so hard to defeat Vikings in battle, that Briton had to resort to bribing invading tribes in order to save their lives. They were even the first people to reach America, well, it’s highly speculated at least. Picturing them with coal-studded smiles must have been a fairly intimidating feature in battle, along with their long hair, big beards, and ruggish frames.
    From the picture above, it looks like the filing must have been a pain-staking process. They even suggest that the process was treated as an art, and a third person “artist” performed the action. This discovery leads a person to believe that the Vikings could have had other sort of crafts or activities. To be so dedicated to your appearance, it makes you wonder what else they would do to themselves. What did the women do to attract mates? Did the men wear any particular jewelry? This ritual makes me think of the old Japanese practice of feet binding. Japanese women had their feet broken as youths in order to resemble the lotus flower. Little girls had their feet broken again and again and bound with tight linens to reset their deformed feet.
    Overall, I found this post very intriguing. I liked your tone throughout the article and though it was well-written. It is a shocking realization about the Vikings. Just one more reason why they were one of history’s most fearsome peoples.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post about Vikings. I found the execution of the Danish men to be very absurd and appalling. I have always been very interested in the lives of Vikings and how their culture and society was formed. I thought that your post was very detailed in how they were buried. The way that they filed grooves into their front of your teeth in rage is odd but I can understand this “fashion statement”. I was unaware that Vikings carved grooves into their front teeth although it looks like the other people who commented on this did know that.

    What i have learned about vikings is that they were ruthless and in a way, senseless. Their society was based around violence and fighting. This makes their culture a very interesting one to many researchers these days, violence and military in history is a highly discussed topic. I, personally, think that Vikings were a rough and tough culture that would never back down from a fight and I love reading about their history and archaeological sites.

    I think that your post was very well written and composed. I found a lot of this information helpful and entertaining, you did a great job of keeping the readers intrigued while writing well on an interesting topic.

  4. Great post! The title alone grabbed my attention. I find this very interesting because I have been watching the TV show Vikings on History Channel lately. I like that you post all of the opinions that accompany the theory behind the Vikings demise, because it shows lack of bias and allows for further thought. I find this story about King Aethelred the Unready absolutely CRAZY! For one, his name is absurd, and more importantly he just killed all the Danish men on a whim. Now to address the filing of teeth… ouch. That sounds excruciating, but I agree with you that it would be even more intimidating to see someone that had done that too their teeth. The difference in patterns and colors of charcoal are perplexing to me because there is so much we could learn about them if we truly understood what exactly they did and why they did it. I am curious as to what this children’s book is about as well. This reminds me of a practice that still exist today in East Asia in women. They sharpen their teeth into points b/c culturally it is seen as the ultimate beauty. I watched a documentary on it and it was just intense. It is incredible that things like this still happen, although different, they are still amazing. It is refreshing to know that there are still cultures that are vastly different and not Westernized. Again, this was a great find and an even better presentation, so thanks for the information!

  5. It’s really interesting what different cultures consider fashionable or beautiful. There’s such a great variety across the world and across history of what people have done for the sake of being in style. And often like the Vikings, teeth are involved. For example, in the Mayan culture, upper class citizens often filed their teeth to points, and sometimes even had designs carved into them to symbolize their status. It went beyond teeth as well. In England in the 16th century, many noblewomen whitened their skin using a layer of lead paint, which is, as most everyone knows today, bad. Speaking of England, Queen Elizabeth I started the trend of using drops of the poisonous nightshade plant to widen the pupil and make the eye appear brighter. One more commonly known inventions of pain for the sake of beauty is the corset, which often caused women to faint due their restricting grip on the ribs and lungs. However, many, many women continued to use corsets, simply because they were the current fashion of the day. It’s interesting even to take a step back and look at our own trends and fads that become popular. One of the silliest had to be the style of footwear, Crocs. If cultures past would’ve been able to study us and our trends, what would they thought of the Croc? Undoubtedly they’d find it strange, just as we find their lead paint makeup and teeth filing a bit unusual. It’s an interesting reminder that we still have things in common with the past.

  6. When you hear about Vikings, you usually think of big grunty men doing hard labor or rowing ships. This article offers a very interesting perspective on their day-to-day lives, something that is not normally discussed in history. The teeth grooves are an intriguing concept, and you begin to wonder whether they were used simply as a fashion statement, or perhaps a statement of status in the society. The different colors in the grooves could have, perhaps, represented something in particular.
    The Vikings were actually a fairly advanced civilization at the time, and most were actually literate. They used a language system called Runor or Runic, which evidence has been found of its use dating back to the fourth century. Many stones with Runic inscribed on them are located throughout Norway and Sweden. These stones would usually have stories of warfare on them, or passages that honored the dead. There is a group of 25 Ingvar runestones located in Sweden that was made to commemorate the members of an expedition in which the entire crew passed away due to a disastrous turn for the worse.
    Along with the Runic engravings, the Vikings were most well known for their unique ship design. There was two types of ships, the longship and the knar. The longship was used primarily for warfare, with a narrow hull with lots of oars for speed and agility. The Knarr was used as a merchant vessel, having a wider hull and less oars, as to make it easily navigable in harbors.
    It seems, despite the modern day conceptions, that the Vikings were in fact a very well educated and cultured society. It is unfortunate that there are probably many other entities of the Viking culture that will never be discovered in our modern day society.

  7. This blog post really brings out the cultural context of the find. Even though we don’t yet know how – or why – these men died, we know more about the culture as a whole from the find. I thought it was fascinating that the bodies and such were well enough preserved that they could tell that the warriors’ teeth weren’t just dirty, but intentionally accented with charcoal. Even charcoal of different colors!  I would think that there would only be the smallest of traces of those accents left, but I suppose with so many similar bodies in the same area, the sum of the tooth traces would imply to the discoverers that the charcoal was intentional. 

    The find of these bodies, while elucidating the practice of engraving their teeth, also raises the question of how this practice came to be in the first place. Why were the teeth selected as the body part to modify and accentuate, rather than scarring or tattooing, as various other cultures around the world have chosen to mark their men? Was this tooth grooving a ritual of passage into manhood?  What age were these men when they first performed this act?  Was it some kind of distinguishing art for warriors between clans or tribes?  Was it some kind of solidarity ritual?  Only further discoveries and investigation into the remarkable past of these men will answer these questions. This was a fascinating find, that has the potential to uncover a lot about how the men of Viking culture went about their lives. 

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