Hounds of Hel: an osteological investigation of dog skeletons in Vendel Period–Viking Age inhumations at Valsgärde cemetery, Sweden.
Abstract: The cemetery of Valsgärde, Sweden contains 92 human graves dating from the 3rdc. BCE to the 11thc. CE, the majority and most elaborate of which date to the Vendel and Viking Ages (approximately 500-1100 CE). This total consists of 15 unburnt boat graves, 15 inhumation and chamber graves, and 62 cremations. In addition to the human remains and wealthy goods, the site is noted for its richness in zooarchaeological material, with a variety of primarily domestic animals appearing buried alongside humans. One of the most commonly represented animals in these graves is the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), a trend which has been noted in many other sites from Vendel and Viking Age Sweden. This project quantifies and analyses the morphology of the dogs in the unburnt Vendel and Viking graves at Valsgärde in order to a) assemble a general typology and demographic profile for the population, b) assess the level of morphological variability in the population, and c) speculate on the possible roles these dogs may have played in Scandinavian society in the Late Iron Age. Comparisons are made between the character of dog burials in the Vendel vs Viking periods, to identify any notable shifts in trend over time. The analysis shows that while the size of the dogs generally remains consistent throughout both periods, a number of different types are represented within this limited size range, and the Viking Age burials contain notably fewer dogs than the graves of the Vendel Period.
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