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News: Revelations from Viking age

New analysis of the female remains found buried in the Oseberg ship, paints an entirely different picture from what was previously believed.



Revelations from Viking age

The results of DNA and x-ray studies of the two women buried in the Oseberg ship in the year 834 have revealed startling discoveries.

[PHOTO: Junge, Heiko. The Oseberg ship is considered one of the most important finds from the Viking age.]

The two women were powerful figures in their day but still lived a hard life, and they were stronger than today's women. The tests also established a surprising landmark.

"We see here the first known case of cancer in this country," said Per Holck, Professor of anatomy at the University of Oslo.

The older of the two women has been called the Oseberg Queen, and has been assumed to be the paternal grandmother of Norway's first king, Harald Hårfagre (Finehair). This theory has been weakened by the new findings.

Holck has found traces of cancerous tumors in her bones, a likely sign of breast or uterine cancer spreading to the skeleton.

"Even today she would have had little chance of recovery," Holck said. He estimates that she was in her 70s when she died, perhaps over 80.

"She has had a hormonal disorder that gave her a masculine appearance, with heavy beard growth. This probably made it impossible for her to have had children," Holck said.

The younger woman has been believed to have been of lower class, perhaps a slave that was killed in order to accompany her mistress to the grave. A broken collarbone was considered evidence of the theory of her death as a sacrifice.

Holck said that she died of natural causes and that the collarbone had healed for weeks before her death.

Studies of their teeth reveal that both women ate high grade food, and the younger woman had a metal toothpick, another sign of their status. But signs of injury to the knee, broken bones in the legs and back and powerful muscle attachments indicate a hard life even for the upper class.

Holck estimates the age of the younger woman as twice that previously believed, at around 50 rather than 25.

This means that the 'slave woman' was old enough to be Queen Åsa, the mother of Halvdan Svarte (Halfdan the Black), Harald Hårfagre's father.

Professor Jan Bill, curator of the Viking Ship finds at the Museum of Cultural History, was quick to point out that much of this period of Norwegian history is semi-legendary, and based on incomplete and fragile sources.

"They (the kings and queens) could also be historical constructions and not historical persons. It is not a given that this is in fact a queen. At that time great men competed with minor kings in terms of having the biggest warships, and rich burial mounds could symbolize the will to power as much as the possession of real power," Bill said.

Aftenposten's Norwegian reporter
Jenny Sandvig
Aftenposten English Web Desk
Jonathan Tisdall

Source: Norway's Aftenposten
First Published April 25, 2008

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