Using modern techniques to analyse the remains of 10 Viking Age people unearthed in the 1980s on the island of Flakstad off northern Norway, scientists have discovered that 4 of them were likely slaves (thralls) who were killed and buried with their masters.
Although there is no exact record of the context in which they were originally found, the 10 sets of human remains were apparently discovered in groups of 3 single burials, 2 double burials, and 1 triple burial, along with weapons, jewellery, and clothing accessories dating to between 800 and 1030 AD.
In each of the double and triple burials only one set of remains was complete, the rest were missing their skulls (i.e. 3 had their skulls, 4 did not). The skeletons in the single burials were also intact. The 4 headless bodies had their hands and feet bound.
Isotopic tests on the skeletons’ bones and teeth revealed that the 3 people in the multiple burials who had kept their heads had enjoyed a diet comprising mostly terrestrial protein sources, such as beef and dairy – although one had switched to more marine protein sources in adult life. The 4 beheaded individuals mainly had marine protein sources, such as whale meat, as did the 3 people in the single burials – which may suggest that they were from a lower social class.
Tests of their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) showed that the 10 were unlikely to be close relatives, at least through their maternal line, but that their mtDNA haplogroups (Hg H*, Hg J* and Hg U*) were typically European.
Further analysis showed that 3 single burials comprised: a female in her early 20s, a female in her early 40s and a male in his late 30s to early 40s. The 3 ‘dignitaries’ in the multiple burials included: a female in her early 40s, a male in his late 40s, and a male in his late 20s. The unfortunate headless thralls were: a male in his early 20s (buried with the female dignitary); a male aged around 30 and teenaged male (buried with the older male dignitary); and a female in her late 20s (buried with the younger male dignitary).
Other burials featuring decapitated slaves deposited as ‘grave goods’ have been recorded in Norse history.
Source: Science Direct