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The Viking skeletons at Jorvik


I've blogged earlier about my family holiday in England (*), but one of the places we also stopped off at was the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. It's a fantastic visitor centre which shows viking artefacts and skeletons found by archaeologists in what used to be the viking settlement of Jorvik.

One of the things I was particularly looking forward to seeing  were the viking skeletons found in and near York. Both of them had a lot of interesting pathology and diseases, and it's not often that I get to study human skeletons because even though I have been offered human bones, I have strong views on how human remains should be treated, so this was a valuable experience and something I was looking forward to. Here's what I found !

Jorvik is best known for the brilliant recreation through the streets of the old Jorvik, with interesting sights and smells, which you travel through in a special moving vehicle. After that there was an archaeological room, with all of the cool things found, including three viking skeletons, two of which I'm writing about today.

Skeleton No. 15548

The first skeleton was number 15548, who was a female and was thought to have been around 46 years old when she died. She was found near York and was thought to have died between 880-1030 CE. Her bones were found in excellent condition, with no surface erosion. She was around 5.3" tall and 70% of her skeleton was found.

She had degenerative joint disease (DJD) in her clavicles, ribs, shoulder blades, right metacarpal, hips and right femur. She also had arthritis in her right hip, right femur, left femur and left tibia. And atrophy in her right hip, femur, tibia and fibula.

She was found near River Foss and looked like she had a proper burial instead of being thrown in the ground. I think of five of the skeletons found nearby, two predated the viking conquest in York. The other three were laid side by side, all dating from the same period.

She also had congenital hip dysplasia (CHD) in the right hip, CHD is when the femur is dislocated from the hip joint, causing the displacement of the hip, causing extra bone growth in the unused ball socket. CHD is present from birth, but does not show until they start to walk, when it is too late for treatment. This would have caused her to have constant pain in her hip, made her walk with a limp and would have made the right femur a lot weaker than the left.

This skull had 32 teeth holes, but only had 16 teeth present, all of which had calculus, which is hardened plaque of the surface of the teeth and one of the big teeth at the front was rotated. One of the teeth had periodontitis, which is the inflammation of the tissue around the teeth, leading to shrinking gums and the loosening of the teeth. There is a large cut over the right eye socket, but I can't find any information on it, so I think it was caused after death.

Skeleton No. 30944

The other skeleton was no. 30944. This one was a 1.6m, 40 year old male, in excellent condition, with over 90% of his skeleton and died around 800CE. Just like 15548, 30944 had DJD in his spine, left scapula, right ulna, hips, ribs. He was found just like how he is laid out here; with his right arm under his skull, left arm out and mouth open.

There were all 32 teeth holes but only 12 teeth were present when he died. All 12 teeth had calculus, the same hardened plaque, which sows how bad the diet was at the time. All of the teeth also had periodontal disease, which affects the structures supporting the teeth. In the early stages, the gums become red and swollen, due to the body's response to harmful bacteria.

This skeleton had depression on his heel bones, meaning that there is a lack of bone marrow. A fragment of bone had detached from the bone itself from no bone tissue in that area due to the lack of marrow. This disease affects young men, and it is most commonly occurring in the knee, and back in 800CE, 1.5% of men had it.

This was a recreation of skeleton no. 15548, showing the pathology on her bones. I would recommend Jorvik to anyone because there is something to see for all ages and it tells history in a really interesting way.

* It's a small country to the south of Scotland.

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