There is grave in Iceland that shows a Viking met a violent end
Or did he? In the Mosfell Valley in Iceland an excavation of Viking graves is being made by UCLA. They have unearthed a number of graves belonging to Vikings and they found that one skull had been bashed in by a club and thought it might have been an act of violence.
A male homicide victim from the Hrísbrú cemetery with an axe wound in the side of his head. Another wound in the back of his head was also made by a bladed weapon. Here
I can recall living not too far from there and I recall we did the same thing. We smashed the skulls of the dead who died in the late summer or early fall but it was to keeps the Polar bears (and dogs) from getting into the graves. The human skull was the perfect cauldron for brains to breakdown in. If the brain stayed in the skull it fermented and liquefied. The bears and dogs just love that smell more than anything. By breaking the skull the brains could be absorbed into the dirt and the bacteria could then break them down.
Polar Bears were a really big issue. You must remember that we did not have guns so we were risking life and limb every time we went outside in the winter time. The bears were unrelenting.
The graves themselves are a little incomplete or even a little deceptive since we always stacked loose rocks on top of them usually only to a depth of a few feet. The stones were left there for at least two years to keep the dogs out. Then the stones were removed and used on the next grave.
When the ground froze the light oils of the fermenting brains were still volatile and still vaporized giving off odors. The gases would diffuse right through the frozen soil and cracks in the ice, acting as if the body was not even covered with dirt.
Bacteria in the soil will normally break down the odors like the bacteria in an aquariums undergravel filter breaks down the nitrates from the fish but when the bacteria freezes it stops breaking down the gases. Even though there are less gases because the cold produces less evaporation almost none of the gases get broken down by bacteria. Nearly all those gases and odors make it to the atmosphere. They would attract the bears over fairly long distances and would quickly do so if they were in the area. They almost always were after December.
If mice got into the graves it really became a problem you did not know about. They would bring out small pieces of the corpse to the surface and drop them. It might be no more than the size of a pea but when the sun heated the small piece of flesh a bit they would give off the more characteristic decaying flesh odors (which are heavier gas fumes that are heavier than air) and those would attract multiple polar bears from downwind from over ten miles away.
If polar bears found the grave so did about 20 more. Soon they would be finished eating your friends body and look around for more humans to eat. If there was only one bear that liked humans then you could get together with your neighbors and along with a bunch of dogs you could kill that bear. But if a bunch of bears learned at the same time to think of humans as food then you just had to move. You would have to stay away for two years or more until they forgot what human's tasted like.
These bears were the reason that we broke the skulls. It could have been for a completely different reason that they did the same thing in Mosfellsdalur 50 miles away but we did it because of the Polar bears.
Pretty much if the person died from July on you had to break their skull. August was the worse possible time for a person to die for the rest of the colony.
This was around 1000 ADE. There was a warm period of a couple hundred years then. It was not a uniform warmness though. The Icelandic springs and summers were almost identical to the springs and summers in England today. However falls and winters were about the same as the Icelandic falls and winters of today. In Finland I think the winters were actually colder then.
When a person died in the winter we had to just place them on the roof with rocks on top of them until the spring when the ground thawed. Those corpses did not give off gases like the half rotted corpses of the late summer and fall so they were not usually detected by animals. If they were you would wake up to the sound of the rocks bouncing off the ceiling. They were loud too. Then you had to go chase the dogs off and move the body so the dogs would not find it.
Then if the dogs found the body a second time this game of hide and seek ended. Then you had to freeze it in a block of ice.*
If you go to watch polar bears in the wild watch just how they react to different people. They go wild over teenagers with bad complexions.
Once the Polar Bears decided that you were food they would even hide behind bluffs and ambush people (like when they hide on ice and ambush seals). When I was small boy one hid outside our house waiting for one of us to leave it to use the bathroom.
The harpoons were kept outside so there were no weapons in the house except a long knife. So my father, Eric the Red, tied it to a short oar and made a short sword with a long handle. The oar added weight to the knife when used like a sword in a slashing motion. After 12 days there was a snow storm with winds to cover his scent. That allowed him to sneak up on the bear from downwind before he could smell my father (which automatically wakens a polar bear). My father who was an excellent swordsman used a slashing motion and slit his throat
* This was more complicated. If there was water available then you would wrap the body in a waterproof skin and place in a depression in a rock, then pour the water over it and let it freeze.
If it was colder and you had no water then it was much more complicated. You first wrapped the body tightly in a skin. Then placed it in a skin that was held in a frame so it acted like a tub. Then you would melt snow for the next few days and encase the body in a block of ice at least a couple of inches thick. Then the dogs did not bother it. This process took about two days in theory since you had use the one oil lamp that lit our home to melt the water. But in actual practice it usually it took about four days since half the time somebody would drink the cup of water that took you a half hour to melt so you had to start over again. And you had to deal with anger management issues since they should have just eaten snow and left the water alone. But they were my sisters usually and you can't do anything to Viking sisters and they knew this whereas you can beat the crap out of Viking brothers if your mother doesn't find out about it. This is continued on the Viking sisters page.
© 2005 John Pinil