The skull of a viking man with filed teeth, found in a mass grave in Dorset. The purpose behind filed teeth remains unclear but some researchers believe that the teeth carvings were likely dyed (probably with red) to frighten opponents in battle or to show their status as a great fighter.
The fashion for dental bling goes back 1,000 years, according to a new discovery by archaeologists. Long before contemporary trends for gold dental caps or teeth inlaid with diamonds became popular, young Viking warriors were having patterns filed into their teeth.
If their intention was to intimidate the enemy, they failed: the evidence has come from front teeth from a pit full of decapitated skeletons, found during roadworks in Dorset and now believed to be victims of a massacre of Viking invaders by local Britons.
The front teeth have horizontal lines that were so neatly filed, archaeologists believe it must have been done by a skilled craftsman rather than by their owners, and the process undoubtedly would have been excruciating.
David Score, of Oxford Archaeology, the unit which has been studying the bones since they were discovered in a pit near Weymouth in 2009, said: “It’s difficult to say how painful the process of filing teeth may have been, but it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience.”
“The purpose behind filed teeth remains unclear but as we know these men were warriors, it may have been to frighten opponents in battle or to show their status as a great fighter.”
The mass of bones, 54 bodies and 51 skulls all of young fit men, was a wholly unexpected discovery as archaeologists worked on the site of the Weymouth relief road.
The Romans were first blamed, but carbon dating and isotope analysis of the bones gave a much later date of the 10th or early 11th century, and Scandinavian origin – one man came from north of the Arctic circle, suggesting a rare defeat for a Viking marauding party.
Many of the skeletons showed brutal slash marks, with one bearing six cut marks on the back of the neck, and other bones of hands and arms sliced through. Skulls, leg bones and rib cages had been piled up separately in the burial pit. There was no trace of clothing or possessions, suggesting the men were naked when they died, and the missing heads are interpreted as evidence of gruesome souvenirs kept by their killers.