Monday, June 2, 2014

Vikings & Coincidence

These may be the remains of Olaf Guthfrithsson
Not historical coincidence; recent coincidence. In the post on Vikings in Ireland, just a few days ago, Olaf III Guthfrithsson was mentioned; he had been King of Dublin from 934 until 941, and also had brief periods of rule in parts of England. One day after that post, imagine my surprise when I see an article with the title "Skeleton Discovered May Be Viking King Olaf Guthfrithsson"!

An archaeological excavation conducted in East Lothian (Scotland) in 2005 turned up the remains of a young adult male surrounded by artifacts that suggest he was very important. One of those artifacts is a belt whose clasp is clearly of Viking design.

Accurate identification of the skeleton is probably not possible, suggesting that the headline of the article was designed to generate more interest than the actual find deserves. Although modern forensic science can determine a lot from medieval bones (also coincidentally discussed in this blog in a recent post), the best opportunity for identification of a specific person is genetic comparison of DNA in the remains with known modern descendants. In this case, we have no descendants of Olaf from whom we can get DNA.

Even without positive identification of Olaf, however, the find is worthwhile, as explained by Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs:
"This is a fascinating discovery and it’s tantalising that there has been the suggestion that this might be the body of a 10th century Irish Viking king. Scotland and Ireland’s archaeological communities enjoy a close working partnership, and this find and subsequent research is of particular interest to both, further emphasising the myriad ways in which the two countries’ histories are entwined."

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