Vikings brought animals to England, radioactive analysis shows.

Science News looks at a Viking burial site in England where animals were buried alongside humans, and finds that radioactive traces show these critters traveled to Great Britain aboard Viking ships:

In the 1990s, researchers unearthed the cremated remains of a human adult and child as well as of a dog, horse and probable pig from a burial mound in a Viking cemetery in Derbyshire, England. In previous work, radiocarbon dating of femur, skull and rib fragments revealed that the inhabitants all died sometime between the eighth and 10th centuries. That date was narrowed down to the year 873, thanks to the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which records that a Viking army wintered near the site that year.

In the new work, Tessi Löffelmann and colleagues turned to certain forms, or isotopes, of strontium to unravel the individuals’ provenance. The element accumulates in bones over time through diet, leaving a distinct signature of where an individual has lived.

Isotope analysis helped reveal where these individuals lived and when they died, but it couldn’t answer why the dog, horse and pig made the journey to England in the first place. That’s where historical records can help, says Löffelmann, of Durham University in England and Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium.

For Löffelmann, the small sizes of early Norse ships combined with the fact that the animals and people were buried together suggest Vikings may have initially brought animals with them for companionship, not just function.

You can read more of Löffelmann’s research here, in PLOS One.