Monday, February 13, 2006

 

Can genes unravel a Viking mystery?

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MSNBC
February 09, 2006



A1904 image shows the Oseberg Viking ship after
its recovery in southern Norway. Scientists say DNA
tests could yield new information about a queen and
another woman whose remains were found in the ship.


DNA tests could shed new light on remains found in longboat

OSLO, Norway - The grave of a mysterious Viking queen may hold the key to a 1,200-year-old case of suspected ritual killing, and scientists are planning to unearth her bones to find out.

She is one of two women whose fate has been a riddle ever since their bones were found in 1904 in a 72-foot (22-meter) longboat buried at Oseberg in south Norway, its oaken form preserved miraculously, with even its menacing, curling prow intact.

No one even knows the name of the queen, but the Oseberg boat stirred one of the archaeological sensations of the 20th century two decades before the discovery of the tomb of Egypt’s Pharaoh Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings.

Scientists now hope to exhume the women, reburied in the mound in 1947 and largely forgotten, reckoning that modern genetic tests could give clues to resolve whether one was the victim of a ritual sacrifice.

Companion in Valhalla
Almost a century ago, archaeologists concluded that the body of a woman in her 50s was the queen, and the second woman, probably in her 20s, was a slave or lady-in-waiting killed to accompany her mistress to an afterlife in Valhalla.

But DNA tests of genetic material might acquit the Vikings of sacrifice in A.D. 834 if they show the two were relatives.

“You never know if there’s enough DNA left in old bones for analysis, but it would be fascinating to try,” said Professor Arne Emil Christensen, the head of Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, where the Oseberg boat is on display.


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