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Tooth Modification: A Fashion Among Viking Men

July 12, 2011

Viking graves in Sweden, Denmark and England have been found to contain teeth with neat parallel grooves, which were believed to be a worldwide craze among young Viking men, reports the Guardian.

Caroline Arcini, an osteologist at the archaeology department of the Swedish National Heritage Board was already collecting such teeth when she learned of Oxford Archaeology’s discovery of a mass grave in Dorset that contained remains of men with similar neat horizontal lines filed into their teeth.

Discoveries so far have found that most of the markings were made only on two of the upper front teeth, which could have possibly been rubbed with charcoal or other coloring to increase their impact. However, some Vikings were found to have had lines filed into three, four or even more teeth.

“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,” David Score of Oxford Archaeology told the Guardian.

The fashion was most likely a painful process.

“It’s difficult to say how painful the process of filing teeth may have been, but it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience,” says Score.

A worldwide craze of tooth filing among young Viking men seem to have developed sometime in the 10th century A.D. Somehow, the craze was missed by Europe completely until the first Scandinavian finds in Sweden in the 1990s.

A Viking cemetery at Kopparsvik on Gotland seems to be the epicenter of Viking teeth filing. The location has produced more samples than any other site thus far.

Since then, more such teeth have been discovered in Denmark, and now have turned up in England as well. There is no doubt that more examples will turn up, or be recognized from previous excavations.

Six years ago, Arcini published her findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and has since published a children’s book titled: The Viking’s Grim Grin that has an image of “an understandably anxious-looking bearded chap on the cover grimacing in the teeth filer’s grim grasp.”

She is currently waiting for the results from the analysis of the strontium content of the teeth enamel found at Dorset, which will help to reveal more about where these vain young men came from.

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