Viking-era bones reveal growth of domestic Danish cats

Study of animal bones from the late Bronze Age has helped scientists in Denmark to make new discoveries about the domestic cat.

Viking-era bones reveal growth of domestic Danish cats
Photo: belchonock/Depositphotos

Domesticated cats have become around 16 percent bigger since they were first introduced to Denmark, according to University of Copenhagen research published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology.

“We were surprised, when we looked at the bones, to find that both skeletons and bodies (of cats) have got a little bigger,” said Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen, an external professor at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and one of the co-authors of the paper.

“Normally, jaws and teeth are what we call the conservative parts of the skeleton, the parts which don’t grow. But those parts have grown markedly since the Middle Ages and through modern times,” Gotfredsen said.

One explanation for cats’ growth in stature could be easier access to food, the researcher said.

Another possible cause may be genetic, but further research would be needed to confirm this, she said.

“We don’t yet know exactly when the last wild cats died out and when the first domesticated cats really came to Denmark,” Gotfredsen said.

“The cat as a domestic animal closely resembles its wild version, whereas dogs, for example, are far from their wild equivalent, the wolf. The transition to domesticity is still surrounded by many unanswered questions,” she continued.

The review of cat bones conducted in the study is thought to be the first of its kind.

Although the first evidence of domestic cats comes from a near-10,000 year-old grave in Cyprus, scientists can be certain that the animal was domesticated in Denmark no later than 200 CE – during the Iron Age.

Later, Vikings kept cats for their warm fur and ability to chase off disease-bringing rats.

Researchers studied bones dating from before 1000 CE until the 1600s and compared these with later cat bones from after 1870.

Gotfredsen and co-author Julie Bitz-Thorsen carried out much of the analysis in the study.

READ ALSO: Danish kitten takes solo train trip to neighbouring town


Danish treasure discovery could yield new knowledge of pre-Viking people

An amateur archeologist has found 22 gold objects with sixth century symbols that could yield new details about pre-Viking peoples in Denmark, the museum that will house the treasure said on Monday.

Danish treasure discovery could yield new knowledge of pre-Viking people
An unrelated illustration photo from an earlier discovery showing Saxon, Ottonian, Danish and Byzantine coins. STEFAN SAUER / DPA / AFP

Some of the objects have runic motifs and inscriptions which may refer to the rulers of the time, but also recall Norse mythology, Mads Ravn, director of research at the Vejle museums in western Denmark, told AFP.

“It is the symbols on the items that makes them unique, more than the quantity found,” according to Ravn, who said the treasure weighed about one kilogram.

One piece even refers to the Roman emperor Constantine from the early 4th century, said Ravn.

“The find consists of a lot of gold items, including a medallion the size of a saucer,” Ravn added.

According to initial examinations, the treasure could have been buried as an offering to the gods at a chaotic time when the climate in northern Europe dramatically turned colder after a volcanic eruption in Iceland in 536 sent ash clouds into the sky.

“They have many symbols, some of which have not been seen before, which will enable us to enlarge our knowledge of the people of this period,” he said.

The treasure was found near Jelling in southwestern Denmark, which historians say became a cradle for kings of the Viking-age which lasted between the 8th and 12th centuries.

The treasure will be on display at the museum in Vejle from February 2022

The amateur archeologist using a metal detector found the treasure about six months ago but the news was only disclosed now.

READ ALSO: DNA analysis reunites Viking relatives in Denmark after 1,000 years