A recent archaeological study focused on Viking graves has shown that Iceland’s earliest settlers had a preference for being buried with male horses over females.
Out of the 19 sites studied, only one was shown to contain bone fragments of a female horse or mare, while the rest were exclusively male. This research is chronicled in an article by The Journal of Archaeological Science.
During a Viking burial, it is believed that horses were sacrificed in the prime of their life, rather than because of illness or old age, before being placed beside their master in the grave. In this way, the horse was considered to be a symbolic representation of their owner—virile, aggressive and masculine—implying the owner’s power and influence in life.
Determining the sex of buried horses is essential for many reasons. First, it can tell us about the role that horses played in ancient societies and teach us about the relationship that early settlers built with their animals. It also reveals how this unique breed has changed since first setting foot on the island.
Horses arrived with Iceland’s first settlers from Norway in approximately 870 AD. Because a long boat was only capable of carrying one horse at a time, the Vikings ensured that their chosen steed was of the best stock possible. After all, these horses would be called upon for countless uses, from travelling great distances to stallion fights.
These prized horses were bred and isolated in Iceland for 1000 years, leading to today’s strict exportation laws. The legislation stipulates that Icelandic horses that leave the country are not permitted to return. All of this combined makes them one of the most purebred breeds on earth.
See Also: The History of Iceland
Today, horses are considered a national icon of the Icelandic people, a perpetual source of pride that connects modern society to its history. Over the last decade, horse riding has become one of the most popular tourist activities in Iceland.
Tours such as these have introduced this extraordinary breed to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, culminating in the Icelandic horse being one of the most recognisable images associated with the country.
Check out Guide to Iceland’s wide selection of horse riding tours for your opportunity to meet this fascinating breed. Make sure to leave your thoughts and questions in the facebook comments section below.