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1,000 Years Ago, Baltic Pagans Imported Horses From Scandinavia To Behead Them Or Bury Them Alive


Aug 19, 2003
A sign of prosperity if they could import such horses for sacrifice,

1,000 years ago, Baltic pagans imported horses from Scandinavia to behead them or bury them alive​

By Kristina Killgrove published 3 days ago

Baltic pagans imported horses to be sacrificed from their Christian neighbors around 1,000 years ago.

Illustration of the ritual sacrifice of a horse at Paprotki Kolonia, modern Poland.

An illustration of a ritual sacrifice of a horse at Paprotki Kolonia, in what is now modern Poland. (Image credit: Mirosław Kuzma)

Around 1,000 years ago, pagans living near the Baltic Sea imported horses from their newly Christian northern neighbors and then subjected the animals to gruesome public sacrifice, a new study finds.

Horses were an important component of Balt culture between the first and 13th centuries, evidence shows; numerous ancient equestrian artifacts have been recovered, and travelers have reported that elite Balts drank fermented mare's milk. Because the Balts were not literate prior to their conversion to Christianity, however, most information about their lives, including their pagan religion, comes from archaeological investigation.

In a new study published May 17 in the journal Science Advances, researchers detailed their biomolecular analysis of 80 sacrificed horses from nine archaeological sites in the eastern Baltic region — modern-day Poland, Lithuania and the Russian province of Kaliningrad sandwiched between them — and determined that both male and female horses were chosen for sacrifice and that some horses were imported from quite a distance.

A previous assumption within Baltic archaeology, according to the study, was that stallions were specifically selected for public sacrifice and that this ritual — which often involved decapitation, flaying, quartering the horses or burying them alive — was enacted at the funerals of elite male warriors in Balt culture. To test this, the team analyzed the DNA of the horses and found that roughly 66% were stallions and 34% were mares.
"Our results suggest that the Balts were not exclusively selecting male horses for this ritual, as previously thought," lead author Katherine French, a zooarchaeologist formerly at Cardiff University in the U.K. and now based at Washington State University, told Live Science in an email.

Illustration of a sacrificial horse deposit at Paprotki Kolonia, modern Poland.

An illustration of a sacrificial horse burial at Paprotki Kolonia. (Image credit: Mirosław Kuzma)

Because horses were common in the Balts' territory, researchers did not previously question whether the animals were sourced locally or from somewhere else. But the new study did a strontium isotope analysis of the horses' tooth enamel to identify the origin of the horses — and found that three were not born locally. The strontium present in tooth crowns comes from the animals' early diet; by measuring the ratio of two variants of strontium in one tooth or between teeth that grew at different times, researchers can match where the animal grew up or see where it moved when it was growing up. ...