Flora and Fauna

Discover the Flora and Fauna of Viking-age York.

The Coppergate Dig of the 1970s and 80s revealed that Viking-era York was a prosperous city. This was evident in the diverse flora and fauna uncovered during the excavation. The biological remains found among the artifacts now displayed at the JORVIK Viking Centre provided invaluable insights into the animals, plants, and marine life that thrived in the city at that time.

Food

A Hedgerow full of berries is an image evocative of an English summer. Archaeological evidence reveals that Viking-age York was home to a variety of wild fruits, including blackberries, dewberries, and woodland strawberries.

Beyond the hedgerows, the city also boasted an array of modern-day salad ingredients, such as celery, coriander, lamb’s lettuce, wild radishes, and wild parsnips.

The nearby river not only provided a valuable food source, but also facilitated great trading opportunities. Excavations uncovered an abundance of shellfish, including cockles, periwinkles, whelks, and oysters – though interestingly, the evidence suggests these were likely harvested from the Humber Estuary rather than local waters. Furthermore, the presence of fish bones and mussel shells indicates that catches were brought back to York for processing, rather than being consumed solely at the source.

Animals

The vibrant Viking-age city of Jorvik was home to a diverse array of animals. Alongside the dogs, cats, and pigs that roamed the streets, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a rich and varied animal presence.

Rodents were prevalent, with excavations at Coppergate revealing the remains of black rats, wood mice, and house mice. Additionally, red squirrels were found, although they were likely not inhabitants of people’s homes.

The nearby rivers provided a habitat for amphibious creatures, with bones of common frogs and evidence of water voles discovered. Polecats, brought over from Western Europe, were also present, likely introduced as a means of controlling the city’s vermin population.

The skies above Jorvik were equally well-inhabited, with a range of domesticated and wild birds. Fowl, such as mute and whooper swans, ducks, and geese, were kept as livestock, while birds of prey, including ravens, red kites, buzzards, sparrow hawks, and short-eared owls, patrolled the skies.

This diverse array of flora and fauna paints a vivid picture of the rich and thriving ecosystem that existed within the walls of the Viking-age city of Jorvik.

We know that for many guests Bogar (the man on the toilet) is a highlight of their trip. Vikings would often use moss as toilet paper as well as neckera and tree fern which were native to Coppergate. Interestingly, did you know that the researchers also discovered two types of moss within the city?