Vikings sailing from Scandinavia to England brought with them horses, dogs and perhaps even pigs, based on analysis of skeletal remains.
It was previously thought that the invading Vikings heavily stole animals from the villages of Britain.
The findings also provide evidence that the Viking leaders had a close relationship with the animals and traveled with them, says the lead scientist.
Bones from the 9th century were found in burial mounds at Heath Wood, Derbys.
Cremated remains of animals and humans were found buried together, suggesting the creatures had special significance and were burned on the same funeral pyre as the humans, doctoral researcher Tessi Löffelmann, from Durham University and the University of Durham, told BBC News. Vrije University of Brussels.
“They were treated more like companion animals than just for economic purposes,” he said.
“I find it really moving and suggests that we underestimated how important animals were to the Vikings.”
The horses and dogs would have traveled in Viking longboats across the North Sea, a journey that could take several weeks.
“Horses back then were smaller than horses now, which might have made the ride a bit more comfortable, but it was probably still damp and uncomfortable,” said Ms Löffelmann.
Professor Julian Richards, from the University of York, who co-led the excavations, said: “The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Norman cavalry landing horses from their fleet, but this is the first scientific demonstration that Viking warriors transported horses to England. 200 years before.”
Norse mythology and 13th century sagas show that animals played an important role in Viking life.
The scientists also found a pig bone at Heath Wood, the only large Scandinavian cremation site in Britain, but this may have been a specimen or part of a set brought back from Scandinavia, rather than a live animal.
They discovered that the animals had come from Scandinavia by analyzing their bones for strontium.
This element occurs naturally in rocks, soil, and water, before reaching plants and, when eaten, bones and teeth.
Archaeologist Cat Jarman, who worked at Heath Wood but was not involved in the research, said using this technique on cremated bones was “really exciting” because so many Viking burials used cremation.
“It has opened up a whole new avenue of evidence,” he said.
The findings are published in the scientific journal Plos One.