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Animals of the Viking Age on stamps from Faroe Islands

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The Faroese Post has issued a set of stamps featuring animals of the Viking Age - the Great Auk and the Dimun Sheep.

The Great Auk was a bird of the genus Alca and lived in the North Atlantic. The Great Auk was the large bird which could grow up to 70 cm in height. Some of the other Alca birds had bright or whitish abdomens and dark-black backs, with a characteristic white spot on each side of the head, between the eyes and eye socket. They were flightless birds, with wings that were as small as the South Atlantic penguin. It was fast in the water when hunting fish but very clumsy on land.

The bird's fate was sealed because it was easy to hunt and butcher. The Great Auk is an example of a bird that was hunted to extinction purely because of a lack of knowledge about its population distribution.

The Great Auk was a summer visitor to the Faroe Islands but there was never any evidence that it bred there. The last bird was taken at Stora Dimun on 1 July 1808.

The Dimun sheep were small black sheep and were called the goat-horned sheep, because both sexes have horns. Woollen garments recovered from Bronze Age burial sites have the same kind of wool and structure that is found on the Dimun sheep, so even at this early stage, wool from these sheep was being used.

The Dimun sheep were among the last of the original sheep in the Faroe Islands, and were perhaps brought by the Vikings. The Vikings brought their own sheep to Iceland and Greenland and almost certainly when they came to the Faroe Islands. These little black sheep were wiped out by hunting by 1860.

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