Archaeologist Finally Solved Mystery Behind Mass Grave of Viking Warriors

Archaeologist Finally Solved Mystery Behind Mass Grave of Viking Warriors
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Archaeologists could barely believe their luck when they revealed a mass grave in the 1980s that appeared to be filled with the remains of more than 200 warriors from the Viking Great Army.

But subsequent radiocarbon dating cast doubt on this idea, showing that some of the portions dated to hundreds of years before the Viking Age.

This finding puzzled researchers. It appeared that the grave, located in Repton, a parish in the district of Derbyshire, England, had been utilized before the Vikings invaded the British Isles, even though many of the Corpse were buried with Scandinavian artifacts.

Presently, researchers have finally gotten to the bottom of the mystery. The grave does, in fact, date to the Viking Age, according to a new examination.

Their research indicates how the Vikings‘ dining choices — that is, chowing down on fish — caused the earlier radiocarbon dating blunder. 

According to historical records, the Great Army spent the winter in Repton in A.D. 873-874 and attacked the king of Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, sending him into exile.

So, when archaeologists led by Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle excavated a mass grave at St. Wystan’s Church in Repton in the 1980s, they expected to discover Viking remains.

One room of the burial chamber contained at least 264 individuals — 20 percent of them female.

A female skull from the Repton burial
A female skull from the Repton burial

Viking weapons and artifacts, including an ax, several knives and 5 silver pennies dated to between A.D. 872 and 875, were found among the remains of men, most of them ages 18 to 45.

Several men had signs that they sustained violent injuries before dying, the researchers said.

All of these signs demonstrated that the grave belonged to the Great Army, but “although several samples were consistent with a 9th-century date, a number dated to the 7th and 8th centuries A.D., and thus seemed to belong to an earlier phase of activity,” the researchers wrote in the study.

But now, new radiocarbon dating has revealed what archaeologists thought all along: the bodies in the grave date to the 9th century A.D., a date that corresponds with the Great Army’s winter stay.

“The previous radiocarbon dates from this site were all affected by something called marine reservoir effects, which is what made them seem too old,” study lead Researcher Cat Jarman, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol, said in a statement.

“When we eat fish or other marine food, we incorporate carbon into our bones that is much older than in terrestrial [land] foods. This confuses radiocarbon dates from archaeological bones material and we need to correct for it by estimating how much seafood each individual ate.”

Thor’s hammer

Jarman and her colleagues also dated a double grave at the site — one of the only graves with Viking weapons in it in England — to A.D. 873-886.

The older of the 2 men in the grave was buried with several artifacts, including Thor’s hammer pendant and a Viking sword.

This man had several serious wounds, including a large cut on his left femur, or thigh bone. Curiously, a boar’s tusk had been put between his leg.

Perhaps because the injury had affected his penis or balls, and the tusk symbolized this loss to help him prepare for the afterlife, the researchers stated.

In another grave, four juveniles ages 8 to 18 were buried with a sheep jaw at their feet. 2 of the boys had signs of traumatic injury.

It is possible these boys were sacrificed to accompany the Viking dead, which Vikings texts mention as a ritual, the researchers said. This grave was dated to A.D. 872-885, they noted. 

“The date of the Repton charnel bones is important because we know very little about the first Viking raiders that went on to become part of a considerable Scandinavian settlement of England,” Jarman said. “Although these new radiocarbon dates do not prove that these were Viking army members, it now seems very likely.”

The Vikings were buried next to St Wystan’s Church in the United Kingdom.

 


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Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.