Mystery behind the mass grave of Viking warriors finally solved

A Viking skeleton from a grave at Repton, Derbyshire, England. (Credit: Copyright Martin Biddle)

Archaeologists could hardly believe their luck when they discovered a mass grave in the 1980’s turned out to be filled with the remains of over 200 warriors from the Viking Great Army. But the following result doubt on this idea, stating that some of the remains dating back hundreds of years before the time of the Vikings.

This finding surprised the researchers. It turned out that the grave, located in Repton, is a parish in the district of Derbyshire, England, was used before the Vikings invaded the British Isles, although many of the bodies were buried with the Scandinavian artifacts.

Now, researchers have finally gotten to the bottom of the mystery. The tomb is, in fact, date to the time of the Vikings, according to a new study. Their research shows how the Vikings’ dining choices — that is, chowing down on fish — the cause of the earlier radiocarbon dating blunder. [Fierce Fighters: 7 Secrets of Viking Culture]

According to historical records, the Great Army spent the winter in Repton in A. D. 873-874 and fell the king of the Public, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, sending him into exile. So, when archaeologists led by Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle excavated mass grave in the St. Wystan’s Church in Repton in the 1980s, but expected to find Viking remains.

A room of the burial chamber contains at least 264 people — 20% of them women. Viking weapons and artifacts, including an axe, a few knives and five silver pennies, dated between A. D. 872, and 875, were found in the remains of the men, most of them in the age of 18 to 45. Several men had signs that they sustained severe injuries, before dying, the researchers said.

All these signs indicated that the tomb belonged to the Great Army, but “although a number of samples were in accordance with a ninth-century date, some dating back to the seventh and eighth centuries A. D., and so 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 dates from the ninth century, A. D., a date which corresponds to the Large Army of the winter stay.

“Previous radiocarbon dates from this site were all affected by something called marine reservoir effects, and that is what they seem to be old,” study principal investigator Cat Jarman, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol, said in a statement. “When we eat fish or other marine foods, we use carbon in our bones that is much older than in terrestrial [land] food. This confuses radiocarbon dates of archaeological bone material and we need to correct for it by estimating the amount of fish that each individual ate.”

The hammer of Thor

Jarman and her colleagues, also a double grave at the site — one of the few graves with Viking arms in England — A. D. 873-886.

The older of the two men in the tomb was buried with various objects, including a Thor’s hammer pendant and a Viking sword. This man had several serious injuries including a large gash on his left femur, or thighbone. Oddly enough, a boar’s tusk had been between his legs. Maybe because the injury had affected his penis or testicles, and the tusk symbolized this loss to help him prepare for the life after death, the researchers said.

In another grave, four boy the age of 8 to 18 were buried with a sheep jaw at their feet. Two of the boys had signs of trauma. It is possible that these boys were sacrificed to accompany the dead Viking, Viking texts mention as a ritual, one of the researchers said. This tomb was dated to A. D. 872-885, they noted. [Photos: 10th-Century Viking Grave Excavated in Denmark]

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

The findings are published online today (Feb. 2) in the journal Antiquity.

Original article on Live Science.

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