Moonday’s Heroic Hunk: Viking War Band Execution?

Construction workers building a relief road around Weymouth, the site of the 2012 Olympics sailing event, made a grisly discovery in June, 2009.   While removing a hedge on Ridgeway Hill, they uncovered a mass grave of decapitated skeletons thrown together haphazardly with the skulls stacked to one side.  

The pit, the site of an ancient Roman quarry, contained the remains of 51 tall and robust young warriors in their late teens and early twenties with a few in their thirties. Scientists used radiocarbon dating to place their deaths between AD 910 and 1030.  Based on an analysis of the isotopes in the teeth of 10 of the bodies, scientists identified Scandinavia as the probable Viking war band’s home. 

The Dorset hilltop which lies beside the ancient main road from Dorchester to Weymouth is typical of execution sites – a prominent location, near a main road and a parish boundary.  The absence of pins or toggles with the bodies suggests that the men were stripped naked, then publicly executed.  Since there are more bodies than heads, the missing heads might have been mounted on posts as a warning or taken as souvenirs.

Since the bodies show few signs of other trauma, the men were alive when their heads were hacked off with swords or axes.  Many of the executed suffered multiple deep cuts to the skull, jaw, and upper spine, as well as the neck.  Not easy deaths, especially for Viking warriors.  Execution denied them the warriors’ deaths which would have gained them entry to Valhalla. 

MY SCENARIO.  Since the attack on Lindisfarne Abbey in 793, the Viking raiders had plundered the British Isles.  In 851, the Vikings came to settle and rule as much as they could conquer.  Despite the more (or less) valiant efforts of some Saxon leaders and the payment of the Danegeld, the Danish King Canute became king of all England in 1016. 

In 980 AD, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that Southampton (less than 50 miles from Weymouth) “was ravaged by a force in ships, the town-dwellers, for the most part, were killed or enslaved.”  The fate of captured Vikings was described earlier at an attack on Jarrow (794 AD):  “. . . some of the ships were broken up in bad weather and many drowned.  Some came alive to shore and were quickly killed at the river’s mouth.”  Did the same fate befall our Vikings?  The scientists are still at work.  To see loads of pics, check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dorsetforyou/.  Next week we will salute the Last Viking as our Heroic Hunk of the Week.  RitaVF

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6 Responses

  1. Isn’t is sad what men did and still do to each other? What a violent species we are. Very sad.

    Another thought provoking post. Thanks.

  2. Wow…this was a great post!

    Sadly enough, this just proves that violence isn’t something modern man invented, nor is it something we’ve come away from. We call ourselves civilized, and though we have the trappings of civilization with technology, etc., we aren’t that much different from our ancestors. Man will always want to conquer someone else, while women anxiously await their return.

    GREAT post.

    • Thanks so much. I didn’t want to be too piggy with space so I omited the picture of the rune stone that a mother erected in Scandanavia for her Viking son and husband who never returned. It’s hard to be synpathetic for dead VIkings because of their horrendous cruelty.More on that next week and a couple of quots from VIjing sagas. RitaVF

  3. Knowing what little I do about Vikings and their warring capabilities, I can’t help but wonder what it took to subdue these men so obviously in their prime.

    To kill 51 men in this manner would require prolonged effort, and demonstrates quite a bit of suppressed rage–or absolute fear of them. The idea of either is very sobering.

  4. Great post — and thanks for putting us onto the Nat Geo special last night — even the DD was fascinated!

  5. What an eye opener, I love ancient times, but hate it at the same time. The period… mostly I pay attention to is the couples/dress/and things of this nature, but when you go deeper.. those same periods the men/war/ was very violent.

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