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News and stories from the world of Archaeology and its related disciplines

Mystery of Viking mass grave found in Dorset solved

Our post on brutally slain Vikings, gets an epilogue!

From dailymail:

A mass grave found in Dorset contains the bodies of an elite ‘hit squad’ of invading Viking warriors, experts claim.

All decapitated and buried alongside their severed heads, the 54 skeletons were discovered in 2009 by workmen digging a road.

Archaeologists dated their bones to around the year 1,000 but had few other clues as to the identities of the men who met such a sticky end.

Now a researcher at Cambridge University claims to have pieced the story together in a documentary to be screened tonight.

Dr Britt Baillie’s research suggests they were a fearsome brotherhood of killers who had a strict military code – never to show fear, and never to flee in the face of an enemy unless totally outnumbered.

They either were, or modelled themselves on, the Jomsvikings – a hit squad founded by Harald Bluetooth, the Norse king who died around 970 who masterminded a stream of vicious raids on the south coast of England.

Named after their stronghold at Jomsborg on the Baltic coast, their history is shrouded in myth but at a time the Vikings were feared across Europe, they were regarded as the most terrifying of all.

But on this occasion, the men, barely into their twenties, were ambushed by the local Anglo-Saxon villagers.

Stripped and humiliated, they were rounded up and axes and swords brought down on their necks, before their remains were tossed into a ditch.

Dr Baillie believes the murders, at Ridgeway Hill in Dorset, probably took place during the reign of Aethelred the Unready who ruled from 968 to 1016.

A chronicle, commissioned by his second wife, Queen Emma notes there was a group of Viking killers in England at the time, led by a fearsome warrior called Thorkel the Tall, said to be a Jomsviking.

Dr Baillie said: ‘Emma’s record connects Jomsvikings to England at exactly this time.

‘Clearly these men had shown a level of bravery similar to the Jomsviking code. So while we cannot be certain about who they were, there are a number of tie-ins that take us down that route.

‘The legends and stories of the Jomsvikings travelled around the medieval world and would almost certainly have been indicative of some of the practices of other bands of mercenaries or may even have been imitated by other groups.’

Aethelred the Unready was tormented by Vikings and ordered all Danish men living in England to be killed on the November 13, 1002- St Brice’s Day – which became known as the St Brice’s Day massacre.

Remains have been found in Oxford and it is thought that massacres also took place in London, Bristol and Gloucester but the remains found here are unique.

Unlike the frenzied mob attack that took place at Oxford, all these men were murdered methodically and beheaded in an unusual fashion from the front.

This is actually mentioned in Jomsvikings legend which states: ‘I am content to die as are all our comrades. But I will not let myself be slaughtered like a sheep. I would rather face the blow. Strike straight at my face and watch carefully if I pale at all.’

It was discovered last year that the skeletons had stripes filed into their teeth, suggesting this was a way they demonstrated their bravery.

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