Follow-up: Mass grave carbon-dated back to the Viking Age

Radiocarbon dating of the mass grave discovered at the site of the Viking camp at Repton, Derbyshire, revealed that the bones date back to the Viking age.

Bones found at Repton (by Mark Horton)

Archaeologists in 1970s and 1980s unearthed several Viking graves and a deposits of remains of nearly 300 people underneath a shallow mound in the vicarage garden. Archaeologists, led by Cat Jarman from the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, revealed that that a mass grave uncovered in the 1980s dates to the late 9th century – to the Viking Age. It is believed that the site might have been a burial place of the Viking Great Army war dead. Historical records state that the Viking Great Army wintered in Repton  in 873 AD and drove the Mercian king into exile.  According to Cat Jarman, the previous radiocarbon dates from this site were all affected by something called marine reservoir effects, which is what made them seem too old.

Moreover, it was established that an Anglo-Saxon building, possibly a royal mausoleum, was cut down and partially ruined, before being turned into a burial chamber and the mound appears to have been a burial monument linked to the Great Army. One room was packed with the commingled remains of at least 264 people, around 20 percent of whom were women. Among the bones were Viking weapons and artefacts, including an axe, several knives, and five silver pennies dating to the period 872-875 AD. Around 80 percent of the remains were men, mostly aged 18 to 45, with several showing signs of violent injury.

A double grave from the site – one of the only Viking weapon graves found in the country – was also dated, yielding a date range of 873-886 AD. The grave contained two men, the older of whom was buried with a Thor’s hammer pendant, a Viking sword, and several other artefacts. Four juveniles, aged between eight and 18, were buried together in a single grave with a sheep jaw at their feet. Next to them large stones may have held a marker, and the grave was placed near the entrance to the mass grave. At least two of the juveniles have signs of traumatic injury. The excavators suggested this may have been a ritual grave, paralleling accounts of sacrificial killings to accompany Viking dead from historical accounts elsewhere in the Viking world. The new radiocarbon dates can now place this burial into the time period of 872-885 AD.


Overview of the mass grave (by Martin Biddle)

(after PhysOrg, Martin Biddle, Christopher Bronk Ramsey & Mark Horton)

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