Feb 06, 2018 I Brett Tingley

Ancient Viking Seafood Diet Helps Solve Mystery of Skeletal Army

A church in Derbyshire, England is the site of a new archaeological mystery as historians inch closer to identifying hundreds of skeletons found in a mysterious mass grave. Researchers discovered the skeletal remains of 264 confirmed individuals including several dozen females during excavations on St. Wystan's Church in Repton carried out during the late 1970s and early 1980s. For decades, the identities of the remains have been a mystery due to the fact that archaeologists have so far been unable to conclusively date them. Without any specific time frame to go on, it is much more difficult to determine or speculate who the skeletons might have once belonged to. Now, a new dating technique has offered up new clues pointing to an invading Viking army which is the stuff of legend.

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The burial mound was found within a structure which appeared to have been constructed from the ruins of a razed Anglo-Saxon church.

For years, it was speculated that the mass grave was evidence of the Viking Great Army, a massive horde of Vikings which invaded England in AD 865 with the intent to conquer the island. The Vikings spent thirteen years conquering various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until being defeated by Alfred the Great in 878 and allowed to settle in northern England upon their leader’s conversion to Christianity.

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The Viking army surrendered after being surrounded and besieged for fourteen days.

Very little archaeological evidence exists from this period, and the seafood-rich diet of the individuals whose remains were found at the mass grave near St. Wystan's Church made identification even more difficult. The carbon found in the world’s oceans is much older than the carbon found on its landmasses, meaning a seafood-rich diet can skew the results of radiocarbon dating. Tests of the remains found at the site revealed a range of dates spanning centuries, but a new method of radiocarbon dating which takes this “marine reservoir effect” into account has dated all of the skeletons to sometime between 873 and 886. If correct, that would date them to the exact time period when the Great Viking Army was killing and looting its way across England. University of Bristol archaeologist and lead author Cat Jarman says that while its too early to draw any definitive conclusions, this new dating method could help solve many other unsolved archaeological mysteries:

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 considerable Scandinavian settlement of England. Although these new radiocarbon dates don't prove that these were Viking army members it now seems very likely. It also shows how new techniques can be used to reassess and finally solve centuries old mysteries.

Could this be the final resting place of hundreds of Viking berserkers who fell in combat while pillaging a foreign land? Either way, somebody should write a prog metal song about it.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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