Template:Location map many The Ridgeway Hill Viking burial pit at Ridgeway Hill near Weymouth, Dorset, is a mass grave of 51 Scandinavian men executed some time between AD 910 and 1030. The men are believed to have been Vikings executed by local Anglo-Saxons. The dismembered skeletons were discovered by archaeologists in June 2009, and their identity and approximate ages were later confirmed by forensic analyses. Although the immediate circumstances of the deaths is unknown, the event occurred at a time of conflict between the native Anglo-Saxons and Viking invaders, and it has been suggested that the Vikings had been captured during an attempted raid into Anglo-Saxon territory.
Discovery of burial site
In September 2008, archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology began excavating land along the route of the planned Weymouth Relief Road in advance of the £87 million project, which is intended to improve access to Weymouth and the Isle of Portland. The project had attracted significant controversy, as the road's route passes through a legally protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is of historical and ecological importance. The archaeological investigation was one of the largest carried out in Dorset for many years, covering an area of around Template:Convert/m2.
Archaeologists announced in June 2009 that they had discovered a burial pit on Ridgeway Hill containing what turned out to be 51 dismembered skeletons, with skulls, rib cages and leg bones arranged in separate piles. The pit is in a disused Roman quarry, used by the killers for convenience rather than specially dug for the purpose. It lay next to what was a main road and parish boundary in Anglo-Saxon times; such prominent locations were typically used for executions.
Identifying the dead
The 51 skeletons were all of males, almost all aged from their late teens to around 25 years old, with a handful of older individuals. They had all been killed at the same time with a large, very sharp weapon such as a sword. They had not been cleanly killed, as many of them had suffered multiple blows to the vertebrae, jawbones and skulls. One man had his hands sliced through, suggesting that he had attempted to grab the sword as it was being swung towards him. They had no obvious battle wounds and were most likely captives. Judging from the lack of any remains of clothing or other possessions, they had probably been naked when they were thrown into the pit. There are more bodies than skulls, suggesting that a couple of the heads – perhaps of high-ranking individuals – were kept as souvenirs or put on stakes.
The executions was initially thought to have occurred around the time of the Roman conquest of Britain circa AD 43, but radiocarbon dating of the remains found that they dated to between some time between AD 910 to 1030. An analysis of teeth from ten of the skeletons was carried out by the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, part of the British Geological Survey. This found that the men had come from Scandinavia, with one thought to have come from north of the Arctic Circle, and had eaten a high protein diet comparable with human remains found at known sites in Sweden.
Explanations for the executions
The dead men were all of fighting age and were killed a long way from home. Several theories have been advanced for how they ended up at Ridgeway Hill. At the time of their deaths, England was the scene of conflict between native Saxons and invading Vikings, who seized control of a large territory in northern and eastern England, known as the Danelaw. It was initially suggested that the men might have been Saxons killed by Vikings or by other Saxons, but later analysis has showed that at least some of the men came from Scandinavia. It is currently thought that the men were Vikings, although Oxford Archaeology project manager David Score noted, that without analysis of all of the bodies, it was impossible to know for certain that all the decapitated men were Vikings. The site of the burial is thought to have been a formal spot, and it is possible the execution may have taken place in front of an audience.
- Archaeologists recording the burial pit on Ridgeway Hill (Dorset County Council)
- Pictures of the burial pit (BBC News)
- "Relief road excavation to start". BBC News Online. 2008-09-24. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/dorset/7633833.stm. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
- "Dismembered skeletons' Saxon link". BBC News Online. 2009-07-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/dorset/8145252.stm. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
- "Decapitated bodies - were they Vikings?". BBC News Online. 2009-09-17. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/dorset/8250295.stm. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
- "Weymouth ridgeway skeletons 'Scandinavian Vikings'". BBC News Online. 2010-03-12. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/dorset/8563377.stm. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
- "Beheaded bodies discovered in Weymouth 'were probably executed Vikings'". The Daily Telegraph. 12 March 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/7422283/Beheaded-bodies-discovered-in-Weymouth-were-probably-executed-Vikings.html. Retrieved 13 March 2010.