Why did these Vikings Lose their Heads?

Vikings are renowned for their strength, prowess, and continued ability to surprise us. Oh, and another thing? Some of them are headless. In 2009, while building for the 2012 olympics, a burial pit of fifty beheaded young vikings were discovered. All of the bodies had been decapitated and thrown into a shallow grave, with the heads piled up on one side of the pit.

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In Astonishing legends, we’ve covered a lot of heads. From the decapitated head of Máel Brigte killing Sigurd the Mighty when his decapitated head’s teeth knocked into Sigurd’s leg, leading to an infected bite. More recently, we’ve covered the skull cult that rose up around Gobekli Tepe where skulls appeared to venerated and decorated by the mysteriously people that built Gobekli Tepe. However, we haven’t covered many decapitated bodies.

Back to the fifty young, male skeletons that were discovered in an old quarry pit in Weymouth. Excavators and researchers believe that the bodies had been executed right before tumbling into the pit and were stripped of the clothes ahead of their execution.

Defensive wounds on their remains, particularly their arms, hands, and skulls show that many of the men attempted to fight back. However, the bodies’ coordinating wounds on their shoulders and back of their necks show that they were brutally attacked and murdered. The marks on the back of the necks also showed that the attacks weren’t brutal, they were messy. It appeared that several chops and blows were used to decapitate the men.

It was believed that the now-named Ridgeway Hill Viking burial pit happened at some point between 910 and 1030 AD. In total 54 skeletons were discovered but only 51 heads lay piled at the other side of the pit.

Although, clearly, no airtight answer for what happened and why exists, it is believed because of the time period that it was a conflict between the native Anglo-Saxons and their viking invaders. Further speculation suggests that these men had been captured during an attempted raid into Anglo-Saxon territory.

One interesting development is after a serious investigation that, as Louise Loe, a member of the Oxford Archaeology team and co-author of a book on the pit notes, “Several individuals had suspected brucellocis...a highly contagious infectious disease that is passed from animals to humans, either by the ingestion of unsterilised milk or meat or by coming into close contact with secretions from infected animals.” It is believed that this party and the diseases and status of the bodies made them likely peasant-class. Perhaps this was a group of inexperienced vikings attempting to make a name for themselves.

Investigations are still on going and they will be on show at the British Museum. If anything, this find shows that we still have a lot to learn about Vikings!



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