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`Oxford skeletons may belong to Viking raiders`

Last Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 19:33

London: Thirty-seven skeletons found in a mass burial site in the grounds of St John`s College may be that of Viking raiders who were captured and then executed and not of those killed in the St Brice`s Day Massacre as initially seemed, according to Oxford researchers.

When the bodies were discovered in the grounds of the college in 2008 by Thames Valley Archaeological Services, archaeologists speculated that they could have been part of the St Brice`s Day Massacre in Oxford-a well documented event in 1002, in which King Aethelred, the Unready, ordered the killing of `all Danes living in England`.

However, a new study, led by Oxford University academics, has thrown up a new theory, that the skeletons may have been Viking raiders who were captured and then executed, a university release said.

The skeletons were found in the ditch of a previously unknown Neolithic henge monument during excavations.

They are mostly of men aged between 16 and 25 who were robust and taller than average.

There is evidence that each individual was stabbed many times shortly before he died and the severity of the wounds show they were brutally slaughtered, the release added.

Some of the men also appear to have older scars, which could suggest that they were professional warriors.

There is also evidence of charring on some of the skeletons, showing they may have been exposed to burning before burial.

Researchers from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at the University of Oxford carried out a chemical analysis of collagen from the bones and teeth of some of the individuals and concluded that they had a substantial amount of seafood in their diet.

It was higher in marine protein than that found in the local Oxfordshire population, as recorded in existing data.

Lead author Professor Mark Pollard, Director of the Research Laboratory in the School of Archaeology, said: "Our latest research suggests that it is possible that the grisly remains at St John`s College are the outcome of the documented massacre at St Frideswide`s Church in AD 1002.

Evidence of knife wounds and the burning of the bodies are consistent with the story of the burning of the church."

"However, following the chemical analysis of the teeth and bones, we are presented with an alternative interpretation: that they could have been a group of professional warriors, rather than a group of residents of Danish origin who were later rounded up and massacred," he added.


First Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 19:33
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