15 March 2016

A Violent End For a Viking Warrior

This post is an excerpt of an article featured by the BBC on their Viking archaeological site. As you will see from the article, raiding definitely had its drawbacks for the Viking warrior featured herein. (Ed.)
The wounds on this warrior's skull suggest he died a violent death ©

In the ninth century, a group of Danish Vikings set sail for England. For several years the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the journey of this 'Great Army', attacking towns and villages on the way. In 873 the Great Army is said to have travelled to Repton, where it took up quarters for the winter.

Over 20 years ago, Birthe and Martin Biddle uncovered the body of a warrior in the churchyard at Repton. As well as sword, the body had been buried with a small Thor's hammer - the sign of the Viking god Thor, and a boar's tusk. Examination of the bones revealed the man to have been killed in the most brutal way. Two wounds in the skull were probably made by a spear, and marks on the spine suggest he was disembowelled after death. Finally a violent blow to the top of the thigh could easily have removed his genitals, perhaps explaining why the boar's tusk was found between the legs of the skeleton. It was an attempt to make his body complete before his trip to Valhalla, the Viking afterlife.

The warrior was buried with a small Thor's Hammer, a sign of his beliefs ©

The Biddles also excavated a nearby Anglo-Saxon body, and found the remains of at least 249 people. A report from an earlier excavation - in 1686 - claimed to have found a 'humane body nine foot long' surrounded by further skeletons. Might this have been the body of the Viking leader legendary for his size, Ivar the boneless?

Nearby, in Ingleby, further evidence for the Great Army's presence has been found by archaeologist Julian Richards, of York University. A cluster of burial mounds was excavated in the 1950s - some of which appeared to have been the site of cremations. Goods found with the bodies also appeared to have been through the cremation fires. Sword and buckles, nails and wire embroidery all suggested these had been Viking cremations.

The face of the Repton warrior, reconstructed from his battered skull ©

Could the two groups of people have been part of the Great Army, and if so why did those at Repton bury their dead, but those in Ingleby still practice the pagan ritual of cremation? The Great Army was probably made up of various groups of Vikings - there is no reason why they would all practice the same burial rituals. These two groups of people may have had two different leaders, and joined together for a brief time at Repton.

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