Mass grave may be burial site of Viking Great Army dead

A mass grave uncovered in Derbyshire may be the burial site of Viking Great Army war dead, a new study found.

The mass grave was found in Repton in the 1980s and radiocarbon dating suggested it consists of bones collected over several centuries including monks and nuns.

But new dating puts them all in the ninth century, meaning they could be the remains of the Viking force that drove out the King of Mercia.

Among the bones were Viking weapons and artefacts, including an axe, several knives, and five silver pennies dating to the period 872 to 875 A.D. 

Archaeologists have also found four sacrificial remains to accompany the warriors into the afterlife. 

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A mass grave uncovered in Derbyshire may be the burial site of Viking Great Army war dead, a new study found. This is an overview of the charnel burial from the original excavations

A mass grave uncovered in Derbyshire may be the burial site of Viking Great Army war dead, a new study found. This is an overview of the charnel burial from the original excavations

Repton was a significant royal and ecclesiastical centre in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom Mercia. 

However, it became a Viking stronghold for the army, known to the Anglo Saxons as the Great Heathen Army, after they seized it.

It was the location of a double monastery for men and women ruled by an abbess, established in the third quarter of the seventh century. 

At the time it would have been on the banks of the River Trent.

Historical records state the Viking Great Army wintered in Repton in 873 AD and drove the Mercian king into exile to Paris.

Now new research by the University of Bristol's Department of Anthropology and Archaeology found the bones are all consistent with a date in the late 9th century.

The mass grave (pictured, one part) was uncovered in Repton in the 1980s and radiocarbon dating suggested it consisted of bones collected over several centuries. New dating puts them all in the ninth century, meaning they could be the remains of the Viking Great Army war dead

The mass grave (pictured, one part) was uncovered in Repton in the 1980s and radiocarbon dating suggested it consisted of bones collected over several centuries. New dating puts them all in the ninth century, meaning they could be the remains of the Viking Great Army war dead

Among the bones (pictured) were Viking weapons and artefacts, including an axe, several knives, and five silver pennies dating to the period 872 to 875 A.D

Among the bones (pictured) were Viking weapons and artefacts, including an axe, several knives, and five silver pennies dating to the period 872 to 875 A.D

Rbecame a Viking stronghold for the army, known to the Anglo Saxons as the Great Heathen Army, after they seized it. This is one of the female skulls from the Repton charnel

Rbecame a Viking stronghold for the army, known to the Anglo Saxons as the Great Heathen Army, after they seized it. This is one of the female skulls from the Repton charnel

WHAT WAS THE VIKING GREAT ARMY?

The Viking Great Army, also known as the Great Heathen army, was a coalition of Norse warriors originating from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

They came together under a unified command to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in AD 865.

They came to avenge the death of Ragnar Lothbrok, a legendary Danish and Swedish Viking hero and ruler, in 816 AD. 

Thousands of them arrived off Northumbria and quickly overran Northumbrian forces.

They then spread across the country, wreaking havoc as they went during the 14 year long campaign. 

Guthrum, King of the Danish Vikings, made several attacks on Wessex from 875, and by early 878, his army occupied parts of the east and north east of England. 

In Spring 878 AD, King Alfred marched to Edington with West Saxon soldiers to take on Guthrum.

The West Saxon troops won the battle and King Alfred cut off supplies to Guthrum's army who had taken refuge in Chippenham.

The Vikings asked King Alfred for a truce, which was granted as long as they left his kingdom immediately. This later became known as the Peace of Wedmore. 

This is when Viking leader Guthrum was baptised and accepted King Alfred as his adoptive father. King Alfred accepted Guthrum's surrender.

This undermined the previous theory that some of the skeletal remains in the charnel - the building where bodies are deposited - originated from the monastic cemeteries.

Excavations led by archaeologists Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle at St Wystan's Church in Repton in the 1970s and 1980s discovered several Viking graves. 

They also found a charnel deposit of nearly 300 people underneath a D shaped shallow mound in the vicarage garden.

The mound appeared to have been a burial monument linked to the Great Army.

An Anglo-Saxon building, possibly a royal mausoleum, was cut down and partially ruined, before being turned into a burial chamber.

One room was packed with the commingled remains of at least 264 people, around a fifth of whom were women.

Repton was the location of a double monastery for men and women ruled by an abbess, established in the third quarter of the seventh century. Pictured is an overview of excavations

Repton was the location of a double monastery for men and women ruled by an abbess, established in the third quarter of the seventh century. Pictured is an overview of excavations

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