Excavating the mass burial

3D plan of the mass burial in Crossbones Cervical vetebra with sharp force trauma

Project: Uncovering a Viking mass burial, Ridgeway Hill, Dorset

Client: Skanska Civil Engineering and Dorset County Council

Status: Fieldwork carried out in 2009, publication due in 2014

The exceptional discovery of a mass burial of decapitated skeletons, representing up to 54 individuals, was made during archaeological monitoring of works to build a relief road around Weymouth. Skulls had been piled on one side of the pit, while the post-cranial skeletons had been apparently thrown in, in no particular order. The excavation of the mass burial was realised over a period of three months by a team from OA South, comprising osteoarchaeologists and a surveyor.

In order to untangle the remains, which overlapped in horizontal and vertical planes, OA employed detailed recording methodologies, including an innovative three-dimensional survey ('Crossbones'), which allowed the precise position of bones relative to one another, to be captured.

Preliminary scientific analyses have provided clues about the identity of the individuals and the circumstances of their deaths. Isotope analyses indicate that the individuals, all male, originated from a variety of places within the Scandinavian countries, with one coming from north of the Arctic Circle. Hand bones bare characteristic defensive wounds and extensive peri-mortem sharp force trauma is present on the skulls. However, peri-mortem trauma to the rest of the skeleton is, on the whole, sparse.

Combined with radiocarbon analysis, which suggests a date range of between AD 970 and 1025, these results link the individuals with Viking activity, described in the Anglo -Saxon Chronicle, in and around Dorset.

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