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HomeARCHEOLOGYDecapitated Bodies of 51 Slain Viking Warriors Discovered in the UK

Decapitated Bodies of 51 Slain Viking Warriors Discovered in the UK

Naked, beheaded, and tangled, the bodies of 51 young males found in the United Kingdom have been identified as brutally slain Vikings, archaeologists announced Friday. The decapitated skeletons, with their heads stacked neatly to the side, were uncovered in June 2009 in a thousand-year-old execution pit near the southern seaside town of Weymouth.

Origins of the Viking Raiding Party

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Already radio-carbon dating results released in July had shown the men lived between A.D. 910 and 1030, a period when the English fought—and often lost—battles against Viking invaders. Analysis of teeth from ten of the dead—who were mostly in their late teens and early 20s—indicates the raiding party had been gathered from different parts of Scandinavia, including one person thought to have come from north of the Arctic Circle.

Oxygen isotopes from drinking water, which become fixed in people’s teeth as they age, revealed the men were raised in much cooler regions than Britain, matching those from Norway and Sweden. Nitrogen-isotope readings also showed the men enjoyed a meaty, high-protein diet—similar to readings from remains from the same period found in Sweden.

A Brutal Display of Anglo-Saxon Vengeance

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The new study, led by Jane Evans of the U.K.’s NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, provides crucial insights into the grisly fate of these Viking warriors. Many of the skeletons have deep cut marks to the skull, jaw, and neck, suggesting the men were war captives whose heads were savagely hacked off.

Some even had their fingers sliced through, hinting that they attempted to shield themselves from their executioners’ blows. The heads were neatly piled to one side of the pit, perhaps as a victory display. Unusually, no trace of clothing has been found, indicating the men were buried naked.

The Execution of a Viking Raiding Party

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The prominent location of the burial on a hilltop by the ancient main road to Weymouth also points to the victims being Vikings, according to David Score of Oxford Archaeology, leader of the preconstruction survey that found the Vikings’ execution pit. “Locations like this are classic sites for executions [by British-born warriors] in late Saxon and medieval times,” he said. ”

If you’re a Viking raider, you’re much more likely to leave people where you killed them in the town or on the beach.” The new isotope findings also suggest that the slain men had much more diverse origins than would be expected among soldiers from the Saxons’ other enemies, such as ethnic Danes in northern Britain.

The Clash Between Vikings and Anglo-Saxons

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Despite the Vikings’ brutal reputation, there was actually little to differentiate Vikings and early English warriors on the battlefield, said Kim Siddorn, author of Viking Weapons and Warfare. “You would find it very difficult to tell the difference between a Viking and a Saxon if they stood in front of you in war gear,” he said. Both used spears as their primary weapons, with swords and axes as backups.

However, Vikings usually had surprise and, in some cases, numbers on their side. “Whilst the Vikings were no better than the Saxons at fighting, they did come by the shipload,” Siddorn added. “During the height of the Viking raids, it’s reasonable to say it was unsafe to live anywhere within 20 miles [32 kilometers] of the coast.”


The grisly discovery of 51 beheaded and naked Viking skeletons in an execution pit in Britain has provided a chilling glimpse into the brutal clash between the Anglo-Saxons and their Viking raiders. The new analysis of the remains, including isotope studies and examination of the gruesome injuries, paints a vivid picture of a raiding party of young Viking warriors who were systematically executed by their Anglo-Saxon captors. This discovery serves as a stark reminder of the violent conflicts that shaped the history of medieval Britain and the high price paid by those caught up in the cycles of warfare and retribution that defined that era.




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