Workers in London made an interesting discovery while excavating a new road for the 2012 Olympics.
They were 51 young men who met a grisly death far from home, their heads chopped off and their bodies thrown into a mass grave.
Their resting place was unknown until last year, when workmen excavating for a road near the London 2012 Olympic sailing venue in Weymouth, England, unearthed the grave. But questions remained about who the men were, how long they had been there and why they had been decapitated.
On Friday, officials revealed that analysis of the men’s teeth shows they were Vikings, executed with sharp blows to the head around a thousand years ago. They were killed during the Dark Ages, when Vikings frequently invaded the region.
“To find out that the young men executed were Vikings is a thrilling development,” said David Score, project manager for Oxford Archaeology, which excavated the remains. “Any mass grave is a relatively rare find, but to find one on this scale, from this period of history, is extremely unusual and presents an incredible opportunity to learn more about what is happening in Dorset at this time.”
Radiocarbon dating had already placed the remains between A.D. 890 and 1030, before the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England.
Scientists from the British Geological Survey then went further and analyzed the men’s teeth to find out exactly where they were from. Isotope analysis of teeth can reveal clues about a person’s drinking water, and in turn the climate they came from, said Jane Evans, an isotope geochemist at the survey.
“What we found was all of these guys came from a climate that had to be colder than Britain … probably Sweden and Norway,” Evans said by phone Friday. “One guy had such a signature of such a cold climate that he probably came from above the Arctic Circle.”
The isotopes also show the men had eaten a high-protein diet, comparable to known sites in Sweden. It means the men were probably Scandinavian Vikings who were executed by Anglo-Saxons.
…The leader of the Dorset County Council, Angus Campbell, said the construction of the road had already revealed prehistoric and Iron Age finds.
“But we never would have dreamed of finding a Viking war grave,” Campbell said in a statement. “The burial pit took us all by surprise and its story gets more fascinating as the analysis goes on.”
Researchers are hoping to find further evidence about the men’s lifestyles, activity, health and diet, the council said.
Notice how much can be learned from an isotope analysis of teeth. Scientific methods such as this play a tremendous role in modern archaeology. It is no longer a simple matter of pottery, bones and architecture, though these types of finds are still important.
Go here to find three radio segments (programs 100 – 102) that interview experts and discuss advanced techniques for reading ancient scrolls without unrolling them. (One expert is from the University of Kentucky – Go Cats!) Scrolls that have been unreadable may now be read and understood, with the potential to bring vast amounts of new information to light.
I doubt Indiana Jones would have conceived of these technologies. Then again, he had a knack for gaining various supernatural and extra-terrestrial insights into his work.