St Brice’s Day massacre of the Danes
Thursday, 18th August, 2011
VIKING skeletons buried beneath an Oxford college were the victims of brutal ethnic cleansing 1,000 years ago, archaeologists have discovered.
Experts were mystified when they discovered a mass grave beneath a quadrangle a St John’s College, St Giles, in 2008.
But, after two years of CSI-style detective work, they believe they can pinpoint the exact day in 1002 AD that Danish settlers were rounded up on the streets of Oxford and murdered, before being carted out of the city gates and dumped in a ditch.
Thames Valley Archaeological Services (TVAS) uncovered the remains of 34 to 38 young men in March 2008, during excavations for a new college building.
Bone experts realised they had been murdered as their skeletons were left with cracked skulls, stab wounds in their spines and pelvic bones, and there were signs of burning.
Five had been stabbed in the back, and one had been decapitated.
Tests dated them to between 960 and 1020 AD, and archaeologists first thought they were the remains of executed Saxon criminals.
But when the chemical composition of the bones was analysed, they revealed the men ate far more fish and shellfish than Anglo-Saxons, suggesting they were Viking settlers from Denmark.
Project leader Sean Wallis, of TVAS, believes they were killed on St Brice’s Day, November 13, 1002 AD, when King Aethelred the Unready ordered Englishmen across his kingdom to murder their Danish neighbours.
Documentary evidence shows Oxford residents rounded up the Danes and massacred them, burning down a wooden church where they fled for safety.
Mr Wallis said: “Obviously, we can never be 100 per cent definite, but everything points to these skeletons being the remains of the men murdered in the St Brice’s Day massacre.
“The level of the collagen in the bones suggests that they came from North West Europe, and their skeletons suggest they were big, muscular guys. I basically read this as ethnic cleansing.
“There were totally different circumstances 1,000 years ago, but basically the order went out that this particular race should be exterminated.
“It is the find of my career so far.”
Now some of the bones are being studied by forensic science students at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, Oxpens Road.
Science lecturer Amy Dawson said: “The students are really excited to have something that is real and can be linked to a specific event.
“We can see the wounds inflicted at the point of death and prior to death.”
What will happen to the remains is not yet decided.