Vikings in Wales
Thursday, 25th October, 2012
LYING crookedly in a shallow grave, its bones have existed undiscovered for more than 1,000 years.
But the discovery of this ancient skeleton could shed new light on the history of the Vikings in Wales
The unearthing skeleton in at Llanbedrgoch on Anglesey has given historians important new clues on the impact of both Anglo-Saxons and Vikings operating around the Irish Sea.
Archaeologists from the National Museum Wales said the burial find is an unexpected addition to a group of five – two adolescents, two adult males and one woman – discovered in 1998-99.
Originally thought to be victims of Viking raiding, which began in the 850s, this interpretation is now being revised.
The unusual non-Christian positioning of the body, and its treatment, point to distinctions being made in the burial practices for Christians and other communities during the tenth century.
Analysis of the bones by Dr Katie Hemer of Sheffield University indicates that the males were not local to Anglesey, but may have spent their early years – at least up to the age of seven – in North West Scotland or Scandinavia.
“The new burial will provide important additional evidence to shed light on the context of their unceremonious burial in shallow graves outside the elite fortified settlement in the later tenth century,” said Dr Hemer.
The recent excavations also suggest the presence of a warrior elite thanks to the discovery of seventh-century silver and bronze fittings on swords and scabbards.
They suggest the recycling of military equipment during the period of rivalry and campaigning between the kingdoms.
According to history, the borderlands between the Welsh and English were a target for Northumbrian intervention between AD610 and the 650s. The Northumbrian king Edwin subjugated Anglesey and Man, until Cadwallon in alliance with Penda of Mercia invaded England and killed Edwin in AD 633, to rule north-east Wales and Northumbria for a year.
The Llanbedrgoch site, considered one of the most intriguing settlement complexes belonging to this period, has been the subject of 10 summer seasons of fieldwork by the museum’s Department of Archaeology & Numismatics.
“The results have changed our perception of Wales in the Viking period,” said museum spokeswoman Lleucu Cooke.
“ The site was discovered in 1994 after a number of metal detector finds had been brought to the Museum for identification.”
These included an Anglo-Saxon penny of Cynethryth, struck in AD 787-792, a penny of Wulfred of Canterbury, struck around AD 810, 9th century Carolingian deniers of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, and three lead weights of Viking type.
Past excavations by the department, between 1994 and 2001, revealed much about the development of this important trading centre during the late ninth and tenth centuries, but the development of the site during the preceding period had remained less clear.
Excavation director and Acting Keeper of Archaeology, Dr Mark Redknap, said, the recent finds have revealed valuable new data on the pre-Viking development of the site.
“The 2012 excavations have revealed not only surprises such as the additional burial, bringing with it important additional evidence on this unusual grave cluster, but also valuable new data on the pre-Viking development of the site.
“Beneath a section of its 2.2m wide stone rampart, constructed in the ninth century, our team of students and volunteers uncovered an earlier buried land surface and a number of ditches, over which an early medieval midden full of food refuse along with some discarded objects had formed.
“Other finds from the excavation, which include semi-worked silver, silver casting waste and a fragment of an Islamic silver coin (exchanged via trade routes out of central Asia to Scandinavia and beyond), confirm Llanbedrgoch’s importance during the tenth century as a place for the manufacture and trade of commodities.”