Teeth tests show victims from mass war grave in Weymouth pit could have been Swedish

By Culture24 Staff | 16 March 2010
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A photo of a pair of scientific gloves handling an ancient set of teeth

"Painstaking" analysis of teeth from ten of the executed corpses found in a mass grave on the Weymouth Olympic Relief Road last summer has revealed the slaughtered remains may have belonged to Vikings from Scandinavia and the Polar regions.

Isotope tests showed the men had grown up in a cold, non-chalk climate with a predominantly protein-based diet, nodding to research collected on bodies from Swedish and Arctic Circle sites.

Strontium and oxygen samples were used to determine the local geology and climate of their native countries, supported by carbon and nitrogen investigations reflecting their likely eating patterns.

A photo of a scientist in a white lab coat handling a skeleton

A team from Nottingham examined the skeletons

"Isotopes from drinking water and food are fixed in the enamel and dentine of teeth as the teeth are formed in early life," explained Dr Jane Evans, from Nottingham's NERC Geosciences Laboratory.

"By completing a careful preparation and chemical separation process in the laboratory, the elements are extracted and their isotope composition can be measured."

A photo of a scientist in goggles and a lab coat looking at samples

Isotope testing has located at least one of the bodies to the north of the Arctic Circle

The geographical breakthrough is the latest revelation from the pit of 51 decapitated skulls, found crammed alongside a mass of bones in the re-used quarry.

Studies augmenting the initial radiocarbon tests have narrowed the date of the skeletons to a point between AD910 and AD1030, and experts are continuing to investigate the flurry of stab wounds inflicted on the skulls, spines and torsos of the victims.

A photo of a mass of skeletons in earth

The mass war grave was found on the Weymouth Relief Road last summer

"Finding out that the young men executed were Vikings is a thrilling development," said David Score, project manager for Oxford Archaeology.

"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 happened in Dorset at this time."

All images: Oxford Archaeology, thehumanjourney.net

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