Viking Apocalypse

The Parker Library features in an upcoming documentary on the National Geographic TV channel. The programme, entitled ‘Viking Apocalypse‘ looks at the mass grave uncovered by archaeologists near Ridgeway Hill in Dorset in 2009.

Skeleton from Ridgeway Hill mass grave
Skeleton from Ridgeway Hill mass grave (National Geographic TV)

The grave contained the skeletons of 54 men, mostly in their teens or twenties, and all had been dismembered; their skulls were buried separately. From their injuries, archaeologists were able to determine that they weren’t killed in battle but executed, sometime between 910 and 1030 AD. Analysis of the teeth of 10 of the men showed that they weren’t natives of Britain but Scandinavians.

The theory the programme explores is that the men were Vikings executed by Anglo-Saxons. The programme’s presenter, Dr Britt Baillie-Warren, came to the library to see what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has to say about warfare and execution during the period – and the Vikings’ place in English history.

Britt Baillie-Warren looking at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Britt Baillie-Warren looking at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (National Geographic TV)

The programme will be shown on Wednesday 25 January at 9pm.

3 thoughts on “Viking Apocalypse

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  1. Excellent programme and excellent analysis and examination of the documentary evidence. Dr Baillie Warren has shed new light on the period and on the reign of Aethelred the Unready or Badly Advised as it actually translates. The mass execution may have been cruel but it demonstrated to all that the king believed that he was still in control and was meant as a way of sending a message that the kingdom was not for the taking. How they faced their death is not in question, but whether or not they had any choice in the matter of were granted a request to die this way is pure speculation however. It does show, though that the Saxons are not just the passive victims of the wars against the cruel Vikings but could and were just as cruel in that they take 54 men hostage after an ambush or fight and then march them up a hill for a public and very humiliating execution. At least they were given some respect in being allowed to die as warriors, by the sword and so their traditions are respected. Please, please, write a book on the finds; this is good stuff and sheds light on a dark time.

  2. I’m sure the programme is fantastic, as everyone has apparently been wowed by it, and it’s always good to see something genuinely hardcore and scientific being got across to people without conceding factual solidity. I am perplexed, however, by the way that everyone is putting the interpretation down to Dr Baillie-Warren. Her work is on something quite different, and I don’t understand what her involvement with the Ridgeway burial, which was dug by the contract company Oxford Archaeology, is. The burial has now been public knowledge for two and a half years now (its Wikipedia page links to a number of news reports), and while I did not see the documentary and may be missing its USP, there’s nothing in what’s been reported about it, including the potential link to St Brice’s Day, that David Score of OA wasn’t saying to public audiences a year ago. I’m all for the news getting out (though I rather thought it had!) and I’m sure Dr Baillie-Warren’s work on Jerusalem will be very interesting, but credit where credit’s due, this script was not her research!

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