Archaeologists stunned by pre-Viking massacre burial: ‘Nothing could have prepared us’

Sweden: Expert discusses viking burials in Öland in 2019

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The Vikings are known to have been some of history’s most deadly warriors. Their mark on Europe was from about 700 to 1100 AD. During this period many Vikings left their homelands in Scandinavia and travelled by longboat to nearby countries, like Britain and Ireland, slowly conquering much of the lands and pillaging goods.

On arriving in Britain, Britons walked to the shores and welcomed them.

But their friendliness was miscalculated, and they were shortly murdered, their churches stolen from, razed and burnt to the ground.

While not all of the Vikings were warriors – many were farmers who came peacefully to settle – the peoples have gone down in history as bloodthirsty brutes.

Yet, while the Vikings were barbaric, a discovery on Sweden’s coast on the island of Öland pre-Viking promised to overshadow their activities.

It was here that archaeologists uncovered a mass burial from a time when the Vikings’ Norse ancestors roamed the lands, and which hinted at a bloody struggle.

The site was explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, “Secrets: Viking Murder Mystery”.

Dr Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay, an archaeologist, talked through some of the discoveries they had found at the 5th-century site, including graves and artefacts.

He said ennough evidence was gathered to suggest that as many as 20,000 people once lived on the island in the mid-Iron Age.

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The island is home to 15 ancient ring forts from around the 400s AD, the structures not an uncommon sight in Norse and Viking areas.

Yet, one ring fort, known as Sandby Borg, stands out.

According to centuries-old folklore, it’s an “evil place where bad things happen”.

As the documentary’s narrator explained: “Nothing could have prepared the archaeologists for what they would find here.”


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Deep beneath the surface, they found evidence for a 1,500-year-old Norse power struggle that culminated in a bloody massacre.

It proved a gruesome testimony that the Vikings’ ancestors were equally as brutal and ruthless.

Dr Papmehl-Dufay noted: “We haven’t seen such a massacre in historical times since, so it’s a major event that was totally forgotten.”

The mystery began to unravel in 2011 when a routine excavation took a sinister turn.

Archaeologists began to uncover the remains of three people in just three small trenches.

Given the high concentration of remains but small coverage, they quickly came to the conclusion that the site was likely strewn with similar ancient fatalities.

So, they brought in help; calling upon the world’s first archaeology dog, Fable.

His trainer, Sophie Vallulv, told the Smithsonian Channel: “When we arrived at the site I let him run free, and reused GPS, to see exactly where he’s been searching.

“When he finds the smell of human remains he lies down.”

After a time, Fable had located remains all over the Öland site.

In all, researchers uncovered 26 bodies, with more likely scattered beneath the surface.

The documentary described it as, “a village of the dead.”

Dr Papmehl-Dufay ended on a sombre note: “We found dead people everywhere – this is something real, this happened, here.”

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