Breaking news: Isotope analysis reveals exciting results for Ridgeway Hill mass burial Isotope analysis of executed individuals from the Ridgeway mass burial has revealed that they are likely to have originated from a variety of places within the Scandinavian countries.
Samples taken from the teeth of ten of the individuals have been painstakingly processed by Dr Jane Evans and Carolyn Chenery at the NERC Geosciences Laboratory, part of the British Geological survey, based in Nottingham. Evans and Chenery analysed the samples for strontium and oxygen, which reflect local geology and climate respectively, and carbon and nitrogen, which reflect diet.
When taken together, these isotopes are a useful means of exploring where the individuals are most likely to have originated. Evans explained: “Isotopes from drinking water and food are fixed in the enamel and dentine of teeth as the teeth are formed in early life. By completing a careful preparation and chemical separation process in the laboratory, the elements are extracted and their isotope composition can be measured."The results show that the men had grown up in countries where the climate is colder than in Britain, with one individual thought to be from north of the Arctic Circle. They had certainly not lived their formative years on chalk geology, such as is present in where they were found also show that the men had a high protein based diet, comparable with known sites in Sweden As previously reported (see: Weymouth Burial Pit and Weymouth Film) the extraordinary burial site was discovered on Ridgeway Hill in June 2009 during the earthwork operation for the relief road. Over the following two months Oxford Archaeology carefully excavated multiple sets of remains, including 51 decapitated skulls that had been placed in a pile. The remains of bodies belonging to the skulls had been discarded haphazardly in another area of the same grave, which was a re-used quarry pit.
In July 2009 provisional radio carbon dating placed the remains between AD890 and AD1030. Following further analysis, this time frame has been narrowed to between AD910 and AD1030.
Specialists are continuing to examine the remains, to try to piece together the events surrounding this gruesome discovery. Many of the executed men suffered multiple wounds – inflicted by a sharp bladed weapon – to the skull and jaw as well as the upper spine, all thought to relate to the process of decapitation. Other wounds so far identified include a cut to the pelvis, blows to the chest and defensive injuries to the hands.
Oxford Archaeology project manager David Score said: “The find of the burial pit on Ridgeway was remarkable and got everyone working on site really excited. “To find out that the young men executed were Vikings is a thrilling development “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 is happening in Dorset at this time.”
A full programme of analysis on the remains is underway.