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Battered and broken bodies of Viking warriors unearthed in Derbyshire, England, now identified as soldiers of the Viking Great Army.

Discovered: Thor's Shattered Viking Army and their Sacred Hammer of the Gods

The mysterious origins of almost 300 violently broken bodies discovered in a mass grave in Derbyshire, England, are “the Viking Great Army!”, announced archeologist Cat Jarman this week.

Jarman is Head of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the The University of Bristol and she explained that the initial dating of the skeletons discovered in the 80s found them to “span several centuries”. However, Jarman doubted this dating because “the previous radiocarbon dates from this site were all affected by something called marine reservoir effects, which is what made them seem too old.” Basically, the carbon in fish is much older than in terrestrial foods and this confused the radiocarbon dating tests. When this error was accounted for, says Jarman, the bodies all date to the 9th century.

Land-Hungry Warriors

Known to the Anglo-Saxons as ‘The Great Heathen Army’, these land-hungry warriors formed a united army from Norway, Denmark and Sweden. They invaded the four kingdoms of England in 865AD and according to Historian Thomas Charles-Edwards in his bestselling 2013 book  Wales and the Britons 350–1064 “ having taken East Anglia and then York the following year, they were paid to leave Wessex by Alfred the Great and marched on Northumbria and London.” They reached Mercia by 873AD and spent winter at Repton, where they dethroned King Burgred and installed Cleowulf as ruler of the kingdom.

Viking army in battle

Viking army in battle ( public domain )

This Was No Ordinary Burial

This week’s University of Bristol report informs that “80 percent of the remains were men, mostly aged 18 to 45, with several showing signs of violent injury.” Strewn among the Viking skeletons were “axes, knives and five silver pennies dating to the period 872-875 AD.” And, among the bodies four children aged between eight and 18 years old were discovered “in a single grave with traumatic injuries.” Archaeologist Cat Jarman said of these burial irregularities “The grave is very unusual…they are also placed in unusual positions - two of them back-to-back - and they have a sheep jaw placed at their feet. All these obscurities suggest human sacrifice formed part of Viking funeral rites.

One of the female skulls excavated from the Repton burial site.

One of the female skulls excavated from the Repton burial site. Credit:  Cat Jarman / University of Bristol

A National Geographic article this week detailed the contents of another double grave containing two men, the older of whom was buried with a “Thor’s hammer pendant and a  Viking sword and had received numerous fatal injuries including a large cut to his left femur.” Furthermore, a boar’s tusk had been “placed between his legs, and it has been suggested that the injury may have severed his penis or testicles, and the tusk positioned to replace what he had lost in preparation for the afterworld.”

Thor’s Hammer Pendant May Settle Long-Standing Debate

Rightly, this week’s headlines are focusing on the discovery of one of the most successful forces to have ever invaded Britain. However, to me, the presence of a “Thor’s Hammer pendant” stands sentinel above all other discoveries. Outshines the lot! This truly is a Norse cultural treasure and its discovery, among Norse warriors, settles a long-standing archeological debate.

Example of a Viking Thor’s hammer pendant

Example of a Viking Thor’s hammer pendant ( Swedish History Museum / flickr )

Fist-size stone tools resembling the Norse god Thor's Hammer are known as “thunderstones” and are found in Viking graves in Norway. While one faction of specialists hold that Viking warriors worshiped Thor with grave deposits, others argue that thunderstones actually belonged to earlier, lower burials, and get accidentally unearthed in Viking graves. To settle this debate, Archaeologist  Eva Thäte of the University of Chester in the U.K., with fellow archaeologist Olle Hemdorff excavated hundreds of Viking graves in Scandinavia and trawled through thousands of grave deposits. They found “ten Viking burials containing thunderstones up to 5,000 years older than the graves themselves” indicating Vikings reused prehistoric stone hammers as talismans and good luck charms to assist them in the afterlife.

But even with this data, many archeologists still maintain Thor’s Hammers are accidental finds. This Thor’s Hammer debate was highlighted in a 2010 in a National Geographic feature which claimed it was generally “accepted that they (thunderstones) were actually purposely placed by Vikings in graves as good-luck talismans,” but there are still skeptics out there. This week’s announcement, that the skeletons belong to the “Great Viking Army” married with the fact that a “Thor’s Hammer pendant” was discovered, is the smoking gun - the hard evidence that Viking warriors did indeed worship Thor, and “Thor’s Hammers” were used in burial rites.

There are two things skeptics have to accept here. Neolithic people in England were not wearing Thor’s Hammer pendants, so it did not belong to an earlier, lower grave, and did not get “accidentally” dug up. And finally, deceased Viking warriors were stripped naked and buried with carefully chosen items, to help them in the afterlife, so the pendant was a deliberate placement within the Viking warrior grave. The pendant suggests that 9th century England was taken by a band of merciless warriors under the command of their ancient god of thunder and war - Thor. That accepted, I wonder what the battle cry of Thor’s Army sounded like? Thunderous I’d imagine.

Top image: Battered and broken bodies of Viking warriors unearthed in Derbyshire, England, now identified as soldiers of the Viking Great Army. Credit: Martin Biddle / University of Bristol

By Ashley Cowie

Wales and the Britons, 350-1064 (History of Wales) Hardcover – 1 Feb 2013

by T. M. Charles-Edwards . OUP Oxford (1 Feb. 2013)

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