Museum will send Viking skeleton home to be reunited with 'relative'

British museum will send Viking skeleton home to Denmark to be reunited with 1,000-year-old ‘relative’ after he was butchered in 1002 ‘ethnic cleansing’ massacre

  • Oxford museum will send the skeleton to be reunited with a relative in Denmark 
  • Skeleton is one of 35 men and boys believed to have been massacred in AD 1002 
  • Slaughter took place after King Aethelred II of England ordered the slaying of dozens of Danish raiders, settlers and their children 
  • The familial tie between the two skeletons was discovered after scientists excavated another skeleton in Denmark and found DNA matches  

A British museum will send a Viking skeleton that was butchered in an ethnic cleansing massacre in AD 1002 to its home in Denmark to be reunited with its 1,000-year-old relative. 

The skeleton, known as SK1756, is being held at Oxfordshire County Council’s Museum Resource Centre and is one of at least 35 men and boys believed to be victims of the St Brice’s Day massacre in Oxford in AD 1002.

The slaughter is said to have taken place after King Aethelred II of England ordered the execution of dozens of Danish raiders, settlers and their children.

But DNA has revealed that a male skeleton discovered during an excavation in Denmark could be a relative such as an uncle, nephew, grandfather, grandson or half-brother – and experts want to reunite them.

A Viking skeleton from AD 1002 at the Museum Resource Centre in Oxfordshire today 

The skull of a Viking skeleton from AD 1002 which features nine sword marks at the Museum Resource Centre in Oxfordshire today 

Archaeology curator Angie Bolton inspects a Viking skeleton from AD 1002 at the Museum Resource Centre in Oxfordshire today 

The skeleton will be taken ‘home’ to Copenhagen next year, where it will be displayed in a Viking exhibition. 

SK1756 is also set to be featured in a TV documentary about the Vikings led by Dr Rane Willerslev, director of the National Museum of Denmark.

Some of the work in establishing the link between the two skeletons was carried out by his twin brother Eske, an expert in DNA.

Dr Willerslev said: ‘We thought it was exciting when we made the link.

‘We thought that Vikings had left Denmark to live in Britain, but we were not certain. Now we had the evidence that they were kin.

The full Viking skeleton is seen at the Museum Resource Centre in Oxfordshire today 

The vertebrae of a Viking skeleton from AD 1002 which features markings from a spear or projectile at the Museum Resource Centre in Oxfordshire today 

‘It was strange to see this skeleton – one of your ancestors – which had been hit eight to 10 times in the head and stabbed several times in the spine, just lying there in front of you.’

Dr Willerslev had travelled to the museum in Standlake, Oxon., to interview archaeology curator Angie Bolton.

She said: ‘The DNA link to the Danish skeleton is amazing and it’s quite a privilege for our collection to be recognised in this way.’

The mass grave was discovered in 2008 when excavations took place ahead of a development in the grounds of the University’s of Oxford’s St John’s College.

Subsequent research then showed that they had all been massacred at the same time, probably in AD 1002.

While 33 of them were tall, robust adult males, two were adolescents who had met a violent death – but did not necessarily lead a violent life.

Analysis suggests that some of the victims originated from within the UK, Denmark and Germany.

The rib bones of a Viking skeleton from AD 1002 at the Museum Resource Centre in Oxfordshire today 

The massacre was prompted by King Aethelred’s frustration at his inability to stop Viking invaders from raiding England, experts say.

The St Brice’s Day slaughter is not well known among the general Danish population, but Dr Willerslev is not expecting a backlash when his documentary reveals the gory details.

He said: ‘I don’t think there will be any hard feelings towards the Brits.

‘People always think the Vikings went overseas and killed and plundered, but here the situation is turned around. It’s payback!’

‘Vikings are very popular at the moment.

‘Denmark is regularly reinventing its relationship with the Vikings – the depictions are very different throughout the years – but they remain one of the most popular themes you can exhibit. Why is this?

‘Well, there are adventures and a glorious time in Scandinavian history, when Christian beliefs met Pagan Europe.

‘Scandinavia is very peaceful now so it’s intriguing and challenging to look at the past and see what motivated them.’

SK1756 will be making the journey to Copenhagen next spring, and there are plans to carry out more tests on the 1,000-year-old bones – either in Durham or Denmark – to try to unearth more secrets from beyond the grave.

And if Ms Bolton has her way, SK1756’s Danish relative will travel in the opposite direction at some point in the future.

She said: ‘I would love to borrow the Danish skeleton and put on an exhibition in Oxfordshire, showing this example of ethnic cleansing, and shatter a few myths about us and the Vikings.’

The documentary and the exhibition are due to open at the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen in 2021 and run in various forms until 2024

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