300 Mysterious Skeletons Found in Mass Grave Likely Belonged to Ancient Viking Army That Died Together

The massive graveyard of a suspected ancient Viking army that invaded England in the late ninth century was accidentally unearthed in a church garden more than 30 years ago. But scientists couldn't date the bones' age, which meant they couldn't figure out who the 300 skeletons had belonged to. A new technology has changed this and the results are finally in. 

In a study published online in Antiquity, a team of researchers led by Cat Jarman, a professor of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Bristol, used a new type of carbon dating to accurately date the skeletons.

Many researchers believed these bones belonged to members of the Viking "Great Army," which began their invasion of England in 866, but proving this has been difficult. Past carbon dating of the bones put different skeletons dying in different centuries. Jarman told Newsweek that a large number of the bones had carbon dates that put them dying in the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries, suggesting that the skeletons had been slowly deposited in the graves over several thousand years.

Related: The Irish Have Much More Viking DNA Than Previously Thought, Genetic Study Reveals

In the new study, the team used a form of carbon dating that took into account the large amount of “old carbon” that the individuals may have consumed as a result of a high-seafood diet.

02_02_viking The mystery of the ancient Viking army may soon be revealed. SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

“Some individuals consumed more seafood than others, and this is what caused the seemingly 'early' dates,” Jarman told Newsweek. “In this new research, we were able to show that all of those who dated to the seventh and eighth century originally were those who had eaten more seafood than the others.”

The technique helped confirm that all of the individuals had died at the same time. Although this finding does not prove that this was specifically the Viking Great Army, archaeologists are closer to proving that than ever before. And the new dates identified in this study are consistent with dates in which members of the Viking Great Army would have died.

Related: Early Viking Revealed Through Two Rare Artifacts Inscribed With Ancient Runic Texts

“Knowing the true date of the graves is important for our understanding of this period,” said Jarman. “If these people were members of the great army, then we can start to understand more about the composition and makeup of that army group.”

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