A Viking Mystery in Oxford

From the Smithsonian magazine:

Before construction could begin on new student housing at one of Oxford University’s 38 colleges, St. John’s, archaeologists were summoned to investigate the site in January 2008. After just a few hours of digging, one archaeologist discovered the remains of a 4,000-year-old religious complex—an earthwork enclosure, or henge, built by late Neolithic tribesmen, probably for a sun-worshiping cult.

After one month of digging at the grave site and two years of lab tests, the researchers concluded that between 34 and 38 individuals were buried in the grave, all of them victims of violence.

Out of a total population of around two million in England, perhaps half were of Scandinavian or partly Scandinavian origin.

The Danes ultimately conquered England, in A.D. 1016, and Canute, the son of Svein, was crowned the nation’s king in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in January 1017. Twenty-five years later, the Anglo-Saxons would regain the crown, but only for a generation. The Scandinavians, who had refused to renounce the throne, embarked on yet another onslaught against England in September 1066—less than a fortnight before William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, launched his own invasion of the country.

Although the English pushed back the Scandinavian invaders, the effort so weakened the Anglo-Saxons that they were defeated by William at the Battle of Hastings, also in 1066. The Norman Conquest consolidated the unification of England, as the new rulers introduced a more centralized, hierarchal government. The Anglo-Saxons would rise again, their culture and language merging with that of their oppressors to produce a new nation—the predecessor of modern England, and eventually an empire that would span half the globe.

A Viking Mystery. Smithsonian magazine, 10/2010.

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