for National Geographic News
Naked, beheaded, and tangled, the bodies of 51 young men—their heads stacked neatly to the side—have been found in a thousand-year-old pit in southern England, according to carbon-dating results released earlier this month.
The mass burial took place at a time when the English were battling Viking invaders, say archaeologists who are now trying to verify the identity of the slain.
The dead are thought to have been war captives, possibly Vikings, whose heads were hacked off with swords or axes, according to excavation leader David Score of Oxford Archaeology, an archaeological-services company.
Announced in June, the pit discovery took place during an archaeological survey prior to road construction near the seaside town of Weymouth (map).
A Mere Flesh Wound
Many of the skeletons have deep cut marks to the skull and jaw as well as the neck. "The majority seem to have taken multiple blows," Score said.
The bodies show few signs of other trauma, suggesting the men were alive when beheaded.
One victim appears to have raised an arm in self-defense: "The hand appears to have had its fingers sliced through," Score noted.
The heads were neatly piled to one side of the pit, perhaps as a victory display, the team suggests.
Beheaded ... but Otherwise Healthy
Unusually, no trace of clothing has been found, indicating the men were buried naked.
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