Lee Glendinning and Maev Kennedy
Tuesday September 7, 2004
A Viking burial ground, which has held bodies undisturbed for
1,000 years with all the trappings of the Sagas including swords,
jewellery and firemaking materials, has been uncovered in Cumbria,
after a chance find by a metal detector.
The site - thought to contain the first formal burial of bodies discovered in England - is believed to date from the 10th century, when the Vikings had been Christianised, but were evidently still hedging their bets.
Full details of the find at Cumwhitton, which has caused international excitement, will be announced this morning.
The bodies of the four men and two women were buried in the east-west Christian alignment, but with all the grave goods they would need for the pagan afterlife - the women had rich brooches, ornate belt fittings, and a jet bracelet, a material prized as highly as gold.
The men had their weapons and one had spurs, a bridle and what may be a drinking horn for the feasting he clearly expected to continue in the spirit world.
All must have been wealthy and powerful individuals, but it will probably never be possible to determine the causes of their deaths, and whether they were related: the sandy acid soil had completely dissolved their bodies.
Sir Neil Cossons, the chairman of English Heritage, which stepped in to help Oxford Archaeology after amateur metal detector user Peter Adams' find, described the discovery as "incredible".
Mr Adams found two copper brooches last March, themselves significant finds in an area with no records of Viking remains, using a metal detector on farmland with permission from the landowner.The Vikings were buried within 10 metres (30ft) of each other. In the 1940s at Ingleby in Derbyshire a burial ground was found, but it held cremated ashes buried in earthenware pots, with few artefacts. The only other group of bodies found was a battlefield cemetery at nearby Repton.
The Cumbria burials were completely different. These were clearly not the longship pirates of legend, but a settled, wealthy, peaceful community.
Sir Neil added that the find provided rare evidence of Vikings as settlers who integrated into English life.
Rachel Newman, of Oxford Archaeology North, said that they could not have expected more from the excavation site.
"We knew the brooches found by Mr Adams came from a burial of a Viking Age woman, which was exciting and of great importance in itself, but we did not expect to find five other graves complete with such a splendid array of artefacts."
Some items will go on show today at the Tullie House museum in Carlisle.