Britain’s Viking Graveyard

Britain's Viking Graveyard
Pictured: Dr. Cat Jarman and Mark Horton. Picture Publicist: Michael Taiwo Photographer: Windfall Films.

Toby Jones of Detectorists, and more recently Don’t Forget the Driver fame narrates a new quietly interesting Channel 4 documentary, which perhaps quite fittingly involves a lot of archaeology. The programme is looking over several bits of evidence from the Viking conquest, which is scarce, meaning historians have to make educated guesses. The documentary also looks over new evidence of female warriors.

We meet Dr Cat Jarman, who’s trying to date the skeletons, one burial in particular, and find out more about the situation. In one skeleton there’s multiple hits to the head after one to the groin, both of which are described in gory detail. Researchers used carbon dating to figure out the ages of the skulls in the area they thought were from around the same time, around the Viking conquest, however it seemed that there was a difference of hundreds of years, though it turned out there was just a variable they didn’t control for – how much seafood you eat affecting what kind of carbon is found in your bones. Once being tested again controlling for this variable, the skeletons all dated to around the same time.

After a relatively mundane affair with the dating of the skulls, something a lot more interesting arises. We find out after DNA analysis that two of the skeletons in a double burial are father and son. There are no other known father / son burials. This discovery, being such a rare occurrence, further narrows down who the skeletons could belong to. The documentary cuts to a lecture hall where one of the father-son relationships the burials could be showing is pored over. One of the men, the father Olaf, was killed in Scotland after looking for taxes and tributes from the Scottish people.

A father-son burial isn’t the only new territory covered by the programme. It’s been known that women would often accompany men in battle for support, but new evidence suggests that there were women in battle, shield-maidens, which raises questions about the ways. With a discovery with not just historical but societal implications, it’s no surprise that there’s some controversy surrounding the subject online.

Toward the end of the documentary a team of archaeologists look over a site thought to be a Viking army’s lost winter camp from the 9th century and find what appears to be a burnt down, fled Saxon building, likely rich with greater insights into the Viking conquest. The documentary ends here on a 3D graphic of people dressed as Vikings accompanied with a description of the bloody Viking invasion.

Britain’s Viking Graveyard is a promising and engrossing watch for anyone interested in history, with new evidence just beginning to be unearthed and a fascinating subject matter. It’s just frustrating that we’re left with a bit of a cliffhanger on various matters.

Britain’s Viking Graveyard is on All 4.