Page last updated at 18:20 GMT, Friday, 10 July 2009 19:20 UK

Dismembered skeletons' Saxon link


Skulls and rib cages, thought to be from young men, have been uncovered

Fifty-one dismembered skeletons found in a burial pit on the site of a planned £87m relief road in Dorset are from the Saxon period, tests show.

Initially, it was thought the burial site on Ridgeway Hill, near Weymouth, dated from the Iron Age (from BC 800) to early Roman times (from AD 43).

But radio carbon dating shows the male rib cages, skulls and leg bones date between AD 890 and AD 1030.

Experts made the earlier estimate after examining pottery found in the pit.

Oxford archaeologists discovered the skeletons during the earthwork operation for the Weymouth Relief Road.

They have been excavating since early June.

'Blows to head'

The pit is thought to be a disused quarry, used out of convenience, rather than one dug for burials.

David Score, Oxford Archaeology project manager at the dig, said: "The time period we are now looking at is one of considerable conflict between the resident Saxon population and invading Danes.

"The burial location is typical of places used for executions during this time; in a prominent location and next to a main road and a parish boundary.

A torso found in the burial pit
The torsos of the skeletons were arranged separately

"However, the large number of individuals and method used make it unlikely that normal criminal justice is being practised in this instance."

It is hoped further radio carbon dating will be able to define the date range much more precisely and other scientific techniques, such as isotope analysis, may be able to establish whether the individuals were Saxons or Vikings, Mr Score added.

Angela Boyle, senior osteologist, said: "The overwhelming majority [of the remains] are aged from their late teens to about 25-years-old, with just a small number of older individuals.

"Most of the skulls exhibit evidence of multiple blows to the vertebrae, jawbones and skulls with a large, very sharp weapon such as a sword.

"The lack of any other finds, such as those associated with clothing, indicates that they may have been naked when thrown into the pit."

Work on the relief road is continuing.

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