Nova (1974–…): Season 46, Episode 10 - Lost Viking Army - full transcript

Bioarchaeologists investigate a ninth-century mass grave in a rural English village. Will the remains unlock the mystery of the "Great Heathen Army," a legendary Viking fighting force that once invaded England?

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
40 years ago,

this sleepy village
in the heart of England

was the scene
of a gruesome discovery.

Crammed in was literally
this much of solid human bone.

Nearly 300 battle-scarred

Could these be the last remains

of a legendary Viking army

that swept
through medieval Britain?

Wherever the Vikings go,
they don't play by the rules.

No one has been able to prove it
until now.

We can get an awful lot
of information

out of these bones.

Archaeologists are on the trail
of the Great Viking Army.

It took Britain by force,

helping to shape its laws,
language, and very identity...

But left little trace
on the landscape.

I think we are
in the right place,

we just have to work out
how to, to find the Vikings.

Researchers unleash a boatful
of modern-day Vikings

to retrace their voyage.

Using the latest
scientific methods,

the team pieces together

personal stories...

This was brought down
with great violence.

Unearthing what could be

one of the biggest Viking sites
in Britain.

One must imagine thousands
of Vikings

covering this whole landscape.

This is what we're looking for.

"Lost Viking Army,"

right now, on "NOVA."

Major funding for "NOVA"
is provided by the following:

For 40 years,

the sleepy village of Repton
in Central England

has harbored an extraordinary
archaeological mystery.

This garden in the shadow
of the village church

is riddled with ancient graves.

I think this might break

- in two pieces.
- Yeah.

It's still giving up bodies


That's lovely... well done, Van.

The first human remains
were discovered here

in the 1970s,

under this mound of earth.

So the mound
was just about here.

It's now been turned into
a rather nice barbecue area.

Of course, the excavation
completely removed the mound.

Archaeologist Mark Horton was
a 26-year-old grad student

supervising the excavation
of the mound

when he was shocked to uncover
what lay beneath:

a mass grave.

Crammed in was literally

this much of solid human bone.

One kind of felt

sort of almost, like,
"Crunch, crunch, crunch,"

as one moved across this sea
of human charnel,

of human debris.

The archaeologists recorded
the position of every bone,

and calculated that the grave
contained the remains

of at least 264 people.

Many bones bore vicious scars,

suggesting the victims
had died in battle.

But who were they?

Where did they come from?

And why are so many buried
in this garden?

Clues began to emerge,

including silver coins found
with the bodies,

which the archaeologists were
able to date precisely

to the 870s.

This was a violent period
in the history of England.

A great invasion force
terrorized the land.

Christian monks charted the
attacks of this "Heathen Army"

in a contemporary text called
"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle."

The raiding army burned
and demolished,

killed abbot and monks.

In the year 873,
the marauders swept into Repton.

These heathens were Vikings.

Very little archaeological

of the existence
of their Great Army

has ever been found.

But that may be about to change.

Could the bones discovered in
the grounds around Repton Church

be the remains
of the Viking war dead?

One skeleton,
buried in a prominent position

away from the mass grave,

yielded compelling evidence.

And if I can remember,

the warrior grave was located
just about here.

The head was to the west.

The body was laid out so...

Probably, his feet
were just about here.

In fact, when we excavated it,

we thought
that he had three legs,

because one of them
was a, was a sword.

The design of the sword
was typically Viking.

And a special piece of jewelry
found in the grave...

A silver hammer of Thor,
the Norse god of thunder...

Suggested this was
a Viking warrior.

Viking warrior graves

are very unusual,

and one that's quite
so richly furnished

is very rare in, in Britain.

It seems that this was a man
of great significance.

Are you there,
are you holding on firmly?


You don't let me fall over.

Mark Horton has been pondering

the mysteries
of the Repton graves

for four decades.

But in 2012,

one of his former grad students
took the lead on the case.

bioarchaeologist Cat Jarman

has been trying to prove
that the skeletons at Repton

really are the remains
of the Viking army.

It's like a forensic exercise.

You start with just
a completely unknown skeleton,

and then you, you really start

to build up a story
around this person

by looking at everything

from age and sex
and cause of death

to things like diets and DNA.

And then we can really put
this person

into that bigger picture
that we're looking at.

As part of her investigation,

Cat's been re-examining
the bones of the warrior figure

to see if she can find clues
to his identity.

She's met up with pathologist
Bob Stoddart.

He first analyzed the skeleton
almost two decades ago.

This was a chap

who was a professional soldier.

He was tough.

He kept fighting

when he was already
severely injured.

The number of injuries
suggests to Bob

that the attackers were intent
on completing this kill.

On the left thighbone,
a deep, V-shaped gash

implies he'd been struck
by a heavy-bladed weapon.

He was stopped

by being hit with one of these,

and this was brought down

with great violence

into his groin.

This wound would have cut
through his penis,

would have removed
at least one testis.

So this was a very dramatic end.

Well, this isn't quite the end.

Oh, right, okay.

There's more.

Because he's now down,

but not yet quite out,

they now set about his head.

Bob believes that this
large fracture to the cranium

was the result of a heavy blow

that smashed the man's helmet
into his skull

and dislodged the visor
protecting his face.

So he's wearing a helmet,

- it's sort of all askew.
- All tilts.

Tilted, which means
that they can then attack...

They attack through
the eyehole of his face guard,

but the eyehole has risen up.

He was stabbed
with probably a spear,

which went through the skull,

through the brain,

a wound
which could not be survived

for more than a few seconds.

As his men laid
the dead warrior to rest,

they attempted to restore
his mutilated body

in preparation for the afterlife

by using the tusk of a boar.

The boar's tusk was placed

- right between his legs.
- Yes.

Presumably to replace
what he'd lost.

So there's some care in this,

thinking about
what he would need.

Presumably he'd want his penis
in the afterlife.

Yes, if he was going
to enjoy Valhalla fully.

The extraordinary measures
his enemies took to kill him,

and the special care
his comrades took burying him,

suggest that
this was no ordinary warrior.

Was he one of the leaders
of the Great Viking Army?

Cat's taken samples
from the warrior's teeth

in the hope
his 1,100-year-old DNA

will reveal some answers.

If Repton is
the final resting place

of the Viking war dead,

what brought the army
to this remote spot?

In the ninth century,

England was under the control
of the Anglo-Saxons,

Germanic tribes that had
colonized the country,

splitting it
into several kingdoms.

The most powerful was Mercia,

with Repton its political
and religious center.

Hidden beneath
the village church

is an ancient Mercian site
of unique importance.

This is the most atmospheric

to have survived
from, from Anglo-Saxon England.

It's really the only substantial
architectural remains

from the great Mercian monastery
that was built here

from the late seventh century

Probably the richest monastery
in Mercia

and the burial place
of the kings of Mercia.

Saints were also interred in
the monastery that stood here,

which grew rich from tributes
paid by Christian pilgrims.

The Vikings would have been
attracted here

because it was such
a wealthy place.

It would have been literally

in precious stones
and gold and silver.

The Viking Army drove out
the Saxon king, Burgred,

sacked the monastery,

and buried their dead
in the consecrated ground.

But who were
these ruthless invaders?

The Vikings first emerged
almost a century earlier.

They were comprised
of disparate tribes

from the vast region
we now know as Scandinavia.

The people that we call
the Vikings

certainly would not have thought
of themselves

as a unified people.

But they had one thing
in common, though.

They had the language
which was mutually intelligible.

So a person
from the far north of Norway

could actually speak
to a Dane or to a Swede.

That's a huge benefit.

We call that language Old Norse.

But what really makes
the Vikings the Vikings

are their ships.

You can't go from one place
in Scandinavia to another

without them.

And for this reason, this is
really a maritime culture.

Everything you do
is connected to the sea.

At Roskilde in Denmark,

longships are still constructed
in the Viking way,

using techniques derived
from ancient Viking vessels

excavated from the mud
of the estuary.

Cut marks on the original planks

reveal how the boat builders

Instead of cutting across
the wood grain with a saw,

they used an axe to shape
the planks,

following undulations
in the natural wood fibers.

One of the keys for this way
of constructing a boat

is that you follow the grain,

you follow the fibers
in the trees.

I've got a piece here.

So you can see here
the long fibers.

And when you try to cut it...

It's not easy, as you can see.

Long, unbroken fibers

gave great strength
and flexibility

to the planks.

In the beginning,

we were a bit afraid
of the flexibility,

because you, you know,

of the big schooners and ships
from today,

it's, they are stiff
and, and very strong.

But, but the strength
is the flexibility.

The huge forces exerted
on the ships by pounding waves

were absorbed
by the flexible hulls.

With so many strong
seafaring ships,

parties of Vikings
began to brave the North Sea

and conduct lightning raids

on English coastal communities.

People return from expeditions
to the British Isles

with huge treasure,

and nobody in Scandinavia
can just ignore that.

If you're a chieftain,

you need to reward
your warriors,

you need to reward them better

than the neighboring chieftain.

So the moment that somebody
starts this new game in town,

bringing ships
across the North Sea,

raiding foreign lands,

it's all over...
Everybody has to go.

So within one generation,

we go from a few isolated raids
to large armies.

There could be another reason

why the disparate tribes started
to unite.

By the mid-ninth century,

Scandinavia's barren land
may have struggled

to support
its growing populations.

Fertile England
must have looked alluring.

Resources in Scandinavia
are under pressure.

If you're the younger son
in the family,

chances are that you're not
going to set up your own farm.

There's no new land to be taken
that's worth having.

As the Viking age progresses,

what they're really after

becomes not the things to be
taken home,

but the things that you can gain
out there... the land.

United under the banner
of conquest,

the largest-ever force
of Vikings

crossed the North Sea to England
in the year 865.

This time,
it was no smash-and-grab raid.

They had come to stay.

Because the Viking army left so
little physical evidence behind,

historians have to make
educated guesses

about how they operated.

Hi, Vikings!

We've chosen a windy old day,
haven't we?

So Mark Horton is joining
a group of reenactors

who try to get into the heads
of the enigmatic Norsemen

by living like them.

Have you ever taken a longship
on the Trent before?

No, it's going to be a bit
of a new experience for us.

By my calculation,

it's probably the first time
in a thousand years.

Cast off aft, please.

Under the command

of Captain Steve Etheridge,

these enthusiasts wear
meticulously recreated clothing,

carry replica weapons,

and sail
in a reconstructed longship.

That's the local sailing club.

I don't think they've seen
one of these things

for some time.

Let's hope they don't
remember last time, eh?

No one knows
how big the Viking fleet was.

But the "Chronicle" tells us
one flotilla alone

contained 250 longships.

For eight years, the Vikings
used the river network

to take their bloody campaign
across Eastern England.

Then, in 873,

they sailed into the
very center of the country...

up the River Trent to Repton.

Mark's crew is retracing
the last leg of that journey.

It's like a sort
of open gate into Britain.


We're just one ship,

but you imagine
50, 100 of these vessels,

we're talking about
three miles' worth of ships

moving their way up the Trent.

It would have been terrifying.

It's a city on the move,

not just an army.

You're, you're bringing
everything that you need

with you.

If you want to move thousands
of people,

supplies and stores
and weaponry,

these are the motorways
of the Dark Ages.

This is the way
into the heart of England.

This is how you conquer England,
up this river.

The "Chronicle" records
numerous battles

between the Vikings
and Anglo-Saxons

along the way.

King thelred fought
against the raiding army,

and great slaughter was made
on either side.

At first, these written accounts
appeared to be corroborated

by the battle-scarred bones
found at Repton.

But in the 1990s,

when the archaeologists
carbon-dated those bones,

the results were shocking.

Many of the bodies appeared
to be a century too old

to belong
to the Great Viking Army...

A mystery Cat Jarman has been
determined to solve.

Everything... the bones,
the artifacts, the coins...

Is really screaming,
"Viking Great Army."

But the science,
the radiocarbon dates said,

"That's not possible."

Scientists date bones

by measuring the amount
of carbon-14 they contain.

This radioactive isotope remains
in the skeleton after death.

It decays over time
at a steady rate.

So by measuring what's left
in the bones,

scientists can figure out
roughly when the person died.

What we didn't realize
20 years ago,

we actually have to take
into account

how the carbon that we're dating
gets into our bodies.

And it actually gets
into our bodies

through the food that we eat.

It turns out that people
with a diet high in fish

absorb older carbon
than meat-eaters.

That's because the oceans
contain carbon

that is hundreds of years old.

When fish ingest this,

and people in turn eat the fish,

the ancient carbon enters
their bones.

Scientists now know that
the bones of people who eat fish

appear older
than they really are,

skewing carbon-dating results.

Cat has also been able
to calculate

just how much fish
each person has eaten

by using
the distinctive chemical markers

seafood leaves in human bones.

I looked at all these
different bones,

and it turned out,

everybody with a sort of
wrong date, as it were,

had been eating a lot of fish.

That was a really brilliant
moment, actually,

to be able to,

to see those dates fitting

And that meant
the entire mass grave

could now be dated
to the late ninth century,

it's completely consistent

with the Viking Great Army.

Now that she's proved they're
all the right age to be Vikings,

Cat wants to put flesh back
on their bones.

Her research has revealed
a surprise

about the demographics
of the army.

We've been very lucky

in that we've successfully
extracted ancient DNA

from these skulls,

and we've been able to determine

what sex these individuals were.

And out of these five,

these three are men,

but these two
are actually women.

And that fits really well
with the rest of the mass grave,

because about 20%
of those individuals are women.

What were so many women
doing here?

Were they supporting
their menfolk?

Or is there more to the story?

In Sweden,

the remains
of an 1,100-year-old Viking

might offer a clue.

This skeleton was found in 1889,
30 miles from Stockholm,

at the Viking stronghold
of Birka.

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson

has recently reopened
the case file

on the Birka Warrior.


This is my, my baby...


At the moment, yes.

Oh, wow.

Charlotte's been able to use

the original archaeologists'
field drawing

to reconstruct
how the skeleton was found.

The body was buried
with a sword, battle-ax,

and some unexpected companions.

In the foot end of the grave,

there was two horses.

Two complete horses?

Two complete horses.

So this is a very spectacular,
high-status grave.

From the very beginning,
it's been interpreted

as a warrior grave.

And we would, of course,
interpret this as a male.

But last year,
we got the results back

from an ancient DNA analysis,

and it's definitely confirmed
to be a woman.

And that caused quite a stir.

DNA extracted from the jawbone

proved that this was a strong,
healthy woman in her 30s.

Her bones show no sign
of how she died.

But the weapons in her grave

suggest the position she held
in life.

She is buried as a warrior.

We can of course never prove

that she was actively a warrior
in life.

But I think
that she was a warrior,

and I think that's the message
that they wanted to convey

that we are reading now
1,100 years later.

Was she a real-life

A woman who,
according to Norse mythology,

fought alongside men?

This is really exciting,

because I'm looking
at what we think is a war grave

which has women in it.

And to have examples like this,

where the woman is represented
in that warrior role,

we have to take that back
to Repton

and think about those women.

The bones of some of
the Repton women bear scars,

perhaps of battle.

And they were buried
alongside male warriors.

Could they have been
shield-maidens, too?

In, out.

In, out.

In, out.

On the Trent,

Mark's crew
of modern-day Vikings

is a mile
from their landing site

just outside Repton.

It's quite a difference now,
isn't it,

the wind's against us?

It's actually
incredibly hard work.

Starboard side, big strokes.

Keep going.

Keep pulling, starboard side.

By the time the Great Army
reached Mercia,

it had conquered most
of Anglo-Saxon England,

but not just
with strong-armed tactics.

The "Chronicle" tells us
the Vikings struck peace deals

with embattled communities

and replaced local rulers
with puppet kings.

It also records

how the army camped
for the winter at Repton.

Have you ever beached a longboat

No, first time for this.

We're going to give it a go.

Viking nails found by the river

suggest the invaders dragged
their boats ashore

for repairs.

But they left no record of how.

This is terrifying.

So Steve's crew...

Put it down there,
so Daddy can get up.

And their friends and family
on the bank...

Okay, another roller!

Will improvise.


Come on.

Pull! Pull!

We've got so far,
and we're stuck.

Hi, there!

We're having a struggle.

Luckily, Mark spots
a passing boat crew.

One, two, three, heave!

That'll do.

Let's stop there.


That worked, yes.

Now our team can set up camp,

just as their Viking forebears

So, I mean, what makes one think

is actually
just how important it was.


To come to dry land
for the winter.

Yeah, we've been struggling


And you want to find somewhere

where you can
pull your boats up,

make yourself secure.

You're staying here
until spring,

and then the raiding begins

The army often hunkered down

through the worst
of the winter weather.

But what happened
inside their temporary camps

had been lost to history,

until a series
of recent discoveries

made at a site
60 miles downriver,

called Torksey.

The chroniclers record
the army sat out winter

in these Lincolnshire fields

the year before
they reached Repton.

Now a team of metal
detectorists and archaeologists

has unearthed
intriguing evidence

of that occupation.

We've got about 2,000 finds.

Most of the objects
that are here

have been brought to the site
as plunder.

It's, it's the stuff
that they've looted

from mainly Anglo-Saxon churches

over the previous season
of campaigning.

And they're bringing it here,
melting it down,

turning it into other objects,
trading with it, so forth.

And, as well as all the,
the small objects, the loot,

we've also got quite a lot
of iron objects from the site.

We've got here the hilt
from a sword.

You can see that the hole there

is where the blade
would have passed through.

And we do have a number of axes.

This was found
just this last year.

But my favorite objects
are actually these.

These are gaming pieces.

You can imagine them

they've got a lot
of leisure time.

In total, we've got over 300
of these gaming pieces.

They seem to provide a bit

of what we, we call
the signature

of the Viking Great Army.

These modest lumps of lead
are unique to Vikings,

and the calling card
of the Heathen Army.

Archaeologist Adam Parsons

has been researching
how they were used

in a game called Hnefatafl.

Can I have a little look?

Of course you can.

So if you now make
your gaming board

and auger some little holes
in it,

and you could now place
that piece in there,

and whether it's on a ship,

or somebody drunk in a camp

wouldn't knock the board over.

The crucial thing
archaeologically, of course,

- the peg would rot away.
- Yeah.

So when you find them,

they've got a small hole
in the bottom of them.

Because we would just think
it would be an empty hole.


So how was the game
actually played?

Well, from what we can tell,

there was a king piece
that was placed

in the center of the board,

and he had a small army

of perhaps 12 men
surrounding him.

And the king's job was
to either escape

to the corner
or the edge of the board.

This is a kind

- of everyman's game.
- Exactly.

The soldiers in the camp

can make these pieces quickly
and cheaply,

make a cheap wooden board,

perhaps even scratch one
in the dirt.

It means that they can while
away these boring, wet evenings,

you know,

perhaps gambling away
some of the, the money

they've just stolen
from various places.

But also, the key thing is,
they're so easy to lose.

- Yes.
- And that's what's so good for archaeology.

You just drop them down there
in the grass,

and they're gone.

Archaeologists have learned
to cherish such humble finds,

as the Vikings rarely left
dramatic relics behind.

But at Repton,
they made an exception.

Some 40 years ago,

we found the end

of what appears to be
a great Viking fortification.

What we seem to have found is
a kind of D-Shaped enclosure.

The trouble is

that surface indications
have all disappeared.

While excavating the Viking
burials in the 1980s,

the archaeologists
uncovered traces

of a massive defensive ditch.

We can begin to lay it out.

One, two, three, four.

About here.

They only excavated

a few sections of the structure.

Three, and four.

Here, I think.

Now, Mark wants to reveal
the whole picture

for the first time.

It's actually only by laying it
out on the ground

that one can really understand
how it worked

and get back into the
ninth-century shape of the land.

Okay, so let's put it...
which way are we facing?

Where is it?

There we go.

Oh, I can see it.

It looks beautiful.

What you can actually see is the
exact shape of the enclosure.

The enclosure opened
onto the River Trent,

which used to run close
to the church.

When the archaeologists
first discovered the ditch,

they believed
it could have encircled

the Vikings' winter camp.

But Mark has a problem
with this theory.

One thing that immediately
strikes me

is just how small it is.

It's scarcely more
than four acres.

I mean, you know,
you could just about squeeze

maybe 1,000 men
shoulder to shoulder.

Don't forget, they've also got
to have their ships

and their workshops and all the
other things that go with it.

I mean, it was a tiny area.

Is it possible
that the Great Army

was in reality not that great
in size?


That's what some historians
have concluded.

But at Torksey,

the archaeologists' recent finds
are scattered

across a site 30 times larger.

This is a huge site,

135 acres in total.

That has implications
for the size of the Viking army.

You've got to imagine behind me
what is in effect a small town,

a sort of bustling area.

And given the scale of the camp,

we think that probably it was up

to about 5,000 warriors
and camp followers.

This is a huge number of people
to be gathered in one place.

It's larger
than most Anglo-Saxon towns.

But if there were 5,000 Vikings
camping at Torksey,

where did they stay
when they reached Repton?

A local metal detectorist may
have found some crucial clues.

Cat's on her way to meet him.

I'm really, really excited
and intrigued

to find out what this guy
has actually discovered.

Repton is kind of full
of unresolved questions, really.

There's a lot
we don't understand,

there are things
that aren't there.

And these things that he's found

could be exactly
what we've been looking for.

The actual missing link.

Rob Davis is
a specialist metalworker

and keen amateur historian.

I've just brought
a good selection.

Oh, wow.

He's been quietly finding
Viking artifacts

on a stretch of farmland
near Repton

for more than a decade.

Now he's invited Cat to see his
collection for the first time.

These are so brilliant.

Um, and I just want
to pick them up

- and look at them.
- Yes.

It's a nice
Scandinavian brooch here.

Oh, wow, yeah.

That's beautiful.

That is typical Viking type
of brooch.

The day I found that,

I found the pendant.

A Thor's hammer pendant.

Oh, wow.

That's incredible.

You can't really get much
more Viking than that, can you?

It's almost identical
to the one found in Repton

around the neck of the warrior.

- This is just shouting, "Viking Army," isn't it, really?
- Yeah.

This is exactly the sort of
thing we're looking for

when we're looking
for Great Army sites.

And these are all
from the same fields?

Yes, all, all
from the same field.

One field in particular.

Rob made his extraordinary

on this hillside,

just outside the tiny hamlet
of Foremark,

two miles east of Repton.

So most of this seems to be
coming out from the field

just behind that tree,

that's the one over
in the middle, is that right?

- That is the main field.
- Yeah.

Unlike some metal detectorists,
who frustrate archaeologists

by removing artifacts from sites

without recording
where they found them,

Rob has kept a careful record,
which Cat can now use

to begin mapping
the ancient history

of this landscape.

Foremark Church,
which is right here.

It stems from a
Scandinavian name, "Fornwerk,"

which means
"the old fortification."

So it's like the clue was
in the name all the time,

and we just didn't realize.

I think we've got a really,
really important site here.

Rob's discoveries place
the Vikings at Foremark.

Was it here on top of this hill,
rather than at Repton,

that the army spent the winter
of 873?

Cat wants to find out.

We've got the fields
that Rob has been detecting,

literally just on
the other side of this fence.

That's all been plowed.

That means that Rob's been able
to go across it

and find
all those metal artifacts

that, that come up with a plow,

and that's not great for us
as archaeologists,

because it actually ruins
a lot of the archaeology.

But here, nobody's actually done
any plowing

or any sort of
recent agriculture.

Because plowing rips
ancient artifacts

their archaeological context,

Cat's assembled a team to search
for traces of the winter camp

in the only part of this land

which has not been
intensively farmed.

We have no idea how far down
we need to go.

I'm definitely feeling
very nervous about it,

because I've had to pick a spot
out of this giant field,

and I could have picked
entirely the wrong spot.

It could all go terribly wrong,

or we could find
something amazing.

If the army did camp at Foremark
in 873,

it still doesn't explain

why there are so many bodies
buried back at Repton.

But there has been a development

in the search to identify
the mutilated warrior

buried near the church.

Next to him,

the archaeologists found
the remains of a younger man.

The close proximity
of the two bodies

suggests they may have known
one another in life.

Hey, hi, Lars.

Hey, Cat, how are you?

I'm good, thanks, how are you?

Cat's had DNA analysis done

on both men's remains.

It's actually quite exciting.

We can now definitely confirm
that the warrior

and the other burial found
with the warrior

are first-degree relatives.

- Oh, brilliant.
- And it gets better.

We can say that they didn't have
the same mother,

but that they have
the same paternal lineage,

which actually only leaves
that they were father and son.

That's wonderful.

That's something very new.

We suspected they had some kind
of close relationship,

but there was no way
of knowing that.

This is so unique.

As far as we know,

there are no other known
father-son burials.

We know there are lots
of other double graves

in the Viking worlds,

but we've never been able
to find out

what the relationship is
between those two individuals,

so I'm, I'm just thrilled.

The revelation that the warrior
is buried with his son

narrows down
the historical candidates

as to who he might be.

"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle"
offers no clues.

So Cat has asked
medieval historian Clare Downham

to follow a lead
in another ancient text,

this time from Ireland.

It's called
"The Annals of Ulster."

This tells us

about a really interesting
father-and-son relationship

which might tie in
to the burials at Repton.

Their names are Olaf
and his son Eisten.

Written in Middle Irish
and Latin,

the "Annals" record the exploits
of King Olaf,

a Viking chieftain
based in Ireland

who led raids around Britain.

So this is, "Olaf returns
to Dublin from Alba,"

which is North Britain,

"with a fleet of 200 ships."

And these ships contain
all the accumulated booty

from their years

of raiding and traveling around
in Britain.

The "Annals" tell us
it was in Scotland

that Olaf finally met his match.

This time, he's trying to gather
taxes and tributes

from the Scottish people,

which of course would make him
deeply unpopular.

In the year 874,

he's raiding around Scotland,

and the king of Scotland
at that time

encounters Olaf and kills him.

Could the body then have been
carried to Repton

and there, the following year,
have been joined by his son,

who was also killed in battle?

But if the two bodies
are Olaf and Eisten,

why would pagan Vikings
carry their dead

from distant battlefields

and lay them to rest
in the Christian burial place

of Anglo-Saxon kings?

Archaeologist Howard Williams
has a theory.

Given the political
and the religious importance

of Repton for the Mercian kings,

the Viking Army coming here
has a modern-day equivalent

in taking over
both Buckingham Palace

and Saint Paul's Cathedral

So we have to see this as
a grandstand political gesture.

The mass grave would have been
not simply a burial,

but a monument in the landscape.

It allowed you to show
your claims to the land

and your, your assertion

that you intend to be here
for generations.

Perhaps the mass grave at Repton

is at last giving up
its secrets.

But it still leaves the mystery
of where the army camped

through the winter of 873.

And the new dig at Foremark
is not offering any answers.

We've been here
for a few days now,

and our best finds so far

are a Victorian marble
and a musket ball.

I still think we are
in the right place.

We just have to work out
how to, to find the Vikings.

But in a far corner of the site,

metal detectorist Rob has found
something intriguing

a foot beneath the surface.

Right, what have you got?

Quite a deep piece of iron.

You can just see the rust there.

Yeah, okay.


Looks very much
like a plowshare.

It's not what anyone
was expecting to find

in a Viking campsite.

A plowshare is the blade
of a plow,

designed to cut a channel
through the soil

into which crops
would be planted.

Used in Britain
from the seventh century,

these were precious pieces
of equipment.

Yeah, it's brilliant.

An enormous piece of iron
that is.

People don't leave plowshares
just lying around.

This is their livelihood.

If they lose something
like that,

you would literally starve,

because you couldn't
cultivate your fields.

So this quite exceptional.

They're really very rare finds.

11th-century records reveal

there was once an Anglo-Saxon
settlement on this site.

But why would its inhabitants
abandon such an important item?

The plowshare has told the team
how deep they need to dig

to look for further traces
of habitation,

so they can step it up a gear.

Digging stuff out by hand
is really boring.

This bucket enables us to get
down to the archaeology

much more quickly.

This will do just the job.

God knows what's in that one.

There's something there.


You found me something?

We have something to show you.




That's brilliant...
It's a gaming piece.

- Hole in the bottom.
- Yep.


This is what we're looking for.

This lead gaming piece
is almost identical

to those found at Torksey.

That's the presence
of the Viking army.

Yeah, I mean,
this is the smoking gun,

- isn't it?
- That's right.

The gaming piece was found
only 30 feet away

from where
the plowshare was discovered.

And now that spot of earth
is beginning to tell its story.

- See it there, yes.
- What's that? Yeah.

You can see where
it's got a lot redder.

It's really clear.

I would say
that this orange sand here

and the red sand

is evidence of burning.

Because when you burn sand
at a high temperature,

it goes to all of
these beautiful sunset colors.

These are some of the things

that have come out
of this trench here,

in this area that we are
associating with the burning.

We have found
a huge amount of charcoal,

some really, really big lumps,
and these are brilliant,

because you can actually see
that these are planks of wood.

They were found
in a nice, rectangular line

and putting it all together,

we seem to be getting
a building,

and that building may well have
burnt down.

Okay, I've got a theory.

Do we have a Pompeii moment

down there, hmm?


By which I mean,
a catastrophic event happens

and freezes everything in time.

This is actually
a Saxon building.

- We know the Vikings are here.
- Yeah.

They're burning
Saxon houses down.

The inhabitants fled,

and nobody came back
to recover the artifacts.

According to Mark's theory,

the precious plowshare
was left behind

because the wooden Anglo-Saxon
building it was in

was burned down
by the Viking army.

I think that's,

that's not quite as crazy
as it sounds.

The artifacts discovered
by detectorist Rob

already point to a Viking camp
at Foremark.

And now, Cat's team is beginning
to unearth evidence

of the terror
the army might have brought

to the local population.

If this really is
what we think it is,

then that's hugely exciting,

because it's actually directly
showing evidence

of those attacks and
what that must have been like

for the people living here
at the time.

Together, Foremark and Repton
now form

one of the most important
Viking sites

in Britain,

which Cat's team will continue
to explore

for years to come.

I'm really pleased.

We've definitely found
the Great Heathen Army.

It's all in the tiny
little bits of evidence.

It's not the big structures,

it's not big fortifications
and whole ships.

It's just
the small, single items

that tell us so much
of the whole story.

I actually think we're now
just scratching the surface,

that further investigations
of this site

is, is going to totally change
our understanding

of the early Viking age
in England.

According to the "Chronicle,"

after moving on
from its winter camp,

the Great Army began
to fragment.


the Anglo-Saxon tribes rallied

and by the year 878,

they had finally gained
the upper hand.

The Great Army scattered,

many of its warriors settling
in England.

Local children were now
being born

with Scandinavian blood.

And, as at Foremark,

English places were given
Norse names,

a reminder today

of a land once occupied
by the Vikings.

It was the relationship between
the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons

that led to the formation
of England as a single nation.

The Vikings changed England

The Vikings made a huge impact,

not only on this part
of Derbyshire,

but on the whole country.

This is the real evidence,
this is the actual,

on the ground,
the real, hard facts.

And I'm so, so happy
to have been part of that.

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