'Massive' Bones of Viking Descendants Found in an Italian Graveyard

'Massive' Bones of Viking Descendants Found in an Italian Graveyard

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Around 800 years ago, 10 people were laid to rest in a cemetery on the Italian island of Sicily. Three were women, two were children. But it was the male skeletons that caught the attention of local archaeologists who uncovered the bones earlier this year. They were far larger than the bones of “normal” Sicilians, with what one archaeologist called a “massive” build.

These hulking skeletons are believed to have been the descendants of Vikings who colonized northern France and, later, southern Italy and Sicily.

A new paper published in the journal Science in Poland describes how a team of researchers uncovered the skeletons—and how the Norse seafarers made it all the way to Sicily.

Throughout the 8th and 9th century, Vikings began traveling south from Scandinavia to raid the monasteries and towns of what is today France. By 911, they were so present, and ferocious, that the French king was forced to cede part of northern France to them. Some Vikings settled there permanently, eventually becoming known as the Normans—Norse men—of Normandy. Later, the same Viking spirit saw them traveling throughout the continent, on expeditions to the United Kingdom and southern Italy.

“In the second half of the 11th century,” lead researcher Sławomir Moździoch explained in a statement, “[Sicily] was recaptured from the Arabs by a Norman nobleman, Roger de Hauteville.”

It’s believed that these skeletons were the descendants of de Hauteville and his crew. Though no artifacts were found around the bones, Moździoch says, “Some of the dead buried in the cemetery were undoubtedly members of the elites or the clergy, as the form of some of the graves indicates.”

The graveyard is close to the ruins of a church, which researchers believe may also have been built by Norman conquerors. This was fortified and built on a hill, for better vantage in times of war, while the architecture is a far more Western European style than is usual for the region, Moździoch said.

Sicily has a checkered history. It’s been variously conquered by, and taken from, the Germanic Vandal tribe, Muslim Byzantine forces, the Normans and Vikings, and the Spanish kings. But it’s perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of the Sicilian mafia, the organized crime syndicate known for their ruthlessness. How many of its members have Viking blood running through their veins, however, is a question for the ages.

Why this famed Anglo-Saxon ship burial was likely the last of its kind

The archaeological discovery at Sutton Hoo—a sensation depicted in the film 'The Dig'—is perhaps the last gasp of a lavish English medieval funerary tradition.

Archaeologists can be a careful bunch. They hedge their bets, question the data at every turn, and tend to spurn any hint of sensationalism. But bring up the ancient burial mounds of Sutton Hoo in southeast England, and even the most circumspect scholar will spout superlatives. Magnificent! Monumental! Unparalleled!

In 1939, archaeologists discovered a 1,400-year-old Anglo-Saxon burial at the site that included an entire ship, as well as a dizzyingly rich cache of grave goods. The spectacular find changed historians’ understanding of early medieval Britain, says Sue Brunning, the curator who cares for the now legendary artifacts at the British Museum. “It transformed everything in a stroke.” (Read more about who was buried at Sutton Hoo.)

Eighty-two years later, the Sutton Hoo ship burial is back in the public eye thanks to The Dig, a new Netflix movie starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, and Lily James. But in the early seventh century A.D., when the last spade of dirt was tossed over the Anglo-Saxon warrior and his treasures, the practice of burying the dead with piles of bling was falling out of fashion. Within a century of Sutton Hoo, most English burials contained little more than decaying bodies. What caused the shift?

“Humans had been burying people in ships for centuries and millennia,” says Brunning. The same went for grave goods. In early medieval Europe, people were rarely buried without at least some of the things they held dear, from beads to coins, horse harnesses, and more.

The Sutton Hoo cache was unearthed by Basil Brown, an untrained excavator hired by landowner Edith Pretty, who was curious about what lay beneath the barrows on her Suffolk property near the River Deben. Over a series of excavations, Brown slowly unearthed 263 precious objects buried in the 80-foot-long Anglo-Saxon ship. The opulent finds, made of materials ranging from iron to gold, bone, garnet, and feathers, included a human-faced helmet, delicately tooled shoulder clasps, household goods, and weapons—many with links to far-flung places like Syria and Sri Lanka.

When the Sutton Hoo artifacts were discovered, they instantly changed historians’ image of the era once called the Dark Ages. The grave goods were exquisitely crafted out of materials from around the world and suggested that the early medieval society portrayed in epic poems like Beowulf might be more reality than myth. “That sort of thing was previously thought to be largely fantasy,” Brunning says.

But the practice of furnishing graves had already started to die out by the time Sutton Hoo’s unnamed Anglo-Saxon elite breathed his last. Between the sixth and eighth centuries A.D., graves in England became simpler and sparser.

Fishy Bones

The new study clears up the date discrepancy by taking into account one crucial detail: The Vikings, famous for seafaring, had a high-seafood diet. This, Jarman notes, skews radiocarbon tests.

Watch Paper Ships and Vikings Set Sail on a Stop Motion Adventure (For Your Consideration)

“It's a phenomenon that we only started realizing,” she says.

When scientists date human bones, they look at the amount of radioactive carbon-14 present. This form of carbon decays over time, so the amount of carbon-14 in bones can tell scientists how long it’s been since the bones formed. However, people who eat large amounts of seafood are subject to what Jarman calls “marine reservoir effects.”

“If you eat fish, then some of the carbon has come from the ocean. Some of these Vikings were eating a lot of fish, so that affects carbon dating,” she says.

For comparison, Jarman notes that if a Viking had killed a fish and a sheep on the same day, radiocarbon dating would make it appear as if the fish had died 400 years before the sheep.

To determine how much the Vikings’ diet may have offset the initial carbon dating, the researchers performed an initial chemical analysis on 17 individuals from various locations at the massive gravesite, as well as a sheep's jaw found at the gravesite.

Jarman now feels comfortable saying that nearly all the bones date to the late 9 th century, making it a strong possibility that the bones come from the Great Viking Army.

Italians think they have found Caravaggio's bones

The remains of Italian painter Caravaggio are presented during a press conference in Ravenna, Italy, Wednesday, June 16, 2010. Researchers announced results of their year-long project, saying they have likely identified the remains of Caravaggio, 400 years after his death. However, the admit they can never be fully certain, saying the attribution can only be given with an 85 percent probability. (AP Photo/Enzo Russo)

Italian researchers believe they have found the remains of Caravaggio, but 400 years later some of the mysteries surrounding the death of the artist may never be solved.

After a year of digging and analyzing centuries-old bones, the researchers said Wednesday they have identified a set of bones they believe to be Caravaggio's, though they admit they can never be 100 percent certain.

They think Caravaggio may have died from sunstroke while weakened by syphilis and other ailments.

The bones — a fragment of the frontal part of the skull, two jaw pieces, a femur and a fragment of the sacrum, or the bone at the base of the spine — were displayed on Wednesday in Ravenna, a northern Italian city where most of the analyses have been carried out. Kept inside a rectangular case, they rested on a silk red cushion.

Caravaggio, died in Porto Ercole, a beach town on the Tuscan coast, in 1610. At 39, the Baroque master had been a celebrity painter, whose notes works included "Bacchus" and "David with the Head of Goliath." He is known for his dramatic use of light, novel perspective and the use of ordinary people — sometimes street thugs — in religious and mythological scenes.

He had also led a dissolute life of street brawls, booze and encounters with prostitutes. His last days are shrouded in mystery.

The team of scientists dug up bones found in Porto Ercole's crypts and brought them to Ravenna to conduct lab tests, while historians combed through archives in search of papers documenting Caravaggio's movements. The group conducted carbon dating, DNA tests and other analyses on the bones, until they singled out one set of fragments — "Find No. 5."

"There can't be the scientific certainty because when one works on ancient DNA, it is degraded," Giorgio Gruppioni, an anthropologist on the team, told The Associated Press. "But only in one set of bones did we find all the elements necessary for it to be Caravaggio's — age, period in which he died, gender, height."

The group says there is an 85 percent probability they are right, though team leader Silvano Vinceti says that is conservative. "We are being cautious," he said. "As a historian I can say we have found the remains. All evidence concurs."

The DNA comparison was conducted between the bones that had been identified and that of some possible male relatives in Caravaggio, a small town in northern Italy where the painter — whose real name was Michelangelo Merisi — was born in 1571. Caravaggio had no known children, therefore no direct descendants.

Gruppioni, who is based in Ravenna, said the researchers identified a genetic combination in those whose last name was Merisi or Merisio, compatible with traces found on the bones in question. Because the bones are old and the DNA degraded, not all genetic characteristics could be confirmed.

Still, the evidence pointed to "Find No. 5." The bones belonged to a man who died between 38 and 40 years of age and at a time around 1610. They also presented a high level of lead and other metals associated with painting. Sediment found on the bones was also compatible with the deeper, older layers of terrain inside the crypt — the level where such old bones were thrown, the researchers said.

The bones belonged to a robust man. Caravaggio, at 170 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches), was tall by the standards of his time.

The cause of Caravaggio's death has been the subject of much conjecture, some of it nourished by the adventurous existence that the artist led. Possibilities raised by scholars range from malaria to syphilis to murder at the hands of one of the many enemies Caravaggio made over the years.

The researchers believe that Caravaggio may have died from sunstroke, saying that 1610 was recorded as an extremely hot year. Caravaggio, who had just arrived by boat carrying his latest works, is believed to have collapsed on the beach. However, Gruppioni said sunstroke leaves no trace on the bones, therefore there is no scientific certainty.

According to the researchers, Caravaggio was buried in the town's San Sebastiano cemetery, and then his bones were dug up when the graveyard was moved.

The San Sebastiano death registry shows no record of Caravaggio dying. But Vinceti says that Spanish authorities who were in charge of the area at the time deliberately chose to bury him secretly so that they could take possession of his paintings undisturbed.

The project wrapped up just as Italy marks the 400 anniversary since Caravaggio's death, remembering him as a revolutionary artist who changed the history of modern painting.

A recent exhibit in Rome marking his death's anniversary and gathering some of his best-known works — such as "Bacchus," "The Cardsharps" and the two versions of "Supper at Emmaus" — drew over half a million visitors.

The bones will be briefly transferred to the town of Caravaggio and then go on display for a few weeks in Porto Ercole.

"It's only right that on the 400th anniversary of his death he is returned to the place where he died," said Vinceti.

Scientists Believe they Have Found the Origins of the Unique Basque Culture

The Basque people have been an enigma to anthropologists for years. With a unique language, traditions, and customs, Basque origins have long been a mystery. Researchers now believe they have finally pinpointed the beginnings of this special group of people - from the results of a study of eight ancient skeletons found in a cave in northern Spain.

According to the BBC, by studying the genomes of human skeletons from El Portalón, Atapuerca, Mattias Jakobsson (a population geneticist) and his team from Uppsala University in Sweden believe that prehistoric Iberian farmers are the closest match to the modern Basques. This new information contradicts the previously held belief that the Basque ancestors we earlier groups of pre-agricultural hunter gatherers.

The cave of El Portalon is well-known to archaeologists, as Dr. Cristina Valdiosera, one of the lead authors in the current study said:

“The El Portalon cave is a fantastic site with amazing preservation of artifact material. Every year we find human and animal bones and artifacts, including stone tools, ceramics, bone artifacts and metal objects, it is like a detailed book of the last 10,000 years, providing a wonderful understanding of this period. The preservation of organic remains is great and this has enabled us to study the genetic material complementing the archaeology.”

Illustration of life at El Portalon Cave during the Neolithic and Copper Age ( Maria de la Fuente )

The eight skeletons from the new study are evenly divided between males and females. There is one male child included in the burials. By using radiocarbon dating, it has been shown that the remains are from between 5,500 – 3,500 years ago (Chalcolithic period/Copper Age and Bronze Age). The later age of most of the individuals and the artifacts found with them (such as pottery) suggest that they were farmers, not hunter gatherers.

Jakobsson and the team extracted DNA from the ancient ancestors and sequenced their genomes. They then took this information and compared their genetic profiles to various prehistoric and modern Europeans. The results showed that the ancient farmers had a mix of genes coming from earlier hunter-gatherers and other farming groups. However, the most shocking information is that the prehistoric farmers from the study are most closely related to modern Basques .

This information is surprising, and even the researchers admit that they did not expect this outcome. How can they explain the genetic and cultural uniqueness of the Basques, so linked to the eight El Portalon skeletons, yet so distinct from other European groups? The rationalization they have provided is that the ancient ancestors to the Basques arrived in the region, mixed with some other framers and hunter gatherers…and then were isolated.

One of the skeletons from the current El Portalon cave study ( MyNewsDesk)

They are still uncertain exactly why the group became separated from others. Jakobsson told the BBC: “It's hard to speculate, but we've been working with Basque historians and it's clear from the historical record that this area was very difficult to conquer.”

"One of the great things about working with ancient DNA is that the data obtained is like opening a time capsule. Seeing the similarities between modern Basques and these early farmers directly tells us that Basques remained relatively isolated for the last 5,000 years but not much longer," Dr. Torsten Günther told Phys.org.

5,000 years is still a relatively long time for a culture. That time has provided sufficient differences between the modern Basques and non-Basques living in the Iberian region. The unique non Indo-European language used by Basques is just one of the features still unexplained.

Title page of a Medieval Basque Language Book ( Wikimedia Commons )

Spoken language is not identified by artifacts or genes, thus modern researchers can only make assumptions on what could be the origins of Euskara (the Basque language.) Researchers in the current study have suggested that the early farmers from this study passed on a language that was present before the Indo-European languages swept across the continent. Nonetheless, they agree that it may be instead that the Basque language predates the farmers and descended from earlier hunter gatherers who maintained their language despite the incoming farmers. Ez dakigu…

Biblical Villains or Israelite Ancestors?

Biblical accounts generally portray Canaanites as the arch-enemies of early Israelites, who eventually conquered Canaanite territory and either exterminated or subjugated its people.

Archaeologists, however, identify the Canaanites as a collection of tribes of varying ethnicities that appears in the Levant around the beginning of the second millennia B.C. Over the centuries, they were at various times independent city-states or client states under Egyptian control, and their presence is recorded in letters from Bronze Age rulers in Egypt, Anatolia, Babylon, and elsewhere in the region.

Despite massive cultural and political upheaval in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age in the 12th century B.C., Canaanite presence persisted in the region, most notably in powerful port cities along the coast, where they were known to the Greeks as Phoenicians.

No archaeological evidence for the widespread destruction of Canaanite settlements described in the Bible has yet been identified, and many scholars believe that the Israelites, who appear around the beginning of the Iron Age, may have originally been Canaanites.

  • The woman is based on skeleton found in a Viking graveyard inSolør, Norway
  • She was buried surrounded by a hoard of deadly weaponry in the grave
  • British scientists brought her to life using facial recognition technology
  • The female warrior has now been preserved in Oslo's Museum of Cultural History

Published: 16:13 BST, 2 November 2019 | Updated: 16:36 BST, 2 November 2019

Scientists have re-created the face of a female Viking warrior who lived more than 1,000 years ago.

The woman is based on a skeleton found in a Viking graveyard in Solør, Norway, and is now preserved in Oslo's Museum of Cultural History.

While the remains had already been identified as female, the burial site had not been considered that of a warrior 'simply because the occupant was a woman', archaelogist Ella Al-Shamahi told The Guardian.

But now British scientists have brought the female warrior to life using cutting-edge facial recognition technology.

Scientists reconstructed the face of the female warrior who lived more than 1,000 years ago by anatomically working from the muscles and layering of the skin

And scientists found the woman was buried with a hoard of deadly weaponry including arrows, a sword, a spear and an axe.

Researchers also discovered a dent in her head, which rested on a shield in her grave, that was consistent with a sword wound.

It is unclear whether the brutal injury was the cause of her death however it is believed to be 'the first evidence ever found of a Viking woman with a battle injury', according to Ms Al-Shamahi.

She added: I'm so excited because this is a face that hasn't been seen in 1,000 years… She's suddenly become really real.'

Archaeologist Ella Al-Shamahi comes face to face with the skull of the Viking woman who was found buried among a hoard of deadly weaponry in a Viking graveyard in Solør, Norway

The expert who is a specialist in ancient human remains is set to present a National Geographic documentary featuring the reconstruction.

The face was built up anatomically working from the muscles and layering of the skin.

Dr Caroline Erolin, a senior lecturer at the University of Dundee in the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification which worked on the reconstruction said: ' The resulting reconstruction is never 100 per cent accurate, but is enough to generate recognition from someone who knew them well in real life.'

The technology also recreated the woman's grave showing the placement of the weapons.


Palaeolithic Edit

Taforalt cave in Morocco is possibly the oldest known cemetery in the world. It was the resting place of at least 34 Iberomaurusian individuals, the bulk of which have been dated to 15,100 to 14,000 years ago.

Neolithic Edit

Neolithic cemeteries are sometimes referred to by the term "grave field". They are one of the chief sources of information on ancient and prehistoric cultures, and numerous archaeological cultures are defined by their burial customs, such as the Urnfield culture of the European Bronze Age.

Early Christianity Edit

From about the 7th century, in Europe a burial was under the control of the Church and could only take place on consecrated church ground. Practices varied, but in continental Europe, bodies were usually buried in a mass grave until they had decomposed. The bones were then exhumed and stored in ossuaries, either along the arcaded bounding walls of the cemetery or within the church under floor slabs and behind walls.

In most cultures those who were vastly rich, had important professions, were part of the nobility or were of any other high social status were usually buried in individual crypts inside or beneath the relevant place of worship with an indication of their name, date of death and other biographical data. In Europe, this was often accompanied by a depiction of their coat of arms.

Most others were buried in graveyards again divided by social status. Mourners who could afford the work of a stonemason had a headstone engraved with a name, dates of birth and death and sometimes other biographical data, and set up over the place of burial. Usually, the more writing and symbols carved on the headstone, the more expensive it was. As with most other human property such as houses and means of transport, richer families used to compete for the artistic value of their family headstone in comparison to others around it, sometimes adding a statue (such as a weeping angel) on the top of the grave.

Those who could not pay for a headstone at all usually had some religious symbol made from wood on the place of burial such as a Christian cross however, this would quickly deteriorate under the rain or snow. Some families hired a blacksmith and had large crosses made from various metals put on the places of burial.

Modernity Edit

Starting in the early 19th century, the burial of the dead in graveyards began to be discontinued, due to rapid population growth in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, continued outbreaks of infectious disease near graveyards and the increasingly limited space in graveyards for new interments. In many European states, burial in graveyards was eventually outlawed altogether through legislation.

Instead of graveyards, completely new places of burial were established away from heavily populated areas and outside of old towns and city centers. Many new cemeteries became municipally owned or were run by their own corporations, and thus independent from churches and their churchyards.

In some cases, skeletons were exhumed from graveyards and moved into ossuaries or catacombs. A large action of this type occurred in 18th century Paris when human remains were transferred from graveyards all over the city to the Catacombs of Paris. The bones of an estimated 6 million people are to be found there. [6]

An early example of a landscape-style cemetery is Père Lachaise in Paris. This embodied the idea of state- rather than church-controlled burial, a concept that spread through the continent of Europe with the Napoleonic invasions. This could include the opening of cemeteries by private or joint stock companies. The shift to municipal cemeteries or those established by private companies was usually accompanied by the establishing of landscaped burial grounds outside the city (e.g. extramural).

In Britain the movement was driven by dissenters and public health concerns. The Rosary Cemetery in Norwich was opened in 1819 as a burial ground for all religious backgrounds. Similar private non-denominational cemeteries were established near industrialising towns with growing populations, such as Manchester (1821) and Liverpool (1825). Each cemetery required a separate Act of Parliament for authorisation, although the capital was raised through the formation of joint-stock companies.

In the first 50 years of the 19th century the population of London more than doubled from 1 million to 2.3 million. The small parish churchyards were rapidly becoming dangerously overcrowded, and decaying matter infiltrating the water supply was causing epidemics. The issue became particularly acute after the cholera epidemic of 1831, which killed 52,000 people in Britain alone, putting unprecedented pressure on the country's burial capacity. Concerns were also raised about the potential public health hazard arising from the inhalation of gases generated from human putrefaction under the then prevailing miasma theory of disease.

Legislative action was slow in coming, but in 1832 Parliament finally acknowledged the need for the establishment of large municipal cemeteries and encouraged their construction outside London. The same bill also closed all inner London churchyards to new deposits. The Magnificent Seven, seven large cemeteries around London, were established in the following decade, starting with Kensal Green in 1832. [7]

Urban planner and author John Claudius Loudon was one of the first professional cemetery designers, and his book On the Laying Out, Planting and Managing of Cemeteries (1843) was very influential on designers and architects of the period. Loudon himself designed three cemeteries – Bath Abbey Cemetery, Histon Road Cemetery, Cambridge, and Southampton Old Cemetery. [8]

The Metropolitan Burial Act of 1852 legislated for the establishment of the first national system of government-funded municipal cemeteries across the country, opening the way for a massive expansion of burial facilities throughout the late 19th century. [9]

There are a number of different styles of cemetery in use. Many cemeteries have areas based on different styles, reflecting the diversity of cultural practices around death and how it changes over time.

Urban Edit

The urban cemetery is a burial ground located in the interior of a village, town, or city. Early urban cemeteries were churchyards, which filled quickly and exhibited a haphazard placement of burial markers as sextons tried to squeeze new burials into the remaining space. As new burying grounds were established in urban areas to compensate, burial plots were often laid out in a grid to replace the chaotic appearance of the churchyard. [11] Urban cemeteries developed over time into a more landscaped form as part of civic development of beliefs and institutions that sought to portray the city as civilized and harmonious. [12]

Urban cemeteries were more sanitary (a place to safely dispose of decomposing corpses) than they were aesthetically pleasing. Corpses were usually buried wrapped in cloth, since coffins, burial vaults, and above-ground crypts inhibited the process of decomposition. [13] Nonetheless, urban cemeteries which were heavily used were often very unhealthy. Receiving vaults and crypts often needed to be aired before entering, as decomposing corpses used up so much oxygen that even candles could not remain lit. [14] The sheer stench from decomposing corpses, even when buried deeply, was overpowering in areas adjacent to the urban cemetery. [15] [16] Decomposition of the human body releases significant pathogenic bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses which can cause disease and illness, and many urban cemeteries were located without consideration for local groundwater. Modern burials in urban cemeteries also release toxic chemicals associated with embalming, such as arsenic, formaldehyde, and mercury. Coffins and burial equipment can also release significant amounts of toxic chemicals such as arsenic (used to preserve coffin wood) and formaldehyde (used in varnishes and as a sealant) and toxic metals such as copper, lead, and zinc (from coffin handles and flanges). [17]

Urban cemeteries relied heavily on the fact that the soft parts of the body would decompose in about 25 years (although, in moist soil, decomposition can take up to 70 years). [18] If room for new burials was needed, older bones could be dug up and interred elsewhere (such as in an ossuary) to make space for new interments. [13] It was not uncommon in some places, such as England, for fresher corpses to be chopped up to aid decomposition, and for bones to be burned to create fertilizer. [19] The re-use of graves allowed for a steady stream of income, which enabled the cemetery to remain well-maintained and in good repair. [20] Not all urban cemeteries engaged in re-use of graves, and cultural taboos often prevented it. Many urban cemeteries have fallen into disrepair and become overgrown, as they lacked endowments to fund perpetual care. Many urban cemeteries today are thus home to wildlife, birds, and plants which cannot be found anywhere else in the urban area, and many urban cemeteries in the late 20th century touted their role as an environmental refuge. [21] [22]

Many urban cemeteries are characterized by multiple burials in the same grave. Multiple burials is a consequence of the limited size of the urban cemetery, which cannot easily expand due to adjacent building development. It was not uncommon for an urban cemetery to begin adding soil to the top of the cemetery to create new burial space.


Mass graves are a variation on common burial, still occasionally practiced today under normal circumstances. [ clarification needed ] Mass or communal burial was a common practice before the development of a dependable crematory chamber by Ludovico Brunetti in 1873.

In Paris, the practice of mass burial, and in particular, the condition of the Cimetière des Innocents, led Louis XVI to eliminate Parisian cemeteries. The remains were removed and placed in the Paris underground forming the early Catacombs. Le Cimetière des Innocents alone had 6,000,000 dead to remove. Burial commenced outside the city limits in what is now Père Lachaise Cemetery. [6]

Thirty Years' War Edit

The Thirty Years' War was Europe's deadliest religious conflict. In the Battle of Lützen, 47 soldiers perished and were buried in a mass grave. Archaeological and osteological analyses found that the soldiers ranged in age from 15–50 years. Most corpses had evidence of blunt force trauma to the head while seven men had stabbing injuries. [7]

Napoleonic Wars Edit

Several mass graves have been discovered that were the result of Napoleonic battles, mass graves were dug for expeditious disposal of deceased soldiers and horses. Often soldiers would plunder the substantial quantity of corpses prior to burial. Generally the mass graves were dug by soldiers or members of logistical corps. If these weren't available, the corpses would be left to rot or would be burned. Such examples have been found scattered throughout Europe. [8] [9]

Spanish Civil War Edit

There are over 2,000 known mass graves throughout Spain from the Spanish Civil War wherein an estimated 500,000 people died between 1936 and 1939, and approximately 135,000 were killed after the war ended. [10] Several exhumations are being conducted from information given in witnesses' and relatives' testimonies to the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (ARMH). [11] These testimonies serve the purpose of helping geophysicists, archaeologists and forensic scientists to locate graves in order to identify bodies and allow families to rebury their relatives. [10]

In the summer of 2008, information from these testimonies was used to unearth a 4 meter long square grave containing five skeletons near the town of San Juan del Monte. These five remains are believed to be of people that were kidnapped and killed after the July 18, 1936 military coup. [11]

Another mass grave from the Spanish Civil War was found using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). Eyewitness accounts identified two potential locations for an unmarked grave in mountains of Lena in Northern Spain. Both sites were examined and an unmarked mass grave of approximately 1 meter by 5 meters was found. [10]

Korean War Edit

Approximately 100,000–200,000 civilians were killed at the start of the Korean War. These people were flagged by the government of South Korea for potentially collaborating with or sympathizing with North Korea. They were arrested and subsequently executed without trial. [12] The sites where the massacres occurred were forbidden to the public. The bodies were considered to be traitors and the act of associating with them was considered treasonous. [12] Despite this, families retrieved bodies from the shallow forbidden mass graves at the massacre sites.

In 1956, bereaved families and villagers exhumed over 100 decomposed and unidentifiable bodies, ensuring that the complete human skeleton was intact. [12] Each exhumed body was buried in its own "nameless grave" in a cemetery on Jeju Island. There is a granite memorial within the cemetery which bears the cemetery's local name, "Graves of One Hundred Ancestors and One Descendant." [12] This name functions to express the opposite of how the genealogy should be as typically many descendants derive from one ancestor. [12]

1973 Chilean coup d'état Edit

The Chilean military coup against President Salvador Allende occurred on September 11, 1973. The military surrounded the town of Santiago and searched for people hiding in potential guerilla insurgent locations. Civilians were detained for long periods of time and some disappeared. [12] Following the coup, bodies were abundant in the streets and in the Mapocho River. It is estimated that 3,200 people were executed or disappeared between 1973 and 1990 in Chile. Higher estimates are up to 4,500 people. [12] These bodies were taken to morgues to be identified and claimed. Unidentified bodies were buried in marked mass graves. [12]

From this conflict, several hidden mass graves have been identified. In December 1978, 15 bodies were discovered in an abandoned limestone mine in Lonquén. In October 1979, 19 bodies were exhumed after being secretly buried at the cemetery of Yumbel. [12] Mass graves were also identified in Santiago's General Cemetery with multiple bodies being forced into a single coffin. This cemetery had an influx of over 300 bodies within a three-month time span. These mass graves were distinguished by a cross with the initials "NN." "NN" is indicative of the phrase "Nomen Nescio" or "no name." Following extensive media coverage of these mass graves, the Chilean military decided to exhume the bodies from Lonquén, Yumbel, and Santiago's General Cemetery. The military airdropped the exhumed bodies over open water or remote mountain locations. [12]

Turkish Invasion of Cyprus Edit

Many mass graves of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots were found in Cyprus after Turkey invaded the island in 1974. [13] [14] On August 3, 14 Greek Cypriot civilians were executed and buried in a mass grave. [15] In Eptakomi 12 Greek Cypriots were found in a mass grave executed with their hands tied. [16] On the other hand, during the Maratha, Santalaris and Aloda massacre, 126 Turkish Cypriots including elderly people and children [17] were murdered by EOKA B and the inhabitants of the three villages were buried in mass graves with a bulldozer. The villagers of Maratha and Santalaris, 84 to 89 people in total, [18] were buried in the same grave. [19] Mass graves were used to bury Turkish Cypriot victims of Tochni massacre too. [14]

1976 Argentine coup d'état Edit

On March 24, 1976 at 3:21 AM, the media told the people of Argentina that the country was now under the "operational control of the Junta of General Commanders of the Armed Forces." [12] This event and years following it became known as the 1976 Argentine coup d'état. The presiding president, President Isabel Martínez de Perón, had been taken captive two hours prior to the media announcement. The new dictatorship implemented travel bans, public gatherings, and a nighttime curfew. [12] Additionally, the new dictatorship resulted in widespread violence, leading to executions and casualties.

Abducted captives were disposed of in one of the five defense zones within Argentina where they were held. The bodies were typically buried in individual marked anonymous graves. Three mass graves are known to exist on Argentinian police and military premises although other bodies were disposed of through cremation or by being airdropped over the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately 15,000 people are estimated to have been assassinated. [12]

Argentina's largest mass grave's exhumation began in March 1984 at the San Vicente Cemetery in Cordoba. The grave was 3.5 meters deep and 25 by 2.5 meters across. It contained approximately 400 bodies. [12] Of the recovered and exhumed bodies, 123 were of young people violently killed during the 1976–1983 dictatorship. The remaining bodies were identified as older and having died nonviolent deaths such as leprosy. [12]

Vietnam War Edit

Many mass graves were discovered during the Vietnam War. In the fall of 1969, the body count unearthed from these mass graves was around 2,800. The victims buried in these mass graves included government officials, innocent civilians, women and children. They were tortured, executed and in some cases, buried alive. [20]

In Quang Ngai, a mass grave of 10 soldiers was discovered on December 28, 2011. These soldiers were buried alongside their belongings including wallets, backpacks, guns, bullets, mirrors, and combs. [21]

Other larger mass graves of Vietnamese soldiers are believed to exist, with hundreds of soldiers in each grave. [22]

Second Libyan Civil War Edit

The Second Libyan Civil War that began in 2014 is a proxy war between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) of the militia leader Khalifa Haftar. In 2020, the GNA ousted the forces of Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Russia, and captured Tarhuna. The GNA discovered mass graves in the Harouda farm of the town that was under the control of the Kaniyat militiamen, who allied with Haftar in 2019. For a decade, the Kaniyat militia brutalized and killed more than a thousand civilians, where around 650 were murdered in 14 months under the UAE-backed Haftar forces. Thousands of holes were dug by government workers, where 120 bodies recovered. The unearthed remains were used by the families to identify the missing members and only 59 bodies were claimed. Survivors reported that the Kaniyat militia aligned with the UAE-backed Haftar tortured or electrocuted them. Many also reported being beaten by the militia. [23]

Rwandan Genocide Edit

The Rwandan Genocide began after the unsolved death of the Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana, on April 6, 1994. Extremist members of the Hutu government formed an interim wartime government. They called for an extermination of the Tutsi population, Hutu political opponents and Hutu whom resisted the violence. [24] The genocide lasted 100 days and resulted in an estimated 800,000 killings. [25]

Rwandan people sought refuge in gathering places such as churches and stadiums. An estimated 4,000–6,000 people gathered in Kibuye Catholic Church. Around April 17, 1994, the church was surrounded by armed civilians, police and gendarmes. Those inside were attacked with a variety of weapons including grenades, guns, and machetes. Survivors of the attack were sought after and killed in the following days. Burial of these bodies took place in at least four mass graves. [26]

The first mass grave resulting from this attack was discovered behind the church where several bodies were left unburied and scattered. In December 1995, archaeologists surveyed the area and flagged any potential human remains. In January 1996, forensic anthropologists located and exhumed 53 skeletal assemblages. [26] A second mass grave was found under a tree marked with wire, indicating a memorial. Below the tree was a trench filled with multiple bodies. The third and fourth mass graves were found using a probe to test for deteriorating remains. The third grave was marked by the local population, similar to the second grave. The fourth grave was identified by a priest. [26]

Throughout the Rwandan genocide, bodies were buried in mass graves, left exposed, or disposed of through rivers. At least 40,000 bodies have been discovered in Lake Victoria which connects to Akagera River. [27]

Khmer Rouge Genocide Edit

Mass grave mapping teams have located 125 Khmer Rouge prison facilities and corresponding gravesites to date in Cambodia while researching the Killing Fields. These mass graves are believed by villagers to possess tutelary spirits and signify the dead bodies becoming one with the earth. Buddhist rituals, which were taboo at the time, were performed in the 1980s which transformed the anonymous bodies into "spirits of the departed." In the 1990s, religious ceremonies were re-established and the Festival of the Dead was celebrated annually. [27]

Holocaust Edit

The Mittelbau camps held about 60,000 prisoners of The Holocaust between August 1943 and March 1945. Conservative estimates assume that at least 20,000 inmates perished at the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. In early April 1945, an unknown number of prisoners perished in death marches following the evacuation of prisoners from Mittelbau camps to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. [28] [29]


Swedish immigrant [3] Olof Öhman said that he found the stone late in 1898 while clearing land he had recently acquired of trees and stumps before plowing. [4] [5] The stone was said to be near the crest of a small knoll rising above the wetlands, lying face down and tangled in the root system of a stunted poplar tree, estimated to be from less than 10 to about 40 years old. [6] The artifact is about 30 × 16 × 6 inches (76 × 41 × 15 cm) in size and weighs 202 pounds (92 kg). Öhman's ten-year-old son, Edward Öhman, noticed some markings, [7] and the farmer later said he thought they had found an "Indian almanac."

During this period the journey of Leif Ericson to Vinland (North America) was being widely discussed and there was renewed interest in the Vikings throughout Scandinavia, stirred by the National Romanticism movement. Five years earlier Norway had participated in the World's Columbian Exposition by sending the Viking, a replica of the Gokstad ship, to Chicago. There was also friction between Sweden and Norway (which ultimately led to Norway's independence from Sweden in 1905). Some Norwegians claimed the stone was a Swedish hoax and there were similar Swedish accusations because the stone references a joint expedition of Norwegians and Swedes. It is thought to be more than coincidental that the stone was found among Scandinavian newcomers in Minnesota, still struggling for acceptance and quite proud of their Nordic heritage. [8]

A copy of the inscription made its way to the University of Minnesota. Olaus J. Breda (1853–1916), professor of Scandinavian Languages and Literature in the Scandinavian Department, declared the stone to be a forgery and published a discrediting article which appeared in Symra during 1910. [9] Breda also forwarded copies of the inscription to fellow linguists and historians in Scandinavia, such as Oluf Rygh, Sophus Bugge, Gustav Storm, Magnus Olsen and Adolf Noreen. They "unanimously pronounced the Kensington inscription a fraud and forgery of recent date". [10]

The stone was then sent to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Scholars either dismissed it as a prank or felt unable to identify a sustainable historical context and the stone was returned to Öhman. Hjalmar Holand, a Norwegian-American historian and author, claimed Öhman gave him the stone. [11] However, the Minnesota Historical Society has a bill of sale showing Öhman sold them the stone for $10 in 1911. Holand renewed public interest with an article [12] enthusiastically summarizing studies that were made by geologist Newton Horace Winchell (Minnesota Historical Society) and linguist George T. Flom (Philological Society of the University of Illinois), who both published opinions in 1910. [13]

According to Winchell, the tree under which the stone was found had been destroyed before 1910. Several nearby poplars that witnesses estimated as being about the same size were cut down and, by counting their rings, it was determined they were around 30–40 years old. One member of the team who had excavated at the find site in 1899, county schools superintendent Cleve Van Dyke, later recalled the trees being only ten or twelve years old. [14] The surrounding county had not been settled until 1858, and settlement was severely restricted for a time by the Dakota War of 1862 (although it was reported that the best land in the township adjacent to Solem, Holmes City, was already taken by 1867, by a mixture of Swedish, Norwegian and "Yankee" settlers. [15] )

Winchell estimated that the inscription was roughly 500 years old, by comparing its weathering with the weathering on the backside, which he assumed was glacial and 8000 years old. He also stated that the chisel marks were fresh. [16] More recently geologist Harold Edwards has also noted that "The inscription is about as sharp as the day it was carved. The letters are smooth showing virtually no weathering." [17] Winchell also mentions in the same report that Prof. W. O. Hotchkiss, state geologist of Wisconsin, estimated that the runes were "at least 50 to 100 years." [ clarification needed ] Meanwhile, Flom found a strong apparent divergence between the runes used in the Kensington inscription and those in use during the 14th century. Similarly, the language of the inscription was modern compared to the Nordic languages of the 14th century. [13]

The Kensington Runestone is on display at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota. [18]

The text consists of nine lines on the face of the stone, and three lines on the edge, read as follows: [19]

8 : göter : ok : 22 : norrmen : po : . o : opdagelsefärd : fro : vinland : of : vest : vi : hade : läger : ved : 2 : skjär : en : dags : rise : norr : fro : deno : sten : vi : var : ok : fiske : en : dagh : äptir : vi : kom : hem : fan : 10 : man : röde : af : blod : og : ded : AVM : frälse : äf : illü.

här : (10) : mans : ve : havet : at : se : äptir : vore : skip : 14 : dagh : rise : from : deno : öh : ahr : 1362 :

The sequences rr, ll and gh represent actual digraphs. The AVM is written in Latin capitals. The numbers given in Arabic numerals in the above transcription are given in the pentimal system. At least seven of the runes, including those transcribed a, d, v, j, ä, ö above, are not in any standard known from the medieval period (see below for details). [20] The language of the inscription is close to modern Swedish, the transliterated text being quite easily comprehensible to any speaker of a modern Scandinavian language. The language, being closer to the Swedish of the 19th than of the 14th century, is one of the main reasons for the scholarly consensus dismissing it as a hoax. [21]

"Eight Geats and twenty-two Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland to the west. We had camp by two skerries one day's journey north from this stone. We were [out] to fish one day. After we came home [we] found ten men red of blood and dead. AVM (Ave Virgo Maria) save [us] from evil."

"[We] have ten men by the sea to look after our ships, fourteen days' travel from this island. [In the] year 1362."

Holand took the stone to Europe and, while newspapers in Minnesota carried articles hotly debating its authenticity, the stone was quickly dismissed by Swedish linguists.

For the next 40 years, Holand struggled to sway public and scholarly opinion about the Runestone, writing articles and several books. He achieved brief success in 1949, when the stone was put on display at the Smithsonian Institution, and scholars such as William Thalbitzer and S. N. Hagen published papers supporting its authenticity. [22] At nearly the same time, Scandinavian linguists Sven Jansson, Erik Moltke, Harry Anderson and K. M. Nielsen, along with a popular book by Erik Wahlgren, again questioned the Runestone's authenticity. [21]

Along with Wahlgren, historian Theodore C. Blegen flatly asserted [10] Öhman had carved the artifact as a prank, possibly with help from others in the Kensington area. Further resolution seemed to come with the 1976 published transcript [23] of an interview of Frank Walter Gran conducted by Paul Carson, Jr. on August 13, 1967 that had been recorded on audio tape. [24] [25] In it, Gran said his father John confessed in 1927 that Öhman made the inscription. John Gran's story however was based on second-hand anecdotes he had heard about Öhman, and although it was presented as a dying declaration, Gran lived for several more years, saying nothing more about the stone. [ citation needed ]

The possibility of the runestone being an authentic 14th-century artifact was again raised in 1982 by Robert Hall, an emeritus professor of Italian language and literature at Cornell University, who published a book (and a follow up in 1994) questioning the methodology of its critics. Hall asserted that the odd philological problems in the Runestone could be the result of normal dialectal variances in Old Swedish of the period. He further contended that critics had failed to consider the physical evidence, which he found leaning heavily in favor of authenticity.

In The Vikings and America (1986), Wahlgren again stated that the text bore linguistic abnormalities and spellings that he thought suggested the Runestone was a forgery. [26]

Lexical evidence Edit

One of the main linguistic arguments for the rejection of the text as genuine Old Swedish is the term opthagelse farth (updagelsefard) "journey of discovery". This lexeme is unattested in either Scandinavian, Low Franconian or Low German before the 16th century. [27] Similar terms exist in modern Scandinavian (Norwegian oppdagingsferd or oppdagelsesferd, Swedish upptäcktsfärd). "Opdage" is a loan from Low German *updagen, Dutch opdagen, which is in turn from High German aufdecken, ultimately loan-translated from French découvrir "to discover" in the 16th century. [ citation needed ] The Norwegian historian Gustav Storm often used the modern Norwegian lexeme in late 19th-century articles on Viking exploration, creating a plausible incentive for the manufacturer of the inscription to use this word.

Grammatical evidence Edit

Another characteristic pointed out by skeptics is the text's lack of cases. Early Old Swedish (14th century) still retained the four cases of Old Norse, but Late Old Swedish (15th century) reduced its case structure to two cases, so that the absence of inflection in a Swedish text of the 14th century would be an irregularity. Similarly, the inscription text does not use the plural verb forms that were common in the 14th century and have only recently disappeared: for example, (plural forms in parenthesis) "wi war" (warum), "hathe" (hafðe), "[wi] fiske" (fiskaðum), "kom" (komum), "fann" (funnum) and "wi hathe" (hafðum).

Proponents of the stone's authenticity pointed to sporadic examples of these simpler forms in some 14th-century texts and to the great changes of the morphological system of the Scandinavian languages that began during the latter part of that century. [28]

Paleographic evidence Edit

The inscription contains "pentadic" numerals. Such numerals are known in Scandinavia, but nearly always from relatively recent times, not from verified medieval runic monuments, on which numbers were usually spelled out as words.

S. N. Hagen stated "The Kensington alphabet is a synthesis of older unsimplified runes, later dotted runes, and a number of Latin letters . The runes for a, n, s and t are the old Danish unsimplified forms which should have been out of use for a long time [by the 14th century]. I suggest that [a posited 14th century] creator must at some time or other in his life have been familiar with an inscription (or inscriptions) composed at a time when these unsimplified forms were still in use" and that he "was not a professional runic scribe before he left his homeland". [29]

A possible origin for the irregular shape of the runes was discovered in 2004, in the 1883 notes of a then-16-year-old journeyman tailor with an interest in folk music, Edward Larsson. [30] Larsson's aunt had migrated with her husband and son from Sweden to Crooked Lake, just outside Alexandria, in 1870. [31] Larsson's sheet lists two different Futharks. The first Futhark consists of 22 runes, the last two of which are bind-runes, representing the letter-combinations EL and MW. His second Futhark consists of 27 runes, where the last 3 are specially adapted to represent the letters å, ä, and ö of the modern Swedish alphabet. The runes in this second set correspond closely to the non-standard runes in the Kensington inscription. [30]

The abbreviation for Ave Maria consists of the Latin letters AVM. Wahlgren (1958) noted that the carver had incised a notch on the upper right-hand corner of the letter V. [21] The Massey Twins in their 2004 paper argued that this notch is consistent with a scribal abbreviation for a final -e used in the 14th century. [32]

Norse colonies are known to have existed in Greenland from the late 10th century to at least the 14th century, and at least one short-lived settlement was established in Newfoundland, at L'Anse aux Meadows, in the 11th century, but no other widely accepted material evidence of Norse contact with the Americas in the pre-Columbian era has yet emerged. [33] Still, there is some limited documentary evidence for possible 14th-century Scandinavian expeditions to North America.

In a letter by Gerardus Mercator to John Dee, dated 1577, Mercator refers to a Jacob Cnoyen, who had learned that eight men returned to Norway from an expedition to the Arctic islands in 1364. One of the men, a priest, provided the King of Norway with a great deal of geographical information. [34] In the early 19th century, Carl Christian Rafn mentioned a priest named Ivar Bardarsson who had previously been based in Greenland and turns up in Norwegian records from 1364 onward. [ citation needed ]

Furthermore, in 1354, King Magnus Eriksson of Sweden and Norway issued a letter appointing a law officer named Paul Knutsson as leader of an expedition to the colony of Greenland, in order to investigate reports that the population was turning away from Christian culture. [35] Another of the documents reprinted by the 19th-century scholars was a scholarly attempt by Icelandic Bishop Gisli Oddsson, in 1637, to compile a history of the Arctic colonies. He dated the Greenlanders' fall away from Christianity to 1342 and claimed that they had turned instead to America. Supporters of a 14th-century origin for the Kensington Runestone argue that Knutson may, therefore, have travelled beyond Greenland to North America in search of renegade Greenlanders, whereupon most of his expedition was killed in Minnesota, leaving just the eight voyagers to return to Norway. [36]

However, there is no evidence that the Knutson expedition ever set sail (the government of Norway went through considerable turmoil in 1355) and the information from Cnoyen as relayed by Mercator states specifically that the eight men who came to Norway in 1364 were not survivors of a recent expedition, but descended from the colonists who had settled the distant lands several generations earlier. [34] Those early 19th-century books, which aroused a great deal of interest among Scandinavian Americans, would have been available to a late 19th-century hoaxer.

Hjalmar Holand adduced the "blond" Indians among the Mandan on the Upper Missouri River as possible descendants of the Swedish and Norwegian explorers. [37] This was dismissed as "tangential" to the Runestone issue by Alice Beck Kehoe in her 2004 book The Kensington Runestone, Approaching a Research Question Holistically. [38]

One possible route of such an expedition, connecting the Hudson Bay with Kensington, would lead up either Nelson River or Hayes River, [39] through Lake Winnipeg, then up the Red River of the North. [40] The northern waterway begins at Traverse Gap, on the other side of which is the source of the Minnesota River, which flows south to join the Mississippi River at Saint Paul/Minneapolis. [41] This route was examined by Flom (1910), who found that explorers and traders had come from Hudson Bay to Minnesota by this route decades before the area was officially settled. [42]

Watch the video: The Vikings - Francoise


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