A number of exceptionally rare Viking burials, probably dating from the early 10th century, have recently been discovered on farmland at Cumwhitton, Cumbria. Excavations carried out by Oxford Archaeology North found six richly furnished graves, containing swords, spears, jewellery and the remains of spurs and a possible horse harness. Other than a small fragment of skull no human bone had survived in the acid soil conditions, but the objects found in the graves suggest that four men and two women had been buried here.

Right Detail of Brooch from grave (click for larger image)

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To date, all the Viking burials that have been identified in the North West are high status individuals who probably represent the first generation of settlers who died as pagans but whose heirs rapidly converted to Christianity. The fact that the Cumwhitton burials were all aligned roughly east/west could be indicative of individuals with leanings towards Christianity who were buried in a richly-furnished pagan-style, perhaps as an example of ‘cultural conservatism’ designed to establish the presence in the landscape of recently established Norse-dominated territories.

Image of the site showing the grave cuts (click for larger image)


( Sword under excavation, click for larger image)

This discovery is of immense significance for our understanding of the early medieval period in the North West. It has been noted that ‘extraordinarily few’ Viking graves have been discovered in Western Europe, despite the extensive period of Norse influence, and certainly only very limited numbers of apparently Viking Age burials have been found in the North West, the majority in Cumbria. Without exception, these have been recorded in an antiquarian context, no new sites having been recorded for more than an hundred years. In all, only 12 possible or certain Viking Age burials have been identified in Cumbria and Lancashire and the majority of the recorded burials were found as single graves, some apparently in purpose-built mounds, or re-using prehistoric monuments.

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spurs in detail

Details of spurs found in grave (click for larger image)