When Oxford University archaeologists discovered in 2010 a 10th century AD mass grave of 34 bodies beneath the site that had been selected for new St. John’s building development. Mass graves were common as this is where the Anglo-Saxon’s put executed men. But the men of this grave did not fit the usual pattern.
Research showed these men were all dumped at the same time. They were aged between 16 and 35 and larger than the average Anglo-Saxon citizen. Chemical composition tests that revealed a diet dominant in fish suggested that the grave dwellers were Vikings.
History records point to these men as victims of a massacre by King Aethelred the Unready. On November 13, 1002, he decreed that “all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle weeds amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination.” The nature of the graves actually paints the events in a slightly more sympathetic light, as only fighting men based near the king’s seat of power seem to have been targeted.
About a century earlier the Scandinavian Vikings, with sophisticated sailing vessels, began a several century campaign of conquest in Europe. The Anglo-Saxon king’s decree which is linked to the St. John’s gravesite, resulted in Viking retaliation. The Vikings ultimately conquered England, and changed the course of history. In A.D. 1017 Canute, the son of Svein, was crowned the nation’s king in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.