A VIKING war grave unearthed near Weymouth in a landmark discovery will help to tell a new story about the Norse invaders.
The burial pit of decapitated skeletons discovered on the Ridgeway in 2009 during the building of Weymouth relief road has been recognised as a globally significant find.
It is to feature in Vikings: life and legend, a major new exhibition at the British Museum which starts this Thursday.
The skeletons will eventually come back to the county and take pride of place in a newly-refurbished £350,000 exhibition area at Dorset County Museum.
The Vikings exhibition at the British Museum will be the first major display there on Vikings for more than 30 years and will feature many new archaeological discoveries and objects never seen before in the UK. At the centre will be the surviving timbers of a 37-metre-long warship, Roskilde 6, the longest ever found.
The exhibition has been developed with the National Museum of Denmark and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and focuses on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th century to the early 11th century. Elements of the exhibition, including the Ridgeway Vikings, will then move to Berlin where visitors will be able to walk around a specially reconstructed burial pit.
Fifty decapitated skulls and skeletons of young men were found during the earthworks operation for the relief road, prompting experts to think a band of warriors had been executed at the site.
Oxford Archaeology project manager David Score and his team made the remarkable find.
Analysis of teeth revealed they were Scandinavian – Vikings, and the discovery was the first physical evidence of the warriors in this part of Britain, as well as being the best example of a Viking burial pit in the country.
The British Museum said the excavated skeletons would provide a close-up encounter with ‘real’ Vikings and illustrate what happened when things went wrong for the warriors on British soil.
Curator Gareth Williams said: “We had already begun planning the exhibition when news broke out about the discovery of the Weymouth mass grave, so we revised our plans to be able to include it.”
Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor said “The reach and cultural connections of the Viking Age make it a remarkable story shared by many countries, not least here in the British Isles.
"New discoveries and research have led to a wealth of new information about the Vikings so it is a perfect moment to look again at this critical era."
The BP Exhibition Vikings: life and legend is at the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery in the British Museum from March 6 to June 22.
'Conflict and punishment'
The full story of the Viking mass grave in Weymouth is now available to read.
The extraordinary story of conflict and punishment in early mediaeval Britain has been published by the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society in a new book entitled ‘Given to the Ground’: A Viking Age Mass Grave on Ridgeway Hill by Louise Loe, Angela Boyle, Helen Webb and David Score. The book can be bought from the British Museum and also via oxbowbooks.com
The Viking remains will eventually be deposited by Dorset County Council at Dorset County Museum where they will form the centrepiece of its newly-refurbished Ancient Dorset gallery of archaeology supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.