26 September 2010

St Brice's Day Victims Found?

An article by David Keys, the archaeology correspondent of the Independent, in the Smithsonian's magazine, suggests that some old bones found when building a new student residence for St John's College, Oxford, are those of victims of the St Brice's Day massacre in November 1002. They are from between 34 and 38 individuals, 'all of them victims of violence'. They have been dated to between 960 and 1020, and had a marine diet. Ergo, they were Vikings. Keys links this new evidence with the Weymouth massacre, which I mentioned here in March. What I hadn't noticed back then was that Keys had published an article in the Independent, linking the Weymouth massacre with St Brice's day, a link not I think made explicitly by other reports of the finds. Oxford is of course the only specific place for which there is historical evidence for the massacre.
Back in 2002, we marked the millennium of the massacre with a small conference here at Nottingham. Although the papers were not published then, three of them were given again, in revised form, at a conference in Copenhagen, and then published in the proceedings of the Seksogtyvende tværfaglige vikingesymposium (2007). For those who are interested, I'd particularly recommend Julia Barrow's paper on 'Bishop Brictius - Saint Brice', which links the massacre to the autumn slaughter of livestock, and concludes:
Therefore, if we picture ourselves in Oxford in November 1002 we can imagine the Cornmarket and the High full of animals brought in from the surrounding countryside waiting to be sold to butchers and killed. ... The animal slaughter would probably still have been continuing two days later on St Brice's day, and Æthelred would probably have viewed this day as more appropriate for a massacre of Danes than St Martin's day, Brice being a much less popular, and much less significant, saint than St Martin.

19 September 2010

Fingerposts to the Past

Here's a nice article in The Northern Echo, 'Skuttering and going to Potto', all about the influence of the Vikings on place-names in the Cleveland area of (historical) North Yorkshire, which all enthusiasts know is well-supplied with names of Scandinavian origin, including my favourite, Roseberry Topping (pictured). Anyone who has driven on the motorways of England will know the lorries of Prestons of Potto, though Skutterskelfe is a bit more obscure. The author of the article is clearly as enamoured of the old cast-iron road signs as I am, and picks out some interesting examples, as well as giving a nice plug to our Institute for Name-Studies.