Thirty-seven skeletons found in a mass burial site in the grounds of St John’s College may not be who they initially seemed, according to Oxford researchers studying the remains.
Researchers from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at the University of Oxford carried out a chemical analysis of collagen from the bones and teeth of some of the individuals and concluded that they had had a substantial amount of seafood in their diet. It was higher in marine protein than that found in the local Oxfordshire population, as recorded in existing data.
Testing was done using strontium isotope analysis of tooth enamel, a technique which provides evidence of where an individual lived when the tooth formed. Strontium, a naturally occurring element in rocks and soils, is absorbed by plants and animals, and can be found in trace amounts in mammalian teeth. Strontium isotopes reflect the particular geological conditions so even small traces can be revealing of that individual’s location.
The researchers also looked at data relating to previous research in which an isotopic analysis of dismembered skeletons found in a burial pit at the Weymouth Ridgeway in Dorset identified the individuals as Scandinavian Viking raiders. The decapitated skeletons in Dorset were dated at between 890 and 1030 AD, and were thought to be a group of young men from different countries across Scandinavia. The isotopic analysis of the Dorset group when compared with the individuals found in the mass burial site at St John’s College show similarities.