A Cambridge archaeologist has declared 54 decapitated skeletons discovered in a mass grave at Ridgeway Hill, Dorset, in 2009, to be Viking mercenaries. Carbon dating and isotype tests have revealed the bodies were Scandinavian and date from the 11th century, leading Dr Britt Baillie from the University of Cambridge to believe the killings may have taken place during the reign of Aethelred the Unready, the man behind the St Brice’s Day massacre. According to Baillie, the men in the grave were murdered methodically, and were beheaded in an unusual fashion from the front. This, she believes, indicates they belonged to a group of Viking killers who modelled themselves on a legendary group of mercenaries, the Jomsvikings.
The wreck of HMS Victory, a predecessor of Nelson’s famous flagship, is to be raised from the sea bed more than 250 years after it was lost in a ferocious storm off the Channel Islands, according to reports. The warship, which could contain gold coins worth an estimated £500 million, sank in 1744, killing more than 1,000 sailors, but was discovered by American company Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2008. The 174ft 9in ship was discovered nearly 65 miles from where it was historically believed to have sunk.
A committee of MPs has announced an investigation into how repairs to London’s Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster could be made after the clock tower was found to be tilting 0.26 degrees and cracks were found in the palace buildings. In October, a construction expert from Imperial College London stated that Big Ben’s lean would not match that of Italy’s famous Leaning Tower of Pisa for at least 10,000 years. The committee has stated that the tilt has not caused any structural problems and stressed that no decisions on repair works would be taken until 2020.
A bronze cast of the death mask of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin has sold for £3,600 at auction in Shropshire. The mask, which was taken from the original plaster death mask by an art dealer in 1990, is thought to be one of only two such pieces in the western world. The lot also included casts of Stalin’s right hand and his withered left hand.
Letters written by the French philosopher Voltaire have been uncovered by an Oxford academic. The 14 letters, which include a signed acceptance from the 18th-century writer for a £200 grant from the British royal family, reveal that Voltaire rapidly acquired links with the powerful and wealthy during his two-year stay in England in the 1720s. They are also the only known examples of Voltaire using an English form of his first name, Francis, instead of Francois in French.