Decapitation in Anglo-Saxon Burials

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Decapitation in Anglo-Saxon Burials

Table of Contents
Introduction1
Execution Burial Tendencies2
Physical Struggle2
Location of Skull4
Location of Burial……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………5 Non Execution Decapitation……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….………………6 Loveden Hill……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….6 Great Addington………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………7 Chadlington……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..7 Mitcham…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………8 Purpose of Decapitation……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………8 Conclusion………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….9

Introduction
Decapitation in Anglo-Saxon burials is mainly interpreted as an act of punishment for criminals or defeated foes of war. There are many indications that support this idea in certain burials, including severe blows to the skull, as well as signs along the neck that indicate death by hanging, which can be found in execution cemeteries such as Mound five at Sutton Hoo. Other instances include mass graves (such as the one of Vikings) which have all been decapitated and thrown together. On the other hand, there are also many examples that do not follow the typical protocol of an execution burial. It is difficult to imagine a different reason for decapitation other than execution, but based on the evidence, it is quite possible that specific cases could have been for other reasons such as tradition or ritual. Although the exact determination of decapitation other than execution are quite difficult to prove, due to frail bone remains and large number of possibilities, there is reason to believe that religious rituals, especially ones of pagan origins, might account for many of the isolated instances of disciplined beheading. Anglo-Saxon pagans did have a reputation of sacrificing for their Gods. Almost all proof is of animal sacrifice, but there have been some reports of human sacrifice by the pagans for religious purposes.i In some instances it is believed that human sacrifice did take place for their war God Woden. Since there is much that is not known about paganism, it is possible that decapitation for purpose of human sacrifice did take place. Specific instances that demonstrate decapitation which might not have been for execution include Loveden Hill in Lincolnshire, where the skull was placed on the stomach of the deceased. Great Addington in Northamptonshire, Chadlington in Oxfordshire, and Mitcham in Survey. None of these examples demonstrate typical execution patterns, and each one of them have similarities between each other that might prove some form of tradition between Anglo-Saxon burials. The differences between executions and sacrifice are fairly difficult to determine. Execution Burial Tendencies

Physical Struggle
Mound five of Sutton Hoo provides a straight forward example of a proven execution cemetery that will be used as a starting point to compare the decapitations for execution and ones that are not. Mound five is located in the eastern part of Sutton Hoo, next to Mound two. Seventeen bodies were found, which included inhumations as well as cremations. Several bodies had discolored markings around the neckii which signified rope from a hanging. Others were missing limbs, or appeared to have their hands or feet tied together. Archeologists look for trauma to detect signs of struggle and punishment to determine the cause of death of the deceased. Some cases are much easier to identify than others, as quality of graves varies. The decapitations showed very little signs of discipline to tradition or respect to the deceased. Decapitated bodies were thrown together in distorted positions. But these facts do not rule out the possibility of sacrifice, as any of the mentioned facts are found similarly in execution burials as they are with...
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