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Viking barrow cemetery in Heath Wood

A Scheduled Monument in Ticknall, Derbyshire

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Latitude: 52.8294 / 52°49'45"N

Longitude: -1.4939 / 1°29'38"W

OS Eastings: 434194.017647

OS Northings: 325885.549699

OS Grid: SK341258

Mapcode National: GBR 6G0.M3F

Mapcode Global: WHDHD.04WQ

Entry Name: Viking barrow cemetery in Heath Wood

Scheduled Date: 3 December 1951

Last Amended: 29 January 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017561

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29900

County: Derbyshire

Civil Parish: Ticknall

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Foremark St Saviour

Church of England Diocese: Derby


The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of the Viking barrow
cemetery in Heath Wood. The cemetery was in use during the late ninth to early
tenth centuries AD and includes 59 barrows laid out in four spatially distinct
The barrows are circular or sub-circular in shape and vary in height from 0.2m
to 1.4m and in diameter from 6m to 13m. Some were constructed with an
encircling ditch and others without. Approximately a quarter of the mounds
have been partly excavated. The excavations have shown that although cremation
burials are contained within some of the mounds, others are empty. The most
common artefact to be found during excavation was nails, being found in five
of the 15 mounds excavated and all but one of the cremation burials. The nails
represent what remained of ships planking, upon which some of the burials were
laid. This was a traditional, early Viking custom and ranks the burials
amongst the earliest Viking graves in the British Isles.
The Viking cemetery in Heath Wood is the only known example in England. It was
used at a time of instability and insecurity within the period of Viking
occupation. The use of the cemetery spans the conversion from pagan to
Christian beliefs. The mounds containing cremation burials are characteristic
of pagan burial rites, whilst the empty mounds are thought to be cenotaph
graves constructed to commemorate those Vikings given Christian burials in
the churchyard at nearby Repton. The conversion to Christianity was a gradual
one and certain pagan traditions continued in use during this time. Ingleby
Viking cemetery plays an integral part in understanding the adoption of new
cultural beliefs by the Viking communities.
All fences and the surfaces of all modern trackways are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Viking barrow cemeteries comprise closely spaced groups of earthen or earth
and rubble mounds covering single cremation burials. The cemeteries developed
over a considerable period of time and represent the traditional pagan beliefs
of the Viking communities. In contrast to the later Christian burial practice
of burial in hallowed ground often around a church, pagan cemeteries were
close to the settlements they served. Small, rural burial grounds often lay in
sight of the settlement as a group of low mounds on poor agricultural land.
The size of the cemetery can provide evidence as to the population and wealth
of a settlement.
The simplest graves consisted of a hole in the ground, sometimes with a coffin
or hollowed tree trunk which was covered over with a low mound. It was pagan
practice to bury women in costume with their jewellery, or men with weapons or
tools. Each might have treasured possessions and items showing their role and
status in the stratified Viking society. The poor were given nothing. The
richest graves were buried in large wooden chambers or parts of boats. The
Viking tradition of burying the powerful in a boat or under a ship shaped,
stone setting is of great antiquity in Scandinavia. It may reflect the status
of the dead and the mode of the journey to the after life.
Once Christianity began to be adopted by the Vikings older pagan practices
changed and were replaced by new traditions. In places this led to the
deliberate obliteration of evidence of earlier practices.
Possibly as a direct result of this movement few Viking burial sites are known
in England. When identified they can provide important information about the
beliefs and social organisation of Viking communities. They are representative
of their period and any reasonably well preserved examples are considered
worthy of protection.
Heath Wood Viking cemetery is the only known example of its type in England.
The site is well preserved and will retain vital archaeological information
about the organisation, status and beliefs of the people it served. The use of
the site spans an important period in Viking history and provides a vital link
in the adoption of Christianity by Viking communities.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Richards, J D, Jecock, et al, 'Medieval Archaeology' in The Viking Barrow Cemetery at Heath Wood, Ingleby, Derbyshire, , Vol. 1995, (1995), 51-70
RCHME, Royal Commission survey Viking cemetery, Heath Wood, (1994)

Source: Historic England

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