New research establishes history of rare Viking helmet

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It was first uncovered in the 1950s. But only now has new research concluded that the helmet found buried in Yarm, Teesside, is the first ever Viking helmet to be discovered in Britain.

The corroded helmet would have been an essential component of protection for any Viking warrior. Several iron bands and plates, riveted together, would shield the wearer during the violent clashes for which the warriors are renowned.

The artefact is one of only two near-complete Viking helmets in the world.  Image: Preston Park Museum.
The artefact is one of only two near-complete Viking helmets in the world. Image: Preston Park Museum.

The artefact was originally discovered in Yarm’s Chapel Yard by workmen laying new sewage pipes nearly 70 years ago.

The waterlogged grounds in which it was buried made its survival extremely unlikely. Further adding to its value is the fact that, during that period, both Anglo-Scandinavians and Saxons were Christians and therefore did not tend to bury objects in graves.

The new research, led by Dr Chris Cable, Emeritus Reader of Durham University, settles decades of intense debate over its origins.

Recent findings from other archaeological discoveries, as well as analysis of metal and the effects of corrosion, have established its origins in 10th-century northern England.

Dr Cable described the project as ‘challenging,’ adding that, ‘as the thin iron sheet is now very susceptible to corrosion (it has to be kept in very dry conditions), so it was not simply a question of only showing the date at which it was created, but working out how it had survived until it was unearthed in the 1950s.’

Emphasising the rarity of the object, Cable added, ‘Although there are half a dozen early medieval helmets from Britain, the Sutton Hoo and Coppergate helmets being the most famous, this is the first Anglo-Scandinavian (Viking) helmet from Britain.’

Indeed, it is only the second near-complete Viking helmet in the world, the other being the Gjermundbu helmet, which was found in Norway in 1943 and is currently on display in Oslo.

Since 2012, the Yarm helmet has been a fixture at the Preston Park Museum in Stockton-on-Tees.

This article was published in the October/November issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

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