The arrival of successive groups of settlers from the continent between the 6th and 9th centuries AD left its greatest mark on the place names of the Dales although interpreting such evidence is fraught with difficulty. Dentdale for instance has many farms with Viking names but no archaeological sites have been found to back this evidence up. Archaeologists still argue about exactly how many Anglian and later, Viking, ‘invaders’ there were. Some see large populations in the place name evidence, others see warriors entering local society as owners of the estates of their native rivals.
Apart from place names, little archaeological evidence has been found for the first Anglian settlements in the Dales. A few artefacts have turned up as chance finds, such as the collection from Fleets Farm, East Witton found in 1884. This includes an iron shield boss, annular brooches and glass beads. They probably came from a burial rather than a domestic site.
Viking warrior-farmers started arriving from the late 8th century. Those originating in Denmark, came from the east, via York. Others, originally Norwegian, came from Scotland, Ireland and north west England at a slightly later date. A single example of an Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead has been excavated in the Yorkshire Dales, near Ribblehead. The site consisted of a small collection of buildings clustered together on what is now almost bare limestone pavement. Very few artefacts were discovered, but four Northumbrian coins called stycas were found, dating the site to the third quarter of the 9th century. The date and the ‘long house’ style of building led archaeologists to believe it was built by Anglo-Scandinavian colonists.
Christianity gradually took hold among the invaders. An early medieval reliquary from Littondale would have once been the precious possession of an Anglo-Saxon Christian. The burial of a 9th/early 10th century Anglo-Scandinavian farmer was discovered during grave digging in Wensley churchyard. He was found with an Anglo-Saxon style sword but the rest of the burial was clearly in the Viking tradition. Evidence for earlier Anglian burials in the cemetery shows a continuity of use from early Christian times so the Viking farmer seems to have been hedging his bets with his pagan style of burial.
The most interesting evidence for the mixing of cultures in this period comes from the group of carved stone crosses and hogback tombs found in Burnsall, centre of an apparently Anglo-Scandinavian estate. Free standing crosses like the Burnsall examples were commissioned by the wealthy rather than the Church. They date to the 10th century and their style is a combination of Anglian and Danish Viking apparently showing how these cultures were learning to live with each other on foreign soil.