Viking helmet discovered in England

In the 1950s a corroded, damaged helmet was discovered in the small town of Yarm in northeast England. It has been on display for decades at a local museum. Now, new research has shown that it dates back to the tenth century Anglo-Scandinavian (Viking) helmet, the first ever found in Britain and only the second nearly complete Viking helmet found in the world.

This unusual find was discovered in Chapel Yard, Yarm, by workmen digging trenches for new sewerage pipes. Known locally as the ‘Viking helmet’, it has been on loan to Preston Park Museum from Yarm Town Council for a number of decades. It had never previously been researched and the age of the helmet had caused much debate until now.


In recent years a project led by Chris Caple of Durham University, has been underway to discover new information about this artefact. Caple and his colleagues have used evidence from recent archaeological discoveries as well as analysis of the metal and corrosion to reveal it to be an Anglo-Scandinavian helmet made in the 10th century in northern England. The results have been published in the journal Medieval Archaeology.

“We were initially alerted to the object by our colleagues at Preston Park Museum,” Caple explains. “It was a challenging project, 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. Our analysis showed that it was initially preserved in waterlogged conditions, only later becoming damaged and starting to corrode. Fortunately it was discovered before it corroded away completely.

The Yarm helmet – photo courtesy Durham University

“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.

“Whilst the Saxon helmets were often highly decorated and were worn by warrior leaders, as much symbols of authority as helmets, by the 10th century we can now envisage that most professional warriors had helmets like the Yarm Helmet. They were simply manufactured, well designed to protect the wearer (rivets flush with the surface so they did not catch bladed weapons) but no longer decorated. Together with a mail hauberk (shirt of chain mail), a helmet was essential personal protective equipment for a warrior. We see almost all the combatants in the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry wearing helmets and hauberks.

“The only other near complete Viking helmet is from Gjermundbu in Norway. They do not normally survive because by the 10th century both Anglo-Scandinavian and Saxons were Christian and no longer buried objects in graves. This helmet, like the Coppergate helmet appears to have been hidden in a pit.”

In the article, Caple also examines whether or not the item might have been a fake, but finds that to be highly unlikely:


Though the slim possibility that it is a modern replica still exists, the spectacle mask and mail curtain were not features normally understood as present on Saxon/Viking helmets prior to the discovery and publication of Valsgarde 6 in 1934. Even after their discovery such a plain and simple helmet would not correspond with public perceptions of a ‘Viking’ helmet. Any helmet ‘knocked together’ in the 1940s based on discoveries at Sutton Hoo would not be made of phosphorus-rich iron derived from a bloomery forge, but mild steel. Thus, the balance of probability now clearly indicates that this is a genuine Anglo-Scandinavian helmet of late-9th- to 11th-century date, most probably from the 10th century.

He adds that this find offers further evidence that the town of Yarn, which is southeast of Durham, was a trading settlement during this period, which would have attracted Norse and other peoples.

The Yarm Helmet has been on permanent display at Preston Park Museum since 2012, where its condition is closely monitored and it continues to be one of the star objects on display.


“It’s very exciting to have confirmation that the Yarm Helmet on display at Preston Park Museum is a very rare example of a Viking helmet and the first to be found in Britain,” says Councillor Jim Beall, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Health, Leisure and Culture. “The museum is open to the public once again and it is great to welcome visitors to see this fascinating piece of history.”

Alan Gallafant, Chairman of Yarm Town Council, adds: “Yarm Town Council are delighted that the provenance of this important historic helmet has been confirmed, thanks to the work carried out by Dr Chris Caple and Durham University. Yarm Town Council welcome the launch of this exciting development on Yarm’s history.”

To learn more about the Preston Park Museum, please visit their website.

The article, “The Yarm Helmet,” by Chris Caple, is published in Medieval Archaeology, Vol.64. Click here to access the article from Taylor and Francis.

Top Image: Courtesy Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council