Monday, 13th May, 2013
Archaeologists map lost medieval Suffolk town of Dunwich under the sea
The streets, churches, market place and town walls of Dunwich, a major town in Suffolk which vanished into the North Sea centuries ago, have been mapped using acoustic imaging to peer through the murky silt which now buries the remains.
A few houses, a museum, a pub and legends of the sound of drowned church bells still ringing from beneath the waves are all that remain today of a port which once rivalled London. However, over the past five years archaeologists, historians, local divers and scientists have joined forces, funded by English Heritage, combining hi-tech equipment, underwater exploration and study of old charts and navigation guides to trace the ruins of what has become the world’s largest underwater medieval town site.
In the Roman period the shoreline was at least 2,000 metres further out.
The town’s slow death began in 1286 when a three-day storm which started on New Year’s Eve wrecked much of the settlement and blocked the river mouth. Further storms silted up what had been an international port, destroying the town’s prosperity, and the erosion of the coastline was remorseless.
As recently as 1736 All Saints [pic 7]was a handsome church with a tall tower: by 1912 only the ruined tower remained teetering on the edge of the cliff, and now nothing remains on dry land.
Although the ruins are only between three and 10 metres (9.8ft to 32.8ft) below the water, visibility is atrocious. Prof David Sear, of the geography and environment department of Southampton University, who led the project, described the Didson acoustic imaging used as “like shining a torch on to the seabed, only using sound instead of light”.
3D visualisation Chapel of St Katherine: The survey revealed ten buildings of medieval Dunwich, including the location and probable ruins of Blackfriars Friary, St Peter’s, All Saints and St Nicholas[pic 2] Churches, and the Chapel of St Katherine.
The new map locates ruins including major churches and a large house which may have been the town hall, scores of other archaeological sites including several windmills, wooden port structures and a town wall which may have been Saxon in origin.
Monday, 13th May, 2013
Visitors to The Collection in Lincoln will have the chance to view the Witham Shield – a masterpiece of British Iron Age art and an icon of Lincolnshire archaeology – when it returns to the county for the first time in 150 years.
‘The Witham Shield: A Spotlight Loan from the British Museum’ runs from March 13 until June 9.
The treasure was discovered during dredging of the River Witham near Washingborough in 1826 and came into the possession of Reverend Humphrey Waldo Sibthorp, the Rector of Washingborough.
It was then owned by collectors Samuel Meyrick and Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks before being donated to the British Museum in 1872.
The British Museum, who have held the shield ever since, has agreed to loan it to Lincoln to give people a unique opportunity to view it.
Antony Lee, collections access officer for archaeology at the county council, said: “We are delighted that the famous Witham Shield is returning to Lincolnshire for the first time in 150 years.
“ It’s a masterpiece of Iron Age art and an iconic object in the British Museum collections.
“Visitors will be able to view the original shield and learn about its discovery, manufacture, decoration and significance.
“There will also be a series of family activity days and lectures to accompany the exhibition.”
Friday, 10th May, 2013
The third volume of A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales has recently been published. This final volume focuses on the inscribed stones and stone sculpture of north Wales c. AD400-1150.
The first two volumes were published in 2007 by University of Wales Press. Volume I by Mark Redknap and John M. Lewis covers South-East Wales and the English Border. Volume II by Nancy Edwards covers South-West Wales. Each volume consists of a full analytical introduction and a catalogue of individual monuments with discussions and numerous illustrations, both photographs and line-drawings.
Volume III provides fresh insights and new interpretations of over 150 monuments, many of which have been found since V. E. Nash-William‘s Early Christian Monuments of Wales was published in 1950. The introductory discussion analyses the historical and archaeological context of the monuments, early research, geology, their form and function, ornament and iconography, and the language and lettering of the inscriptions, as well as their cultural connections, dating and chronology. The well-illustrated catalogue provides more detailed descriptions and analyses of individual monuments.
Nancy Edwards is Professor of Medieval Archaeology at Bangor University. Her research is focused on the early medieval archaeology of Wales and Ireland, particularly on stone sculpture and the Church.
Volume III is published in association with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and the University of Wales Institute for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. Research for Volume III has been generously funded by the British Academy through their grant of a Research Leave Fellowship to Nancy Edwards (2006–8) and a Small Research Grant to finance geological identification of the monuments. Financial assistance has also been received from the University of Wales Board of Celtic Studies and the Cambrian Archaeological Association. Nancy Edwards is also grateful to All Souls College Oxford for a Visiting Research Fellowship, Michaelmass Term 2007, during which time much of the more specialized comparative research was conducted.
Monday, 29th April, 2013
He’s crowded into a sleek sailing ship with 65 other men. Scarcely room to move. It’s been days since anybody has seen land – longer since anyone bathed. The old-timers’ repeated tales of bygone raids and voyages are beginning to wear thin.
His place is behind an oar, but there is no need to row continuously on the North Sea. With wind in the sail, the boat surges towards England, where riches await.
But what is there to do while waiting to reach a foreign coast?
Maybe it was a teenager engaged in a Viking version of tagging a school desk. In any case, someone took out his knife, bent down and traced the outline of his foot on the deck of the Gokstad Ship.
Today, 1,100 years later, researcher and storage manager Hanne Lovise Aannestad shows us a couple of deck planks that are among her favourite artefacts at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.
“I think this particular item gives us a clear idea of what it was like to be living in the Viking Age, in a way that few other things do,” she says.
The Gokstad Ship was excavated in the late 1800s and is a permanent feature of the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo.
For about a decade, from 890 to 900, the ship sailed on ocean voyages. The holes cut for oars along the upper hull are well worn, evidence that the ship had been used for more than just a funeral ceremony.
The ship’s deck was fitted with loose floorboards. These could be lifted up so that supplies and plundered treasure could be stored below deck. The outline of a foot covers two of these floorboards.
“My guess is that some time or another a person was bored and simply traced his foot with his knife. It’s a kind of an ‘I was here’ message,” says Aannestad.
There are two outlines of feet on the Gokstad Ship. One is a distinct right foot. The other is a weaker outline of a left foot on a different floorboard.
The ship was buried on land in a massive grave and the loose floorboards were helter-skelter when it was excavated. So we don’t know whether the planks with left and right feet had been originally next to each other or had been the capricious result of two separate individuals.
This makes the footprints no less fascinating for Aannestad:
“This is an artefact that gives us an empathetic understanding of a person behind the myths of the Viking Age. We know something about major events, of wars and battles and the building of kingdoms and all that, but this little outline puts you right down at the level of an individual,” she says.
“You can’t add a chapter to history with this. It shows that Vikings had feet, but we knew that. Yet it gives us an immediate emotional connection on a general human level. These were real people who went on Viking voyages, not cartoonish stereotypes. The voyages could be boring as well as harrowing.”
The outlines weren’t discovered until 2009. The floorboards were being moved from the museum at Bygdøy when one of Aannestad’s colleagues spotted the carved footprints.
So even 130 years after its excavation, researchers continue to make discoveries about one of Norway’s most famous and thoroughly studied vessels.
Aannestad has measured one of her own feet against a tracing of the carved outline – because no one can actually step on the fragile floorboard, of course. The foot was smaller than hers, and even though people were generally shorter in the Viking days, this was probably a little person.
“It could have been a young man. People were treated as adults much earlier in those days. They took off sooner than we would allow young boys to do today,” says Aannestad.
So we are free to let our imaginations run:
A young lad is bored with the tedium of a long voyage. On a whim he looks down at his foot and considers something that would provide a little diversion.
He was sufficiently dedicated to the task to include his toenails in his outline.
Maybe this was his first voyage and the drawing of his foot took his mind off the test of his manhood awaiting him in English or Irish towns? Perhaps this outline is the foot of a person who grew famous and whose name has been passed down to us through the sagas?
“We can only speculate. We’ll never know. In any case, we see the outline of an individual here,” says Aannestad.
Monday, 22nd April, 2013
Four-thousand year old gold-adorned skeleton found near Windsor
Windsor may have been popular with royalty rather earlier than generally thought.
Archaeologists, excavating near the Royal Borough, have discovered the 4400 year old gold-adorned skeleton of an upper class woman who was almost certainly a member of the local ruling elite.
She is the earliest known woman adorned with such treasures ever found in Britain.
The individual, aged around 40, was buried, wearing a necklace of folded sheet gold, amber and lignite beads, just a century or two after the construction of Stonehenge some 60 miles to the south-west. Even the buttons, thought to have been used to secure the upper part of her now long-vanished burial garment, were made of amber. She also appears to have worn a bracelet of lignite beads.
The archaeologist in charge of the excavation, Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, believes that she may have been a person of power – perhaps even the prehistoric equivalent of a princess or queen.
It’s known that in southern Britain, some high status men of that era – the Copper Age – had gold possessions, but this is the first time archaeologists have found a woman of that period being accorded the same sort of material status.
It’s thought that the gold used to make the jewellery probably came originally from hundreds of miles to the west – and that the amber almost certainly came from Britain’s North Sea coast. The lignite (a form of coal) is also thought to have come from Britain.
The funeral rite for the potential prehistoric royal may have involved her family arranging her body so that, in death, she clasped a beautiful pottery drinking vessel in her hands. The 25 centimetre tall ceramic beaker was decorated with geometric patterns.
Of considerable significance was the fact that she was buried with her head pointing towards the south.
Men and women from the Stonehenge era were often interred in opposing directions – men’s heads pointing north and women’s heads pointing south. Europe-wide archaeological and anthropological research over recent years suggests that women may have been associated with the warm and sunny south, while mere men may have seen themselves as embodying the qualities of the colder harder north!
The woman’s skeleton and jewellery were found 18 months ago – but were kept strictly under wraps until now, following the completion of initial analyses of the woman’s bones – and metallurgical analysis of the gold.
The discovery is part of a still ongoing excavation which started a decade ago. The elite gold-and-amber-adorned Copper Age woman is merely the most spectacular of dozens of discoveries made at the site – including four early Neolithic houses, 40 Bronze Age burials, three Bronze Age farm complexes and several Iron Age settlements.
The excavations are being funded by the international cement company CEMEX, whose gravel quarry near Windsor is the site of the discoveries.
Archaeologist Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, who is directing the ongoing excavation, said that the woman unearthed at the site “was probably an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items. She could have been a leader, a person with power and authority, or possibly part of an elite family – perhaps a princess or queen.”
Wednesday, 10th April, 2013
8,000 artefacts and rising: City dig pronounced the ‘most important ever’ in London
Archaeologists have nicknamed the site ‘the Pompeii of the North’
When archaeologists were called to a site in the City of London where an ugly office block and a bar once stood, they were sceptical that it held any secrets.
Yet six months into the dig on Bloomberg Place, a three-acre site close to Mansion House tube station, experts believed they have stumbled across the most important find of Roman London artefacts in recent memory and have dubbed it the “Pompeii of the north”.
Sophie Jackson, from the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola), is managing the site. She said: “We have a huge amount of stuff from the first four hundred years of London. It will tell us so much about the people of London. We will get names and addresses, things we’ve never had before. It’s really exciting.”
Archaeologists have so far discovered 8,000 objects and expect that to rise to 10,000 by the time the project is finished. These include writing tablets,
clothing, jewellery and
pottery as well as parts of buildings that will help build a picture of thriving London life from around 40 AD to the fifth century.
Ms Jackson said: “Why the site is so incredibly important is the preservation of archaeological finds which are normally decayed, or lost or destroyed on other sites.” The reason many of the objects are so well preserved is that one of London’s lost rivers, the Walbrook River, ran under the site, with the damp conditions preserving the objects.
Michael Marshall, Roman find specialist at Mola, said the findings would “completely transform” understanding of Roman London. “There are very few civilian sites. This is the largest assemblage discovered in London.”
Bloomberg is building its new headquarters on the site and in late 2010 started demolition of Bucklersbury House, build in 1952.
It was that original development – which made the discovery of the Temple of Mithras on the site – that had led the archaeologists to believe there would be little of historical value left.
Ms Jackson said: “We thought that construction had removed all the archaeology on the site. We thought: ‘What a shame, it’s all gone.’ Then we found that around the edges, archaeology survives.”
Yet, the newly uncovered treasures include 250 leather shoes, writing tablets that may give clues to names and addresses of Roman Londoners, as well as several items never seen before.
This included a stitched leather furnishing never before seen in Roman discoveries and
an amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator’s head.
Over 150 fragments of writing tablets have been discovered in one room – in what was described as similar to finding an abandoned filing cabinet – with information written on or scratched into them about people who lived in London at the time.
Archaeologists expect to double the number of names known in London to over 30, although nothing is certain. Mr Marshall said: “It’s an amazing accident when the text survives.”
Ms Jackson added: ““These are really exciting; there are only 14 references to London in all of Roman literature.”
The objects ended up in the ground generally from two ways, people throwing objects into refuse pits, or throwing them into the river as offerings.
The wetness of the ground proved particularly fortuitous, helping preserve the organic remains, and Mr Marshall called it the “best site in London” for Roman remains.
“No oxygen could get at the organics, so wood, leather, horn, and occasionally textiles survive in these conditions. The rest of the city of London doesn’t get that water logging. It gives us a picture of what it would have been all over the whole city.” The Temple of Mithras, which was dismantled and moved down the road in 1954, will also return as part of the building works. It will be restored to the original site with a viewing area built into the new Bloomberg headquarters.
London’s ‘deepest’ Roman excavation finds [pictures with link]
Current Archaeology [pictures with link]
Saturday, 6th April, 2013
To celebrate William Shakespeare’s 449th birthday, visitors to Oxford are being allowed a sneak peek into the room where the Bard stayed when travelling between London and Stratford-upon-Avon.
A former tavern in the centre of Oxford will open its “Painted Room” for one week only from April 23, to display the 16th century paintings on the wall of what would have been its most upmarket guest suite.
The building used to be the Crown Tavern at 3 Cornmarket Street, and Shakespeare’s good friend John Davenant, vintner and mayor of Oxford, was said to host the writer there when he was in town.
The walls were later covered up with wood pannelling and the remarkable floral paintings – used as an early kind of wallpaper - only rediscovered in the 1930s.
Part of the building is now part of a shop property, meaning tourists don’t normally have access to the works of art.
But to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, Oxford Castle Unlocked will offer daily tours with a costumed guide and the chance to sample Malmsey and Sack (sweet wine) and simnel cake while the stories of the Painted Room are told.
Whether Shakespeare stayed there, or not, it’s still a remarkable preservation.
Where to see more There was another wall painting of a similar design in 3 Cornmarket itself, in what is thought to have been John Tattleton’s private chamber. This room was discovered, and demolished, in 1934, but a fragment of the painting can still be seen at the Museum of Oxford in St Aldate’s.Two other painted rooms, of very different designs, can also be seen in the former Cross Inn, now Pizza Express, in the Golden Cross (visit in the afternoons).
Secret Oxford [Link includes photogallery of the "Painted Room"]
Friday, 5th April, 2013
Who is the mystery man in the locket found buried at Kendal?
A LONG-lost family heirloom has been discovered during a dig at the former Kendal Auction Mart.
The silver locket, potentially worth hundreds of pounds, was found by archaeologists buried two feet deep in the foundations of what was once an 18th Century cottage in Appleby Road.
There is uncertainty about how old the locket is, but the black and white photograph of the young man is said to date to around 1890-1910.
Those behind the find hope people may recognise the man in the photo so they can reunite it with the family. Or it could end up in Kendal Museum. Work recently started on the former auction mart site to build the first of 94 houses and flats in a joint £4.9 million venture between housing association Home Group Ltd, and developers Time and Tide Group.
Home Group project manager Gail Staton, from Kendal, said: “It’s really quite exciting. The photograph is really good and really clear and it’s the first thing we have found that is quite substantial. We would love to see this locket returned to its rightful owner. It’s a very formal picture, the sort of portrait which copies may have been given to family members so we’re hoping someone will recognise it.”
Jane Hopwood, of Time and Tide, added: “The locket is obviously something that has been given as a gift, or a token of love. It must have been quite significant for that day and age. He was a handsome young man, very smart-looking, and he may have given it to someone before going off to the war, not necessarily the First World War but the Boer War.” How the precious locket came to be in the foundations of the old cottages is a mystery, which has led to theories that it may have been hidden or accidentally dropped and fallen through the floorboards. Melissa Melikian, of AOC Archaeology Group, which conducted the dig, said they were looking for possible medieval remains. “We dug two trenches and although we didn’t find any medieval remains we did uncover remains of an 18th Century cottage and a 19th century mill.”