In what has been described as an “amazing coincidence”, a viking runestone with a religious inscription has been discovered on a farm owned by archaeologist Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, an expert on Norse church history.
Found by Dr Gibbon’s father, Donnie Grieve, a retired teacher from Harray, the runes on the broken stone are a 19-character Latin passage of part the Lord’s Prayer — “who art in heaven hallowed” [*(s)insilisantifi(t)s(i)(t)or - '…s in caelis, sanctificetur' with the runic “s” in place of the Latin “c”]
Measuring approximately 8cm by 24cm, it was discovered by Mr Grieve at Naversdale farm in Orphir while he was gathering building stone from a field on September 26.
He said: “I recognised it right away as being runes. It’s very recognisable and very clear.
“It’s unusual, because it’s a Latin inscription — part of the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think there’s any record of any inscription like that in Orkney or Shetland, so it’s unusual.
“There are plenty of runes, but they are mostly Viking graffiti. This is something a bit different.”
Mr Grieve said that since the find he has been looking out for the remaining parts of the stone.
“When looking for other stone, I’ve been keeping my eye open for the other piece, but I think there’s little likelihood of it turning up,” he said.
“It could have come from anywhere, and it’s probably long separated from the other half.”
Dr Gibbon said: “Dad’s discovery of the runestone is really exciting and, as far as I know, a first for Orkney. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the stone. We have sent photographs to Professor Michael Barnes, expert on Orkney runic inscriptions, and I am looking forward very much to hearing what he has to say about the find.
“I am hoping he will be able to shed light on the date of the inscription so that we can begin to put it in its proper local and wider ecclesiastical contexts.”
Dr Gibbon said it was not known how or when the runestone came to Naversdale, but there were a number of possible scenarios.
“Was the inscription carved on a stone in a medieval structure on the farm, or was it brought here at a later date from somewhere else, perhaps from elsewhere on the Swanbister Estate?” she said.
“It would be fascinating to find out more about the history of our farm and the buildings on it, and we would be delighted to hear from anyone with information.”
Dr Gibbon added: “I am looking forward to discovering as much as I can about the runestone, especially as the preliminary findings indicate it is from a medieval Christian context, which is my main area of interest. The fact it was found where I live, by my dad, just makes this even more fascinating.”
Julie Gibson, Orkney county archaeologist, said: “The stone is a very beautiful one, each character evenly placed. I love that it is a religious inscription, and what an amazing coincidence that it should turn up at Dr Gibbon’s house.
“We are so lucky Sarah Jane’s father found it, and that Sarah Jane could recognise its value right away.”
Mrs Gibson added that photos of the stone were sent to Terje Spurkland and Professor Michael Barnes, at Oslo University, where a year long runology project is under way.
“Terje confirmed suspicions that the runes represented slightly corrupted Latin, and he translated them as meaning ‘who art in heaven hallowed’,” she said.
The stone is currently with the Orkney College archaeology department, but it is hoped it will soon be on display at the Orkney Museum.
Thursday, 31st July, 2014
A newly uncovered runic stone-carving was brought to light by Jane Harrison (Senior Associate Tutor working in our Archaeology programmes) working as part of a project team for the intriguing ‘Languages, Myths and Finds‘ programme.
‘Languages, Myths and Finds: Translating Norse and Viking Cultures for the Twenty-first Century’ is a Collaborative Skills Development Programme that brings together graduate students and full-time researchers from across the UK and Ireland to explore the translation of Norse and Viking cultures into the modern day. The project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and is based in five communities with Norse heritage: the Isle of Lewis, Cleveland, the Isle of Man, Dublin and Munster.
The fragment of inscribed runestone was found in the Tees Valley at Sockburn, in the grounds of a ruined church, having been used as building stone. The inscription on it reads: Line A … (ept)ir molmu; Line B… (re)isti krus …
Jane said, ‘We compared this inscription with a formula used in many Scandinavian runes from the Isle of Man: ‘X raised this cross in memory of Y’. The inscription on our stone therefore translates as (line B, then line A) ‘…raised cross… in memory of Máel-Muire/Máel-Maire’. Sadly, the name of the patron is lost.’
Máel-Muire or Máel-Maire is a personal name from the Goidelic – which is an Insular Celtic language from the dialect continuum stretching from Ireland through the Isle of Man to Scotland. The name is linked to the place-name Melmerby (found in Cumbria and in North Yorkshire) and also seen in a runic inscription from the Isle of Man [Br Olsen;215 - Kirk Michael (III)].
‘The runestone is relatively small, measuring approximately 22 cm long, 16 cm wide and 9cm deep,’ said Jane. ‘But it’s a very exciting find, despite its small size: Scandinavian runic inscriptions in England are rare – there are fewer than 20 known.’
‘The character of the runestone suggests links with the west from the north-east. The Tees Valley has been relatively neglected in studies of the period but that’s likely to change. For “Vikingologists”, this runestone is a great find and one that makes a fascinating contribution to understanding the Viking settlement of the North-East.’
Also remarkable is the fact that the stone was found in an area with a high concentration of Norse place names, but little in the way of archaeological and historical evidence – apart from unique hogback sculptures (large stone-carved Anglo-Scandinavian sculptures from 10th-12th century England and Scotland usually found in churchyards).
The Languages, Myths and Finds programme draws on the research ideas behind the Vikings Exhibition at the British Museum to generate new research and an understanding of the Viking Age in areas of the country where that period is important but rarely discussed. Jane worked with project leads Professor Heather O’Donoghue (University of Oxford), Dr Pragya Vohra (Aberystwyth University) and PhD students Ellie Rye, Jo Shortt Butler and Nik Gunn (from Nottingham, Cambridge and York Universities).
In addition to the runic discovery, the team produced a research booklet, spoke at a conference and performed public engagement work with local societies.
For full information on the Languages, Myths and Finds project, please see the programme website, at languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk On the website you can download and enjoy the booklets produced by each of the project teams, including Jane’s team’s work in Cleveland, which can be found at: languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk/north-east-england/
Friday, 4th July, 2014
Tuesday, 24th June, 2014
“A substantial strap mount cast in bronze and decorated with roundels of yellow and red enamel. Both in the casting and the enamelling, this object would require considerable technical skill and is characteristic of the 1st – 2nd centuries AD.
An object like this would have been part of a larger suite used to decorate the trappings of a horse and associated vehicle such as a chariot. It is a symbol of the wealth and power of the owner and symbolic of the warrior elites who were a significant part of Iron Age culture.
Allocated to East Lothian Museums Service.”
Thursday, 12th June, 2014
East Lothian skeleton may be 10th Century Irish Viking king
A skeleton discovered on an archaeological dig in East Lothian may be a 10th Century Irish Viking who was king of Dublin and Northumbria.
King Olaf Guthfrithsson [Óláfr Guðfriðarson][Ánláf] led raids on Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame shortly before his death in 941.
The remains excavated from Auldhame in 2005 are those of a young adult male who was buried with a number of items indicating his high rank.
They include a belt similar to others from Viking Age Ireland.
The find has led archaeologists and historians to speculate that the skeleton could be that of King Olaf or one of his entourage.
A jaw bone was part of the remains found at Auldhame which may belong to King Olaf
Olaf was a member of the Uí Ímar dynasty who, in 937, defeated his Norse rivals in Limerick and pursued his family claim to the throne of York.
He married the daughter of King Constantine II of Scotland and allied himself with Owen I of Strathclyde.
The theory that he could have been buried close to the Auldhame battle site was revealed as Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop visited a Neolithic monument in County Meath, Ireland.
The tour of Newgrange is being used to highlight archaeological links between Scotland and Ireland.
Ms Hyslop said: “This is a fascinating discovery and it’s tantalising that there has been the suggestion that this might be the body of a 10th Century Irish Viking king.”
Dr Alex Woolf, a senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews and a consultant on the project, admits the evidence is circumstantial.
But he said: “Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf’s attack.”
Wednesday, 21st May, 2014
Since the middle-ages, legend has spread of a fearful beast once said to stalk the region’s [East Anglia's] countryside and coastline. Despite tales of a fiery-eyed monster showing up in graveyards, forests and roadsides – and an account of claw marks appearing on the door of Blythburgh Church – the giant dog’s existence has been reserved to the annals of folklore.
Until now, perhaps, as archeologists have revealed evidence of huge skeletal remains unearthed by a member of the public in the trenches at Leiston Abbey last year.
The DigVentures team are set to return to the site this summer, and are again inviting amateur history hunters to take their place alongside the experts from July 8-20, with the prospect of coming across an equally exciting discovery.
Of course, the giant carcass is more likely to be what remains of someone’s beloved canine companion, and is currently being analysed to find out how long it was buried in the grounds of monastic ruins.
The site was left almost untouched until last year, when site managers, and chamber music academy, Pro Corda teamed up with DigVentures to run only the second ‘crowdfunded’ community project of its kind.
DigVentures managing director Lisa Westcott Wilkins said: “We’re still waiting for results from specialists but we believe the bones are from when the abbey was active – so they could be medieval.
“The dog is huge – about the size of a Great Dane – and was found near where the abbey’s kitchen would have been. It was quite a surprise. We’re all dog lovers and we have a site dog with us on our digs, so it was quite poignant. Even back then, pets were held in high regard.”
It is hoped the skeleton will be exhibited as part of this year’s dig, which has received financial backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund to allow organisers to replace paper context sheets with a digital recording system, tailored to meet the needs of a worldwide community archaeology team.
Mrs Westcott Wilkins, whose team includes former Time Team archaeologist Raksha Dave, said: “There is evidence of a prehistoric age at the abbey, which even English Heritage had been unaware of. We’re really looking forward to going back. This year we can involve the public much more. They can get immediate online access.”
Saturday, 17th May, 2014
Groundbreaking scan reveals evidence of ritual human sacrifice…in Salford
Scientists and archaeologists at the University of Manchester have uncovered evidence that our ancestors carried out ritual human sacrifice … in Salford.
The discovery, captured on camera for an upcoming Channel 5 documentary, was made during a ground-breaking CT scan of the 1,900-year-old remains of ‘ Worsley Man’ – whose head was found in a Salford peat bog [Chat Moss] in 1958.
Worsley Man, now kept at Manchester Museum but thought to have lived around 100AD when Romans occupied Britain, has been X-rayed before – but never with such an advanced scanner .
The 3D scan at the Manchester X-Ray Imaging Facility revealed a sharp, pointed object hidden deep within Worsley Man’s neck.
According to archaeologist Dr Melanie Giles from the University of Manchester this object appears to be a ceremonial spear tip that snapped off when thrust into him.
Forensic analysis has revealed that the Iron Age victim was also smashed over the head with a heavy blade, garrotted and decapitated – in a gruesome group attack.
Dr Giles said: “It’s revealing a completely new injury that hasn’t seen the light of day for nearly two thousand years. To see it on a computer screen is no less exciting than finding it in the soil and uncovering it with your trowel. It’s a modern way of making discoveries and that’s ground-breaking and very exciting.”
Remarkably, this vicious killing in a bog does not appear to be a one-off.
Worsley Man is one of dozens of Iron-Age bodies unearthed in peat bogs throughout Northern Europe that show signs of violent death*. Many of these iron-age victims have been incredibly well preserved by the bog.**
Cold, airless conditions prevent flesh-eating micro-organisms from destroying soft tissue whilst acid within the bog effectively tans the flesh turning bodies to leather.
Murdered: The Bodies in the Bog follows Dr Melanie Giles as she investigates Worsley Man and the rest of these bizarre human remains in an attempt to understand why they were violently killed and dumped in bogs.
Murdered: The Bodies in the Bog will be broadcast on Channel 5 at 7pm on Friday, May 23.
Tuesday, 22nd April, 2014
Anglesey: Mysterious artefact discovered at Neolithic tomb
Find at Perthi Duon excavation site near Brynsiencyn could prove existence of a British Copper Age says archaeology expert
The discovery of a mysterious copper artefact at a Neolithic tomb on Anglesey could help to answer one of archaeology’s burning questions.
Dr George Nash, who led the excavation at Perthi Duon near Brynsiencyn says the find could lend weight to the idea of a British Copper Age, which is currently being debated by archaeologists.
Perthi Duon – described by Dr Nash as Anglesey’s “least known Neolithic chambered tomb” – is believed to have been a portal dolmen, a type of single-chamber tomb mostly built in the early Neolithic period, and dates to around 3,500BC or earlier.
The site was examined as early as 1723, when antiquarian Henry Rowlands visited and drew the tomb, which then stood upright.
Dr Nash, of Bristol University, said the monument was in a “ruinous” state by the early years of the nineteenth century and had been incorporated into a boundary hedge.
An international team of archaeologists from the Welsh Rock Art Organisation recently excavated the site and uncovered “several significant features”, said Dr Nash.
Among them was the “curious” copper artefact, which could be a piece of jewellery worn thousands of years ago.
Dr Nash said: “This item could be an important discovery which may reinforce the notion of a Copper Age in the British Isles. Copper items from the British Neolithic (c. 4,000 – 2,000BC) and Early Bronze Age (c. 2,500 – 1,800BC) are considered rare.”
The Copper Age followed the Neolithic Era and is considered a part of the Bronze Age. The period is defined as a phase of the Bronze Age in which metallurgists had not yet discovered that bronze could be made by adding tin to copper.
While a Copper Age has long been recognised in Europe, the question of whether Britain experienced such a period is still debated by archaeologists.
Dr Nash said: “The big question in archaeology at the moment is whether there was a Copper Age in Britain.
“Did copper come to Britain before bronze?
“This discovery helps to suggest that we did have a Copper Age.”
The copper artefact will be subject to scientific testing in a bid to learn more about its origins.
Ploughing around the monument during the latter part of the 20th century caused “a lot of disturbance” to the archaeological remains, said Dr Nash.
However, other finds made at the site included areas of compacted stone which would once have formed a kidney-shaped mound around the chamber, and a rare circular stone socket which would have supported a kerbstone used to delineate the shape of the monument. Shards of pottery were also found.
Dr Nash said: “These discoveries clearly show this monument to be a portal dolmen, one of the earliest Neolithic monument types in Wales.
“More importantly, the architecture of Perthi Duon appears to be a blueprint for other portal dolmen monuments within what is termed the Irish Sea Province. From this excavation, we now have a better understanding of the burial and ritual practices that went on at this site some 5,500 years ago.”
In Neolithic times, the dead would have been deposited within the chamber as a cremation or, in later years, as disarticulated remains.
Wednesday, 19th March, 2014
Chiseldon village’s replica Iron Age cauldron unveiled
A full-size replica of an Iron Age cauldron found in a Wiltshire field as part of “the biggest Iron Age find to date” has been unveiled.
The large cauldron is one of 17 found by a metal detector enthusiast near the village of Chiseldon in 2004.
The cauldrons, described as “too fragile and important ever to return to Chiseldon”, are at the British Museum.
But in 2011, a local history group commissioned an exact copy to be made as a lasting memory of the find.
The bronze and iron vessels, excavated by the British Museum and Wessex Archaeology, were discovered “carefully placed” in a pit along with ox skulls.
“At first we thought there would only be one or two cauldrons but to find this many is without parallel, not just in Britain but across all of Europe,” said Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology.
“It’s a unique find – but they’re very fragile and aren’t really in a condition to go on display.”
With the Chiseldon cauldrons, never expected to return to the village, local residents raised £2,000 to commission local blacksmith Hector Cole to make an exact replica.
“The tools don’t change, the techniques don’t change, I did exactly the same as the original makers would have done,” said Mr Cole.
“There are 17, and the one they liked was one of the more expensive cauldrons.
“It’s a top of the range cauldron. Whichever tribe owned it, they were important.”
The replica cauldron was unveiled at the weekend and is due to go on permanent display at the village museum, next year.
A Middle Iron Age cauldron, dating from around 200 BC. Only the La Tène II/III iron cauldron collar and rim are original. It was found in a ditch at the Iron Age settlement at Blackhorse Road in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire.
Also in the News:
A skeleton of an Iron Age woman with her feet chopped off has been discovered in a field in Wiltshire.
The remains were found along the A303, near West Knoyle, by archaeologists ahead of a new water main being laid.
Wessex Water said the woman’s feet were found “reburied alongside her” along with the carcasses of at least two sheep or goats “on her head”.
Peter Cox, from AC Archaeology, said: “We’re unsure why – but it must have some link to beliefs at the time.”
The female skeleton was found alongside the remains of a child aged about 10 and two males with sword wounds to their hips.
Wessex Water is currently building a 40-mile (64km) pipeline to carry water from a Dorset treatment plant into Wiltshire.
It was during a pre-work survey of the West Knoyle area that AC Archaeology unearthed the Iron Age burial site.
“Human remains from these periods are very rare and indicate the long period of settlement that has occurred in the area,” said Mr Cox.
“But we’re unsure why the female skeleton has been found without her feet or why she may have been buried with sheep, but perhaps it was to protect her soul from bad spirits.”
The bones have been removed from the site and will undergo radiocarbon dating to determine their age.